Are Airline Seat Prices Immoral?

This ridiculous column in The Atlantic argues that some fees that airlines charge are immoral. And for those up-in-arms over unfair or “immoral” baggage fees, “In the end, passengers pay more in government taxes and fees than they do for baggage fees and other add-ons.” (WSJ)

In short, window and aisle seats will cost a bit more than the center seat. The spin is that greedy/evil airlines (the Kochs simply must be involved here at some level) are rubbing their hands together with glee as they force parents to pay an additional fee to sit next to their children.

1. I don’t think that airlines are “forcing parents to pay more in order to sit with their children.” That seems an intentional twisting of the facts. (pic via Wiki)

2. I think that airlines should be able to charge whatever they like. They force no one to buy their product/service. And there is fierce competition.

3. “Question 1: Are they charging for a service that actually costs them money?
This is a red-herring or distraction. Prices are not properly set by costs. When you sell your house, do you sell it for as high a price as you can get, or what it cost to build originally? What about when you sell your car? Do you set your salaray/wages by your “costs” of living?

4. “Airlines aren’t like other industries. They’re private, but they’re also a crucial part of our national infrastructure.
This assertion troubles me, it could be used to argue intervention in nearly anything. We already call visits to one’s physician and agriculture “interstate commerce.”

5. “It’s not the government’s job to keep companies from offending their customers. But it is the governments (sic) job to keep them from hurting them.”
I’m not convinced that’s a true statement. I don’t read anything like that in the Constitution or Bill of Rights.

and … drum-roll please …

6. Instead of looking at this as charging more for window and aisle seats, why not look at it as a discount for the center seat? Fly with your kid in the center seat, and get a price-break for the little guy.

How to Tell a Dumb Airline Fee From an Immoral One – The Atlantic: America’s airlines have stumbled into yet another controversy over the extra fees they charge travelers, and this one’s a bit of a doozy. As both the Associated Press and Reuters have recently pointed out, many carriers are now essentially forcing parents to pay more in order to sit with their children on flights.

And a timely piece from yesterday’s WSJ.  Where you’re much better-off when looking for reporting on economics and markets.

How Airlines Spend Your Airfare – Another 14 passengers cover the collective federal taxes paid by passengers, US Airways calculated. That money helps fund the Federal Aviation Administration, plus the Sept. 11 security fees that cover much of the cost of Transportation Security Administration screening, and facility charges that most airports add to tickets. Fuel taxes paid by airlines are counted with other fuel costs. In the end, passengers pay more in government taxes and fees than they do for baggage fees and other add-ons.


  • Patrick Cruzan

    You now what else is nice?  A family road trip.  Baggage fees: $0.  Seating conundrums: minor.

    If people are frustrated that it costs so much to fly to go see their families, then why did they choose to move so far away in the first place?

    • speedmaster

       Agreed, we’ve done more of that in the last few years. Between the price of air travel, and the massive headaches and hassles in the airport, driving is a bit more attractive. And with our three kids, car travel is actually fun. We have a great time together as a family. We took a road-trip to Cleveland last month.