Air travel was a miserable experience for many travelers this summer because of airlines overscheduling flights combined with the fact that they were understaffed. The same can be said about airports.

It was especially miserable for those delayed on a plane in economy class. Because as you probably know by now, legroom in coach is getting tighter and tighter. You can thank airline executives for squeezing more seats into planes to try and make more money. That’s one reason why Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg recently launched a review into the airlines.

RELATED: If an Airline Severely Delays or Cancels Your Flight, Are They Obligated to Cover Your Hotel Accommodations?

According to Afar Magazine: “On behalf of passenger legs and backs across the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration announced on August 3 that it was seeking public comments on whether the agency should set minimum dimensions for airplane seats—not only the space between rows, or seat pitch, but the width and length of the seat itself. The FAA is focusing on the safety of these layouts, mainly the ability of fliers to get in and out of their seats in the event of an emergency. Under current rules, airplane makers must prove that a full planeload can be evacuated in 90 seconds.”

If you don’t want to get stuck in a too-small seat or pay money to upgrade to one that has better legroom, you can use points from the Capital One Venture or Chase Sapphire Preferred credit cards.

RELATED: How to Get the Exit Row For Free

Some airlines (ahem, American) charge extra for a regular coach seat but disguise it as a “Preferred Seat.” How’s that? Take for example this 737—800 flying from Los Angeles’ International Airport (LAX) to Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD).

The Economy section has 114 standard seats with just 31 inches of pitch (legroom) and the seats are 16.9-inches to 17.3-inches wide. There are also 30 Main Cabin Extra seats that have 34-40 inches of legroom. The seats are still 17.1-inches to 17.3-inches wide.

You would think by looking at American’s seating chart (above) that these Preferred Seats are special since they cost extra to reserve. But after closer review (see SeatGuru’s seating chart below), the only thing special about them is that they are towards the front of the plane.

So: If you want to sit in an economy seat with extra legroom on this flight (or one with a similar 1,700-mile distance), then you’ll have to pony up at least $41 for Main Cabin Extra or have elite status on American.

FYI: The plane also has 16 recliner First Class seats that have 40-42 inches of legroom and are 20.4-inches wide.

33 Comments On "Why You Shouldn’t Pay Extra for American Airlines' Preferred Seats"
  1. roscoe|

    you would think AA and others would run out of these continuing schemes, but not as long as passengers pay the price. Laughing before and to the bank, for sure before. However AA has always been the leader of schemes through the years.

  2. David Swett, Downeast Yankee|

    The market has changed. Enuf has been written so that if you are oversized then you must plan on purchasing a seat that will fit you. If you wear size 34 pants and try to buckle up a pair of size 31 pants, it ain’t gonna work. Complaining about your knees and the idiot in front of you reclining his seat shows your lack of common sense and ability to adapt.

    1. Paul|

      So if you are tall it shows a lack common sense???? My height has nothing to do with my inability to adapt. Get your head out of your a**!

    2. Jake|

      And that has what to do with the article above? Nothing.

      You just wanted to rant about fat people. Rather pathetic really…

    3. Geo|

      Pants, whether size 34 or 42 cost the same. That’s for a very good reason.

      You’re a m*ron and a d bag.

  3. Biz Traveler|

    Same statement is true about Delta. The Economy Comfort seats (generally 3-4 rows) have more legroom and cost more than a perferred seat. The preferred seat is just close to the front door so you can get off quicker after having your knees in your chest.

    United is the only major US carrier that provides more legroom at all the extra price seats (economy plus).

    Delta on some routes (like JFK to LAX/SFO) provides a free drink. United does not. I don’t know about American//US Air.

    1. Anonymous|

      At least Delta gives you drinks up in Comfort.

  4. Lindsay|

    They got this from US Air, who started this idea first. It’s a total scam! Hoping this merger takes as possible to complete.

  5. Anonymous|

    United is doing the same thing. I usually fly Jet Blue from Newark NJ to Tampa Florida about 6 times a year. I usually pay the extra $40 on jetblue for the Extra legroom seats which are wide and have plenty of legroom. I am 6’% 290 so I need the space. I had to recently fly United because of the Holiday Scheduling and I was very disappointed. I paid $50.00 each way extra for ” Economy Plus seating which are supposed to be extra legroom seats. The seats had slightly more than standard legroom and were some of the narrowest airline seats I have ever been in. On JetBlue if you pay extra for the legroom you also get to board first, get one suitcase free and a free snack. On United I was relegated to the last group to board, no on board movie or TV and no snack. If I am paying $50.00 extra why are the regular economy seats able to board before me. By the time I got on board there were no overhead bins open for my carry on.

  6. Cliff Hamblen|

    United is doing the same thing. I usually fly Jet Blue from Newark NJ to Tampa Florida about 6 times a year. I usually pay the extra $40 on jetblue for the Extra legroom seats which are wide and have plenty of legroom. I am 6’% 290 so I need the space. I had to recently fly United because of the Holiday Scheduling and I was very disappointed. I paid $50.00 each way extra for ” Economy Plus seating which are supposed to be extra legroom seats. The seats had slightly more than standard legroom and were some of the narrowest airline seats I have ever been in. On JetBlue if you pay extra for the legroom you also get to board first, get one suitcase free and a free snack. On United I was relegated to the last group to board, no on board movie or TV and no snack. If I am paying $50.00 extra why are the regular economy seats able to board before me. By the time I got on board there were no overhead bins open for my carry on.

    1. Geo|

      I don’t know what you’re talking about. You don’t get anything “extra” on JetBlue than you do on United. On both, the extra seat gives you more leg room and boarding zone 1 that’s all.

      Otherwise you get the same food, entertainment, seat width, etc. are the same as the rest of economy.

      I don’t know why you didn’t board zone 1 on UA. Should have. The rest are differences between United and JetBlue, not between economy and economy plus.

  7. Aylee|

    I am not a fan of American Airlines, or most US airlines for that matter. One time, we were transferred from US Air to AA coz of a mechanical problem. They put us in exit row seats saying we have more “legroom”. What people don’t know is that they shortened the (depth of the) seats to increase the “legroom” or the space between the edge of the seat to the back of the seat infront of it, so it looks like the row is bigger. But technically the row still had the same pitch as the rest of the economy rows. I posted a pic on my blog:

    1. Geo|

      Exit row pitch is fixed at a greater distance by FAA regulation. Your feelings on your perception are sort of irrelevant.

      1. Jim Young|

        My feelings and perception in the American Airlines “steerage” seats I didn’t expect on anything but the old military contract flights will have me avoiding flying with them for the foreseeable future.

        The airlines can manipulate the charges all they want, but they are encouraging me to give up flying commercial airlines (up to 6 times a year). We will try to be much more careful in avoiding claustrophobic seating in the future, but will not tolerate overpriced, minimal value seating options that keep getting worse.

  8. RobRob|

    Perhaps because these seats are priced higher and are the last to be chosen – though I’m suspicious it’s because they’re the seats AA wants you to buy – sometimes the Main Cabin Extra seats are all that the seat map shows available. I refuse to pick them and let the airline put me wherever (when I’m flying solo). Fairly often, I end up in those preferred seats without paying the extra price. :) Also, the MCE seats often come with Group 1 Boarding, or can be bundled with a “free” checked bag. Sometimes, I think the early boarding alone is worth the price!

    1. David|

      In choosing seats for a recent American flight, I found seat choices to be very limited – basically two middle seats toward the back of the plane (think it was a 737) along with preferred seats for sale toward the front. I chose one of those no-charge middle of the row seats. Upon boarding the flight I realized that the plane was far from full, even with some complete rows that were open. Of course, we did some switching around and were all quite comfortable.
      What’s going on? I had similar situations on other flights where I paid for preferred seats and others were open. The system seems to be manipulating passengers into higher cost preferred seating.

      1. Geo|

        I just booked a flight from LGA to ORD in October and the only seats showing up available for free are middle seats (all of them) in regular economy and the entire row of seats just before the exit rows, where the backs don’t recline and you get standard pitch. I think they blocked out the rest as preferred.

  9. Marlene Schmidt|

    What most people don’t know is that you may pay extra for more legroom in row 14 (according to Johnny Jets seating chart) which is an exit row but none of the seats in row 14 will recline because its against FAA regs to recline seats INTO an exit row i.e. row 15. Row 15 probably reclines because it’s not reclining into an exit row. Row 13 is probably the worst row since it doesn’t recline and has less leg room but you also didn’t just pay $101USD to sit there like you did in row 14.

  10. Ivana|

    But what happens when there are no more ordinary (unpaid) seats when you book your ticket? I was just now forced to pay for a ‘preferred seat’, because there were no other seats left on the plane. I considered just leaving my seat unassigned, but then started worrying that I will lose my place on the plane, which is also not unlikely to happen due to overbooking.

  11. linda|

    I agree, this is a total rip-off. They sell it like you’re getting extra space and it’s no different.
    Truth is these planes are just too damn small. Beverage carts barely fit down the aisle. God forbid u have to use the restroom during “service”. None of the attendants smile anymore ( on my AA flight) , half the time there are mechanical issues with the movie too. Sitting in an aisle seat I was hit in the shoulder and head repeatedly by attendants and customers. And overhead luggage needs to be abolished. People abuse it to death. Waiting to get off the plane takes forever. Then let the people WITHOUT overhead crap go first. We have to go to luggage pick up yet. It’s incredibly uncomfortable and frustrating to fly.

  12. Gloria|

    Personally, I have seen the option to pay about $8 on the day of the flight to upgrade to a main cabin seat. Which is significantly lower than the prices you see before you can even check in on your flight. I can’t say this is true all the time or anything. But again, I have seen it.

    I think it’s because people have that fear that they won’t get a seat that they jump on shelling out the extra money for a paid seat. Even if it’s in a crappy row because if you pay for your seat you’re guaranteed your seat, unlike being given an unassigned seat.

    I can’t speak for companies outside the US. But I can honestly say more often than not, even if you go to the website for the company your flight is booked on and it shows it’s full, 8 times out of 10, the flight is NEVER 100% completely full. There’s always a few seats left, and generally in the standard economy.

    Oh and also, AA and Delta airlines do offer free snacks and beverages on all flights. There are also paid snacks. Any flight under 8 hours (Not total, it means time on 1 plane, so if your total flight is 8 hours, but you have 1 plane that’s a 2 hour flight, a 1 hour lay over then your 2nd plane is 5 hours, it doesn’t qualify for this), does not have the meal (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner) option.

    One time I had to race to get to the 2nd plane for my flight because we landed a little late. So I didn’t get to pick up any food on the way at any of the restaurants as I was going to my terminal (My layover was supposed to be 50 minutes, it was reduced to 30 since we were late). So I opted for AA’s fruit snack ($8) box. I’m not gonna lie. I do thin the price was a little high. But it actually filled me up, so it was semi worth it. Considering my drink was free, over all it wasn’t bad.

    What’s my point? I kind of see people getting mad over things they don’t have to actually buy. Many people more often than not jump the gun due to freaking out instead of calmly thinking about what it is they are going to do.

    I’m not 100% on this, but I’m pretty sure once you’ve checked in at the airport you’re pretty much guaranteed a seat if your seat is unassigned.

    Yes it can suck to get a seat that doesn’t recline at all (this happened to me once, but I’m short, even though I’m fat so I just leaned and I was fine.), but in the long run it’s only temporary.

    Perhaps flights would be better if people were just more understanding that you do have to compromise since you opted/needed to travel to your destination via flight.

    Personally I think if you have to take the bus it’s more uncomfortable because there is no option for a bigger seat if you’re a bigger person. And while I am fat, I’m not so fat that I take up additional space, I fit just fine in the standard seating. But once on a greyhound, a rather obese person sat next to me, and they were pretty much taking up all of their seat and basically half of my own. My left ankle ended up wedged by a metal bar for a full 9 hours of the bus right, and was severely swollen by the time I got to my destination so I couldn’t even walk on it properly.

    But even though I was in pain from my ankle being wedged, I didn’t tell the person this, because there was no other seating available. (They’d gotten on the bus last).

    So again, even if the seating isn’t as fabulous as we think it should be. At least we can say the option is there. And in the end, you’re not forced to pay the extra for the other seats.

    I’ve flown on multiple flights. And I can honestly say a bit of patience will go a long way.

  13. Vona Mae|

    It makes me so so sad to see these rip off schemes. It’s hard enough to afford to fly, to add on extra costs. Why can’t the government regulate this? Our airline industry is going down the toilet.

  14. Beckie|

    I booked our tickets a month ago AND selected our seats — only to find out today that selecting them on Travelocity didn’t mean diddly. In order to actually be SURE of getting two seats together to attend our mother’s memorial service, I had to fork over more $ for BS preferred seats, or risk getting to the airport to find the flights sold out. I am royally pissed. I have never had that problem with United. You book a seat, you get that seat. (I’m short. Why would I upgrade?)

  15. Michael|

    Well done AA! I just tried to checkin online fpr a flight from ZRH to JFK. I had to coose a seat for check-in. But then there are only seats available which costs extra charge. Only one single standard seat is available. Your first thought is “overbooked” and then booked a “preferred seat” for 69 USD each for me and my wife. Later on I recognized that the “single left standard seat” is randomized on different locations everytime when you restart the process. The trick has worked but I will talk seriously tomorrow at the airport!!!

  16. Marco Aurelio|

    I agree: it’s a total rip-off. Where I live, in Brazil, companies started doing that. It’s infuriating, to say the less.

    But they have a way to force you to choose preferred seats. My wife e and I are going to NY in December. I bought the tickets last month and decided I’d reserve the seats already. Guess what? On the flight back, from New York to Sao Paulo (that’s a 10 hour flight) the only seats available are the 2 midlle ones on a line with four. That’s stranger-me-my wife-stranger. I’m about to give up and pay the extra 150 bucks to have slightly better seats. Should I resist?

  17. MikeyN|

    I don’t usually comment on this sort of thing, but I’ve been looking into MCE for an upcoming trip and there’s a lot of pretty misleading info on here.

    While I don’t think Seat Guru’s maps are the most accurate indication of legroom, however if you do look at AA’s 777-300ER seat map on Seat Guru you would see that MCE definitely offers extra width on that widebody plane as the seats are 3-3-3 in MCE, but a much more squashed 3-4-3 in standard Economy, so perhaps MCE is worth considering when taking a longer haul trip?

    Also, the amount you are charged for MCE depends on your status with AA or One World. For example, you can get 50% to 100% off of the price depending on your level. I have also been able to select MCE seats at counter check-in for free without any status. So, yes it is a bit cheeky to charge for the seats, but I suspect a lot of MCE passengers did not pay that full supplement.

    I agree that on AA’s single aisle planes the benefit is not so obvious, and exit seats are not always worth the money, but I recommend checking the plane type for long haul, and add in your AAdvantage or One World flyer number before selecting seats online to see how much you have to pay, if at all.


  18. CMAR|

    Wow, so much hate and fear of something new.
    I have flown American form LAX-MIA-REC and back 4 times. I look at the seating charts, and check out Seat Guru to see if the MCE are any different. On the MIA-REC route, it is because plenty of extra leg room on an 8 hour flight for another $100. on the LAX MIA it depends on what they are flying. some planes it is and extra $25-$40 for nothing but the front of the plane and priority boarding. I only want the leg room, so I don’t upgrade on those trips. Not a scam at all.

  19. Dirk Lens|

    Someone explain to me why I pay 80 dollars for an exit row seat but when the door closes everyone walks over to an open exit row seat and gets it for free.
    Total scam

  20. Bill|

    I just checked to see if I could switch to an emergency row that is empty… attendant said I would have to pay extra. I asked what if no one wanted to pay extra… she “oh well, That’s the way it goes”… how sad?

  21. Shawn|

    Took me almost an hour to book my American flight (including a call to customer service just to triple check I wasn’t setting myself up for a problem) using some miles. Haven’t flown in a few years so not up on all the new schemes and strategies. Certainly award (miles) travel is not what it was even a few years ago. And the paranoia I had while choosing a seat, since many have extra cost but yet appear available without extra charge when booking with awards. Didn’t want to select the wrong seat today and end up with a middle seat (or worse, bumped) situation months from now because of some technicality on what seat assignment options were actually available to me without paying extra. Ugh, my stomach is in knots trying to figure it out. Can’t risk screwing it up for this flight I must be on, and is a five hour duration. Such a shame this is the air travel environment now. So glad I did a lot of my bucket list travel when I was younger. Carried on a massive backpack through dozens of flights and carriers all over the world years ago. Those were the days…

    1. Johnny Jet|

      You might want to have a travel agent do it. They should only charge $25 and would be worth it.

  22. Al Fernandez|

    Just got taken by the American Airlines scam were they are now charging extra for the Seats. When I got in the plane (Dallas to Detroit), there were plenty of seats open that had originally been marked as being used. Will never fly American Airlines again..

  23. Rey Puyear|

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