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United Airlines will charge an extra fee for economy seats near the front of the plane

United Airlines will charge an extra fee for economy seats near the front of the plane
United Airlines jets sit at gates at Chicago O'Hare International Airport in 2014. United President Scott Kirby said the carrier will charge an extra fee for economy seats near the front of the plane, behind the "Economy Plus" seats. (Scott Olson /Getty Images)

Not every economy seat is created equal.

Starting later this year, United Airlines plans to charge an extra fee for economy seats that are near the front of the plane but otherwise look and feel like any other coach seat.

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United Airlines President Scott Kirby discussed the new fee last week with reporters at the International Aviation Forecast Summit in Denver.

“We’ve got ‘Economy Plus’ today, which has more legroom, but there are also rows that don’t have more legroom but they are at the front of the airplane,” he told the travel website Skift. “We are now going to let those people select those seats as well for a fee.”

Economy Plus seats offer up to 5 more inches of legroom than regular economy seats. Behind those seats are a row of seats that the airline will call “select standard” economy seats because they are closer to the front of the plane.

United spokeswoman Maddie King confirmed that the new fee will be introduced this year, although she said the airline has yet to disclose the amount of the fee or how many seats would be designated select standard economy seats.

Not everyone has to pay the fee.

Passengers who are Corporate Preferred Elite Customers, a designation given to top corporate fliers, and passengers who have achieved the United MileagePlus Premier status in the airline’s loyalty reward program can book the select standard economy seats without an additional charge, King said.

During booking, all other economy seat passengers must pay a fee for the select standard seats, she said.

However, if the select standard seats are open at the time of check-in, they will be available for economy seat passengers to select without paying the charge, she said.

American Airlines and Delta Air Lines already charge an extra fee to book the most desirable economy seats.

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