Extra seat charges: big bias or svelte snobbery?

As airlines are scrambling for any shred of extra revenue they can find, some policies are getting more attention than others. The so-called “fat passenger policies,” which govern the accommodation of passengers who require more than one seat, have attracted the ire of the NAAFA. Never heard of it? It’s a new one on me, too: the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance. On the other hand, passengers who pay for one seat and use only one seat wonder why the hell larger passengers should consume two of the airlines’ fundamental units for sale (i.e., the use of a seat on a plane) for the price of one.

Here’s the perspective that’s been lacking: revenue per available seat mile (RASM). Check “Making Sense of the Airline Industry” for a deeper look at how this measure works. Then, come back here and think about what it means for the sale of seats on planes. Cash-strapped airlines are forced to give up revenue.

United Airlines seems to have found a way to balance both sides of this argument. If there is an extra seat available on a flight, a passenger who can’t fit into one seat will be given the extra at no charge. On full flights, larger passengers can wait for a later one that has space and can occupy two seats at no extra charge.

Southwest, Alaska Airlines and Continental have policies, as well. Though the specifics vary, the armrest is pretty much the decision maker. If you can’t put it down, you can’t occupy only one seat. Southwest and Alaska Airlines require the purchase of an extra seat but will refund that part of the fare if the flight is not full. Continental, on the other hand, won’t refund the difference. In fact, the airline requires the purchase of an additional seat on each segment flown at a “hefty day-of-travel rate [read the original article, “hefty” was not my word, though I applaud the writer for being gutsy].”

JetBlue has no formal policy and claims that its larger seat size is already a step in the right direction. Delta and Northwest say that they’ll do what they can to accommodate larger passengers, but a purchase may be necessary. Virgin America asks that the big folks buy two, with one refunded if there’s an empty on the flight.

You can get my thoughts after the jump.At the end of the day, there is only one point that matters. Airlines are businesses run in the interests of their shareholders. Since most of these businesses are struggling, they need to do what they can to maximize revenue. If that means charging for two seats for passengers who can’t fit in one, so be it. If an airline feels that that’s a public relations nightmare and would rather accept the degradation RASM … it’s up to them.

It’s a numbers game – and not the numbers on the scale.

I’ve always been a believer in “pay to play.” You want a seat? Cough up. You want two? Cough up twice as much. “Buffet-style” air travel – in which you pay once and take as much as you want – simply doesn’t work.

And, I respect airlines for addressing the rights of all passengers. Everyone has a “sitting next to a fat guy” story. Yes, some are really just infantile bitching because planes are generally cramped. But, some are legitimate. A larger passenger who wants to save a few extra dollars and can’t put the armrest down is having his ticket subsidized by mine. That has an effective financial impact on me, and it’s unacceptable.

It’s not an issue of weight. However you look at it, the concern is financial. Take the word “fat” out of the equation, and it’s much easier to solve.

Daily travel deal – JetBlue one day fare sale with flights from $29

Our daily travel deal for today is for a hot one-day sale on JetBlue.

Starting at just $29 (each way), you’ll find flights to and from most JetBlue cities.

The fine print is actually quite simple on this deal – you must purchase the ticket today, but it can be for flights up till June 10th 2009. Travel is only valid on Tuesday and Wednesday and you have a 7 day advance purchase window.

Not all the city pairs are exciting (unless Boston to Buffalo is high on your list), but for just $39 each way, you can fly from Ft. Lauderdale to Nassau or $79 from New York to Puerto Rico.

You’ll find the entire list of cities on sale here, which is where you’ll find the exact requirements.

Don’t forget to check out our top 5 of other fantastic travel deals!

Roll the dice with “job-loss guarantees”

It makes a lot of sense right now. You have a job, and you’re feeling comfortable in it. You’ve survived the latest round of layoffs, and it looks like the bleeding has stopped for a while. Or, you’re just so stressed out you throw caution to the wind and book a vacation, just so you can recharge a bit.

But, you aren’t reckless.

Because we all live and work in a world at financial risk, you had the presence of mind to take advantage of a “job-loss guarantee.” If you lose your job, you get your money back … maybe. It turns out that guarantees aren’t always guaranteed. Several travel companies – including JetBlue and Norwegian Cruise Line – the rules are being tweaked.

Defining “job” can be the tough part. Several programs require that you be employed for at least a year at your current gig and that it be full-time. But, it varies. Check the terms and conditions before you bank on this benefit.

Job loss” can be tricky, as well. If you were laid off, you seem to be in the best position to recoup what you’ve paid. But, if you were fired for cause, some programs may not pay. According to JetBlue, for example, “The spirit of the program is to accommodate those who have involuntarily lost their jobs due to the economy.” Resignations and buyout programs, also, may not qualify under some job-loss guarantee programs.

Be prepared to prove that you have lost your job. Chances are you’ll find something in the stack of paper that Human Resources gives you (usually your termination letter).

These programs can be helpful, but read the fine print. If you’re at all worried, spend your day off on your front stoop and hold onto your cash for a more stable time.

JetBlue to cut (profits) back in Long Beach?

If you haven’t taken advantage of JetBlue’s cheap flights between San Francisco and Long Beach, you may want to act quickly. The low-cost airline is considering scaling back service through the latter, which is its hub on the west coast. The slow pace of improvements at the airport, which is city-owned, is the driver behind this decision.

There’s no cause for alarm just yet. JetBlue doesn’t have any formal plan to make the move, but it has announced that it is considering reducing or shifting Long Beach flights. Los Angeles International Airport is among the possible winners, as it would pick up some traffic from the changes.

Of course, Long Beach Airport is protecting itself. Spokeswoman Sharon Diggs Jackson said last Thursday that JetBlue hadn’t indicated that it was heading for the exits. In fact, she noted that the airline is planning to add another flight in May.

Three million passengers pass through Long Beach Airport every year – and JetBlue has the largest presence there. It’s also a profitable spot for the airline.

So, we’re clearly looking at a battle over leverage. Only time will tell the victor.

NYC to San Francisco for the price of a cab on JetBlue

I guess it pays to keep an eye on JetBlue‘s website. Last Thursday, the airline sold 200 seats on its New York-to-San Francisco route at $14 a pop. Unsurprisingly, it only took a few hours. Those living on the west coast still have a shot at a sweetheart deal, though, with 1,600 seats for flights between San Francisco and Long Beach, CA still unsold at mid-day on April 2, according to an Associated Press story on MSNBC.

JetBlue used this promotion to highlight its policy on not charging for the first bag you check. Some airlines are charging $15 a bag, which makes it more expensive for your luggage to take another airline than it would for you to fly yourself on JetBlue.

Financially, JetBlue is taking it on the chin with this deal. As of the fourth quarter of 2008, it cost the airline $300 to carry a passenger 2,900 miles (the distance of a coast-to-coast jaunt).

As always, there’s a catch. The trips have to be taken by April 8, 2009.