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Sale: Exit Row Seats $8.70 per Hour

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The airlines are getting very desperate ... charging more and more for things that used to be free.

Qantas recently announced plans to start selling exit row seats on its trans-Pacific flights for about $130 extra per seat -- $8.70 per hour for a Sydney to Los Angeles flight.

Hey, if the plane is burning or sinking, you are sure to get out first.

In addition to the safety factor, the extra leg room alone, on a fifteen hour flight, is well worth the additional 2 cents a mile. You also get to sit with other "able bodied" -- not too old and not too young -- who are willing to pay, and avoid being squished in between crying babies and overweight gargancho space squatters oozing onto your seat.

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You are guaranteed to arrive rested, calm, and un-cramped -- without paying thousands more for business class or real first class.

Qantas's move is just the latest escalation to squeeze more revenue per passenger. Virgin, United, Air France, and JetBlue have also started charging for extra legroom. But they are only getting $40 or so more per flight in return for saving your knees from getting crushed when the chair in front of you comes careening back.

Pretty soon, airlines will be charging for the privilege of getting any seat at all. There have been recurring reports that two European airlines have asked the airline manufacturers to come up with a plane with no seats -- all the better to stuff more people in.

They would have straps and harnesses on the walls. Michael Ryan, head of Ryanair, one of Europe's biggest airlines -- which carried 5.84 million passengers in June -- said recently,"This makes the idea of standing for an hour or so on an airplane a workable one." Ryan said that many people stand for over an hour on a train, so it should be no problem on an airplane.

He was even prepared to offer free flights to passengers who stood. He said he could squeeze in 50 percent more people and cut costs by 20 percent.

Ryan has also been going back and forth about the idea of asking passengers to pay one euro (around a dollar) to use the toilet. The logic: Ryan said he could remove two toilets and put in extra seats. Furthermore, asking passengers to pay would encourage them to use the toilets at the airports, or hold it until they land.

Ryan even said he'd favor of a "fat tax" on overweight passengers.

Asian copy-cats are jumping on the standing room only bandwagon. Wang Zhenghua, president of China's low-cost Spring Airlines, said he would like to offer bar-stool type seating to pack more people onto its airplanes.

"For a lower price, passengers should be able to get on a plane like catching a bus, with no seat, no luggage consignment, no food, no water...[it will be] very convenient."

Just like a New York subway at rush hour.

What could possibility be next? Why not go the whole way? Airlines could start selling aisle seats for $50 and window seats for $40.

From here the premiums multiply, seats in the front of the plane (you can get off faster) could easily go for $20 extra, and seats at least two rows away from the galley or flushing toilets would be an extra $15. Overhead bins could go for $10 per bag.

Seats in an adult's only section -- over 30, guaranteed to be away from screaming babies and babbling teens -- could easily fetch a $50 premium. And a singles only section might fetch a cover charge of $25.

Airlines could hold some seats back for on-board auctions for already seated travelers who wanted to move in the most desperate way -- body odor, excessive talking, smelly food, or large-sized row mates.

Better yet. Why not why not take pre-boarding to a whole new level with computer match making, so you could see in advance who you are going to be seated next to... and the bidding could start on eBay.

Come on guys. This is the American way.

write: jfleetwood@aol.com