American Airlines has announced a duo of new charges: $50 for standby and $8 for blankets and pillows (a set of which I happily found waiting on my coach seat when flying the carrier last week, sigh). The blanket fees (pun seriously intended) start May 1 on all North American flights. JetBlue and US Airways also sell like-priced sleep kits (US Air’s come with earplugs and eye shades). The good news? American promises to throw in a coupon to Bed, Bath, and Beyond (ooh la la) and you’ll get to keep your stylish new fleece throw and inflatable neck pillow (which, to me, sounds a lot less appealing than the cotton-polyester blend, if that's possible) for future use.
Also, as of February 22, American’s passengers will have to pay $50 for a standby seat on same-day domestic flights (including to/from Canada, Puerto Rico, and the U.S.V.I.).
While most carriers have long offered free standby as a loophole to switching departure times, many have an official fee of $25-75 in place for confirmed flight changes made within x hours of departure. Others have no unconfirmed standby option at all. On Southwest and Frontier, you must pay the difference in ticket price for an earlier/later flight, while Delta, Northwest, and, now, American have essentially done away with the unconfirmed system, too – forcing customers to pay the $50 “confirmed flight change” fee to guarantee an available seat and switch flights.
The good news? The new confirmed standby system will theoretically streamline the process, often characterized by chaotic overcrowding at gate check-in desks. And as with the blanket sets, you’ll skirt the standby fee if your frequent flyer style resembles more George Clooney ala Up in the Air (whose “elite” AA member status and penchant for first class buys him the whole shebang of specialized treatment) than the average Joe in coach.