Government Can't Stop Airlines From Charging Seat Fees

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told a Senate panel on Wednesday that he's been urging airlines against charging more for popular seats, but that he can't force them to do what he wants.

Aircraft overhead blur clouds_200.JPG
Lucidio Studio | Photographer's Choice | Getty Images

At a transportation committee hearing on tax policy, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., asked whether LaHood could limit fees such as those charging for a window or aisle seat. Lautenberg worried that soon airlines would charge for using the restroom.

"They don't yet charge a breath fee, but who knows," Lautenberg said to laughter.

Airline fees are increasingly contentious. In a letter May 29, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., urged airlines to stop charging extra for window and aisle seats because he argued the fees could force families to pay more to sit next to each other.

In a report Tuesday, the Global Business Travel Association found that four of the top 10 most "problematic" fees for travel are charged by airlines, based on how common, transparent and easy to track the fees are. The fees include charges for soft drinks, headset use, movies and food.

The Transportation Department has adopted pioneering rules this year requiring greater clarity in airline ticket charges such as bag fees. LaHood told lawmakers he's "been doing a little jawboning" with chief executives of airlines about charging fees for certain seats.

But LaHood added, "We can't tell airlines what fees they can charge."