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The Many Costs of In-Flight Comfort

By SHANNON KELLY

What money can buy—or not—in-flight. Photos: Brian Hansen (L), ATIS547 (R)

Airlines are charging for everything but the lavatory sink these days. We’re used to some of the fees: for in-flight movies and alcoholic drinks, for example. But now you’ll also pay for conveniences that were once givens for even coach passengers, like pillows and exit-row seating.

Here’s what it can cost you on airlines to get these so-called perks*:

More Leg Room

American Airlines is initiating a Main Cabin Extras program that upgrades passengers to seats with 4 to 6 inches of extra legroom on their new Boeing 777 planes. Delta is launching a similar program this summer.

What it can cost: $8–$108

Preferred Seating

It started with bulkhead seats and exit rows, but now at least one airline (American Airlines) is charging for window and aisle seats, too.

What it can cost: $4–$31

Guaranteed Seat Assignment

If you fly WestJet or other airlines that don’t provide seat assignments during booking, you’ll get what you get, unless you (a) scurry to choose your seat no more than 24 hours before your flight, or (b) pay up.

What it can cost: $5–$30

Blankets and Pillows

Remember when everyone was offered these on flights? Then airlines started hiding and rationing them. Now you’ll pay for the privilege of comfort—but you’ll get to keep your blanket emblazoned with the Air Canada logo forever. Prices have increased drastically: in 2005 Air Canada was charging $1.50 for their blanket-and-pillow sets. Today’s price is $7. Two round-trips and you’ve already paid for your undoubtedly comfier and larger travel blanket with foot pockets.

What it can cost: $3–$8

Snacks

Many airilnes still offer something for free, if only a tiny bag of honey-roasted peanuts. But on some domestic flights you’ll pay for even a bag of pretzels. (We’re looking at you, Air Canada Tango!) And at least four U.S.-based airlines that operate in Canada—Continental, United Airlines, American Airlines, US Airways—charge for snacks

What it can cost: $3–$5

Meals

We’re now used to the “no-meals” policy on flights, but it wasn’t that long ago that some kind of meal was perfunctory on flights of more than a few hours and during mealtimes. Such luxuries as a ham sandwich with a slice of individually wrapped cheddar cheese, perhaps. These days you can still get that same ham sandwich, at a price.

What it can cost: $3–$13

First Checked Bag

We’ve come to accept that we must pay for a second piece of checked luggage, but now it’s becoming commonplace to charge for just one checked bag. Air Canada, for example, imposed its first-checked-bag fee on flights to the U.S. in September last year.

What it can cost: $25

Wi-Fi

For domestic Canadian flights, this is a moot point. Transport Canada has yet to allow in-flight Wi-Fi in Canadian skies. Only one Canadian airline, Air Canada, offers Wi-Fi at all, and only on two routes (Montreal–Los Angeles and Toronto–Los Angeles) once they’ve hit U.S. airspace. As of December 2011, a study showed that only 4% of customers on flights with Wi-Fi actually pay for it, maybe because the service isn’t that great yet. Once it improves and we see speeds in-flight that we see on the ground, this may be the one amenity we’re happy to pay for. Perhaps because it’s the one amenity that’s offering something new for a fee rather than something we used to get for free.

What it can cost: $8–$10

Total conceivable price for all these in-flight “perks” over and above your ticket price:

$59–$230

 

*All prices are for North American airlines that operate in Canada.

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