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SCOTT MAYEROWITZ

Plan to sit next to your fellow fliers? Be prepared to pay

If you’re flying this summer, be prepared to kiss your family goodbye at the gate. Even if they’re on the same plane.

Airlines are reserving more window and aisle seats for passengers willing to pay extra. That’s helping to boost revenue but making it harder for friends and family members who don’t pay this fee to sit next to each other. At the peak of the summer travel season, it might be nearly impossible.

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Buying tickets two or more months in advance makes things a little easier. But passengers are finding that the only way to sit next to a spouse, child, or friend is to shell out $25 or more — each way.

With base fares on the rise — the average roundtrip ticket this summer is forecast by Kayak.com to be $431, or 3 percent higher than last year — some families are reluctant to cough up more money.

‘‘Who wants to fly like this?’’ says Khampha Bouaphanh of Fort Worth. ‘‘It gets more ridiculous every year.’’

Bouaphanh balked at paying an extra $114 roundtrip in fees to reserve three adjacent seats for him, his wife, and their 4-year-old daughter on a trip to Disney World. ‘‘I’m hoping that when we can get to the counter, they can accommodate us for free,’’ he says.

Airlines say gate agents try to help family members to sit together, especially people with small children. Yet there is no guarantee.

Not everyone is complaining.

Frequent business travelers used to get stuck with middle seats even though their last-minute fares were two or three times higher than the average. Now, airlines are setting aside more window and aisle seats for their most frequent fliers, at no extra cost.

‘‘The customers that are more loyal, who fly more often, we want to make sure they have the best travel experience,’’ says Eduardo Marcos, American Airline’s manager of merchandising strategy.

For everybody else, choosing seats on airline websites has become more of a guessing game.

To travelers who haven’t earned ‘‘elite’’ status in a frequent flier program, flights often appear full, even though they are not. These casual travelers end up paying extra for an aisle or window seat, believing they have no other option. But as flights get closer many of the seats airlines had set aside for those willing to pay a premium do become available — at no extra cost.

‘‘Airlines are holding these seats hostage,’’ says George Hobica, founder of the travel site AirfareWatchdog. ‘‘The seat-selection process isn’t as fair as it used to be.’’

Scott Mayerowitz writes for the Associated Press.
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