- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 3, 2010

DALLAS — Continental Airlines will begin charging coach customers extra if they want a seat with more legroom.

Prices will vary depending on the length of a flight and popularity of the route. A spokeswoman said extra room on a Houston-New York flight might cost $59. International fliers would pay more.

Starting March 17, coach customers will be able to pay the charge at check-in to get an exit-row seat with at least 7 inches more legroom than the other rows, Continental said Wednesday.

Top-level members of Continental’s frequent-flier program — those who rack up at least 25,000 miles a year — and their traveling companions will still be able to claim the exit row without extra charge.

The number of seats with extra legroom will vary depending on the size of the plane. Continental, the nation’s fourth-largest airline, doesn’t plan to reconfigure its planes to add more such seats.

Officials with the Houston-based airline said the new fee is simply a matter of giving customers more if they’re willing to pay for it.

“Seats with additional legroom are higher-value seats, and we want to offer them to customers who recognize that value,” said Jim Compton, Continental’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer.

Some other airlines already charge extra for seats with more space. United sells “economy plus” seats in coach, with up to 5 extra inches of legroom. On its Web site, United says the upgrade costs $49 on Denver-to-Seattle flights and $109 going from Los Angeles to Tokyo.

JetBlue also charges more for legroom. Some carriers charge extra for aisle or bulkhead seats. On US Airways, window or aisle seats can cost $5 to $30 extra.

Airlines have been adding fees steadily for services such as checking bags or buying tickets over the phone from a reservations agent. The fees began in earnest when fuel prices spiked in 2008, but airlines have kept the charges in place — and raised them — even when fuel prices fell because they were still losing money because of a drop in travel.

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