International air travel is constantly changing to respond to or in some cases to anticipate consumer trends and a recent innovation of many airlines may benefit the occasional flyer if they know where to look and are ready to pay a little more for comfort.

Once held for elite frequent flyers more airline are now selling economy seats in rows with extra legroom such as exit row or bulkhead seats and found this to be what Aer Lingus is doing for my upcoming trip to Dublin.

Within economy the choices are to take a standard seat without charge or pay a small premium of USD$30 per flight for either priority boarding and seats toward the front of the aircraft, which Aer Lingus calls Choice seats, or USD$50 per segment for Exit. The difference between these seats is that while the Choice seats offer no more legroom or seat width they do feature earlier boarding so you get better access to overhead bin space which is important for those flyers like me who only travel with a carry-on while Exit row seats feature the same seat width but several inches more legroom which for taller travellers on longer flights can be much more comfortable.  There is more of an overview on Aer Lingus’ website here.

Exit row seats come with some caveats in my opinion as while you gain more legroom the lack of overhead bin space means you have to place your carry-on items either a row or two forward or aft of your row, the extra space can be used by passengers wanting to go from one side of the aircraft to the other tripping over your outstretched legs, and they can be cooler than other seats given their proximity to the emergency exit doors. Some exit row window seats may also lose some of the extra legroom due to a jut out at the bottom of the emergency door which houses the evacuation slide.


The option to pay for these seats is normally given at time of booking but if booking through a travel agent or on an award seat can also usually be reserved with a call through to the airline or online with the airline reservation or file number. Once paid these fees however are almost always non-refundable so choose wisely.

In the end on this Dublin trip I’ve opted to forgo the cost to select specific economy seats as the flight time from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport is just over 7 hours and as a frequent economy class passenger I should be able to survive the trip in a standard economy seat. Every trip and airline however is different and so it should be something considered on a case-by-case basis.

For example on another upcoming trip from Edmonton to Hong Kong over Chinese New Year in February the 15 hour nonstop flight Seattle – Hong Kong on Delta Airlines  there is the ability to pay a $150 supplement to reserve what the airline has branded an Economy Comfort seat which not only allows up to 4 inches more legroom but priority boarding, and greater seat recline while complimentary beer, wine & spirits come without charge in all economy seats on all Delta long haul international flights. While I have yet to make a decision on purchasing this roomier economy seat it is tempting to pay a supplement to enjoy a much more comfortable journey.

United Airlines offers the same type of product with their Economy Plus seats available which are available for sale online in advance but are free for elite frequent flyers.

I should note that in addition to offering for sale preferred seat locations many airlines also have started offering flyers a broad à la carte menu of choices to prepay everything from airport lounge passes, in-flight Wi-Fi or priority boarding and while it offers flexibility to pick & chose services for only certain flights it and the obligatory checked bag fees can inch the overall travel cost up. Travelling with a carry-on only I like having the ability to decide whether on a busy holiday weekend I’m willing to spend $19 to board a few minutes earlier to find coveted space in the overhead bin but I know not everyone feels the same about these options. Many frequent flyers holding elite status get many of the perks included as part of their benefits and see their sale as an erosion of their loyalty.

The airlines consider anything beyond the actual airline ticket itself ancillary revenue and for many it forms a growing and important slice of their total revenue pie. United Airlines, for example, earns almost 15% of its overall revenue from ancillary fees while at several low cost airlines it can be double that amount according to the statistics published in this Forbes article. With such a lucrative source of revenue in an industry with razor thin profit margins these optional extra fees are here to stay so knowing what they are, how they work and how they may benefit you is worth investing the time to research on your own or in concert with your travel professional.