Premium Airplane Seats: To Pay or Not to Pay?

First-class airplane seatYou’ve probably heard the saying “There’s an app for that.” Well, when it comes to flying, it might seem like “There’s a fee for that.” With fees for checked baggage, meals, snacks, pets and unaccompanied minors, it’s tough for today’s traveler. One more fee that’s gaining in popularity is for economy-class “premium” seats, such as the ones with extra leg room, at the front of the airplane, or window or aisle seats.

With airlines increasingly turning to fees to increase sagging revenue, you might wonder if wheelchair users or people with mobility disabilities — who traditionally have been seated in aisle seats near the front of the plane —have to pay a fee for those newly designated premium seats.

Well, before you click “submit” on that flight you’re purchasing online, be sure not to pay extra for a seat. The Mobility Project checked with several major American airlines to find out their policies regarding reserved seating for wheelchair users, and all reported there’s no need to pay extra to sit in a premium seat. This includes American Airlines, US Airways, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airways. (Delta Air Lines did not respond to The Mobility Project’s request for information.)

But you will need to pick up the phone and call your airline’s reservations department at least 24 hours before your flight to request a seat.

Here’s what each airline told us:

American Airlines – After booking a flight on American, you can call the reservations department and speak with a representative at the Special Assistance Coordinator desk who can then assign an appropriate seat — including airport-controlled seats, bulkhead seats and preferred seats that are not available on or through general reservations. These seats are all available free of charge. In addition, American blocks a limited number of seats on each aircraft to accommodate other customers with disabilities. Adjacent seats are provided, under certain circumstances, for customers with disabilities who must travel with a companion for assistance.

US Airways – The airline sets aside a number of seats in the front third of the airplane for passengers with disabilities, separate from the premium “Choice” seats available for online purchase. The airline requests at least 24 hours’ notice, and the passenger can call and request a seat at no charge. The special seating (a seat in a row with a movable aisle armrest) is designed for passengers who use an aisle chair to access the aircraft and who cannot transfer over a fixed aisle armrest. On aircraft with 30 or more passenger seats, US Airways offers movable aisle armrests on at least one-half of the aisle seats in rows in coach in which passengers with mobility impairment are permitted to sit under FAA rules. The airline will also provide a bulkhead seat or other seat with more legroom for a passenger with a fused or immobilized leg.

Southwest Airlines – Southwest often touts its “bags fly free” and “no change fees” policies. The same is true for seating, whether the passenger has a disability or not. The airline reports that there are no designated premium seats, no charges for aisle or window seats, and no plans change that policy. The airline’s fleet consists of Boeing 737 airplanes, and only the emergency rows have more leg room.

United Airlines – United does not charge wheelchair users extra and says there are no plans to change that.

JetBlue Airways – There is no extra charge for aisle seats.

About the Author

Cindy Horbrook is the associate editor for HME Business, Mobility Management, and Respiratory & Sleep Management magazines.