You are sitting in the window seat in, say, row 12 of an airliner, waiting as the rest of the passengers pile in, dragging most of their belongings as they try to avoid baggage fees. You are hoping, praying, that the empty middle seat next to you stays that way, rather than being taken up by a passenger who’s been doing laps around the Golden Corral buffet instead of a running track.
What are the odds? With airlines today filling close to 85% of available seats, the answer is: not good. But Delta will let you beat the odds, for a price. The airline has added a feature that lets you pay extra to give you a spot next to an unsold middle seat. I’d pay it in a heartbeat, to be honest.
Delta’s move to get money for nothing (and your drinks are definitely not free) addresses an old problem that used to dog airlines. Every time an airliner takes off with unoccupied seats the airline is saying bye-bye to potential revenue. You can’t make the plane shorter, or take the seat out to lower costs. In economics, it has been known as an “empty core” problem and raises the question: what’s the smartest way to fill in the empty part? The airlines used to solve the empty core problem by discounting fares to lure more passengers—behavior that led to fare wars, ruinous losses and bankruptcy.
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In today’s rationalized airline industry, the surviving carriers have removed entire planes and flights from the system so that there are 13 million fewer seats available this year—which leads to more crowded flights. The up-charge for sitting next to an empty seat is just another example of how the airlines have learned how to maximize the value of a plane’s real estate. They have moved away from selling everyone a seat for a basic fare to selling each passenger a customized trip. First you buy admission—a.k.a. a seat—then you keep paying up until you’ve reached the level of comfort and convenience that suits your lifestyle and budget. If you want any degree of comfort, less anxiety about boarding, edible food, room to breathe, overhead space, checked bags—and an empty seat next to you—just tick off the boxes and get out your credit card.
A la carte pricing has now reached a point that you can pay to not be annoyed. At Scoot Airlines, the discount priced sibling of Singapore Airlines, a Scootin Silence cabin puts you in a child-free zone for an extra $20. Business fliers needing to work would more than likely pay for this privilege. So, I supposed, would parents traveling without their kids—isn’t that the whole point?
So what other kinds of fees will airlines charge you for next? How about”
Armrest Control Fee: $10. Get full control of the armrest between you and the passenger next to you. Tough to explain when traveling with a spouse, though.
Climate Adjustment Fee: $15. You control the temperature in your area, so you aren’t sweating while the plane is on the ground and then freezing when the AC gets cranked up on takeoff. It’s 70 degrees all the time—for a price.
Vertical Comfort Fee: $9. Your fare gets you a seat. If you want to sit on the aisle, pay a fee. If you want the seat to go back into someone else’s space—ka-ching!
Oxygen Mask Fee: $7. For easy breathing should cabin pressure suddenly drop.
Terminal Lounge Fee: $5. Would you like a seat while you wait to board? Of course you would. That’ll be one portrait of Lincoln please, and please keep your luggage off the other seats.
Shut Up Fee: $20. Pay so that the passenger next door is not allowed to share her vacation memories and photos.
Can you think of others? Let us know in the comments or tweet @Time #CrazyFees.