There's nothing special about the so-called "preferred" seats, no extra legroom or other perks as are offered to passengers buying premium seats in airlines' coach cabins, such as United's Economy Plus and American's Main Cabin Extra.
They are just regular seats near the front of the main cabin, viewed as preferred because you don't have to traipse as far down the aisle to your seat and are among the first off the plane.
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United said it will implement the change later this year but did not provide specifics beyond that, including pricing. The seats for sale will be just behind its Economy Plus rows. Certain United corporate clients will be able to reserve them for free, part of new corporate perks program United announced last week. Certain elite-level frequent fliers also are able to reserve the seats with no fee.
Other passengers will have to pay a fee to reserve them unless they are available for free at check in.
Seat selection fees add up on other airlines. American's fee chart says preferred seat fees range from $4 to $139 one way depending on the flight.
On a non-stop flight from Chicago to New York in October, the airline is currently selling seat assignments for $29 (middle seat) to $35 (aisle or window) one way.
For a fall flight between Phoenix and Atlanta, Delta is asking $60 one way to reserve a window or aisle seat in the rows behind its "Delta Comfort+" extra-legroom section.
Passengers don't have to pay for a seat assignment, of course. Major airlines generally offer a selection of free seat assignments when tickets are booked in advance, and they're not all middle seats. Seat choices often dwindle or dry up for last-minute bookers, but even then travelers can bypass the pricey seat assignments and wait for a free seat assignment at check in.