Sales of onboard extras have surged

Sales of onboard extras have surged in the past few years, according to a new study. Above, a flight attendant hands out drinks. (Southwest Airlines)

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Despite lots of grousing by air travelers, the selling of onboard extras such as meals, entertainment and wireless Internet access has surged in the last few years, with sales of upgraded seats growing the fastest.

Fliers ages 18 to 34 are the airline industry’s best customers for onboard extras, which means the sales are likely to keep growing for years to come, according to travel research company PhoCusWright Inc.

“We are all captive, and we want access to the Internet and we want to be able to eat something more than peanuts and stale pretzels and we don’t have much choice,” said Douglas Quinby, one of the authors of the study, based on a survey of 2,500 leisure travelers from the U.S.

In 2010, only 28% of leisure travelers bought in-flight snacks and meals, but that rate grew to 40% in 2012, according to the study. The sale of in-flight movies and entertainment jumped from 15% in 2010 to 23% in 2012, the study found.

The number of travelers paying to upgrade their seats grew from 13% in 2010 to 23% in 2012, the study found.

Younger fliers are more likely to spend on the add-ons either because they are unfamiliar with the days when such extras were included in the cost of an airline ticket or because they are more accepting of the new fees than older travelers are, Quinby said.

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