American Airlines Offering More Legroom … For a Price

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Would you spend upwards of $100 for more legroom on American?

The airline will soon roll out Main Cabin Extra, which will give flyers the option of paying more money for a bit more legroom. But are you really going to pay upwards of $100 for mere inches on a plane?

American is betting that some flyers will. The airline is removing a handful of its coach seats to make room for a few roomier Main Cabin Extra seats. American says the additional cost for the roomier seats will range between $8 and $108 for one of the seats, depending on the length of the flight, and will be available for purchase beginning in the spring.

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While airlines are always searching for new ways to grow revenue, this isn’t the first time American has tried something similar.

Back in 2000, American announced its “More Room Throughout Coach” program, which meant fewer passengers per flight but more premium seats for flyers. But by 2004, as airlines began posting big losses across the board, American started squeezing more customers onto its flights and completely scrapped the program. The rise of low-fare airlines also put pressure on American to change course.

So what’s different today? For one, other airlines have been successfully pulling off the premium seats for a few years now, like United’s Economy Plus program and Delta’s Economy Comfort Seats. But there’s also a mindset within the industry that the way to squeeze money out of passengers today is add-ons, add-ons, add-ons.

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In 2010, airline revenue from add-ons like baggage fees, food and beverages, and in-flight Internet connections totaled $22 billion. So American’s thinking now goes that it can fly marginally fewer travelers per flight but get more money out of them.

Michael Boyd, president of aviation forecasting firm Boyd Group International, says that American probably won’t make more than a few hundred dollars per flight on the new seats. But that’s a few more than they were making before. At least this add-on seems to give flyers something in return, as opposed to the rise of the much-maligned baggage fee over the last few years. In addition to the extra room, those sitting in the Main Cabin Extra seats will also get priority boarding privileges, and the seats will be close to the front of the plane, making boarding and deplaning easier.

“For those flyers that just missed out on first class, it gives them another option,” says Boyd. “Still, there probably aren’t many people who will actually pay it.”