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Wednesday morning, Etihad emailed frequent flyers with an opportunity to “enhance your economy class journey.” Oh, intriguing! Could the airline be introducing fancier new meals, perhaps? Or, maybe there’s a new premium economy product on the way?

Nope… the product adjustment here is simply a new requirement to pay for something you currently get for free: standard seat selection. Some “enhancement.” Ugh.

This change is not to be confused with the carrier’s existing “Neighbour-Free Seat” option, which lets you bid for up to three extra seats in your row — if your bid is successful, you can secure an entire row of seats for yourself. That at least offers some added value, although considering Etihad’s current financial situation, and the fact that the airline’s trimming flights, it seems somewhat likely that you’d end up without a neighbor either way.

The new seat-selection fee kicks in this Sunday, July 15, and joins other recent initiatives, like an opportunity to book Etihad’s Residence Lounge (albeit without Residence amenities) for just $40. Many airlines already charge for economy seat picks, and some, including British Airways, even charge ridiculous fees to select a seat on paid business-class fares.

Unfortunately there doesn’t appear to be any sort of “grace period,” though — the fee is already appearing for travel dates beginning July 15; you can only select a free seat for flights through this Saturday.

For example, on Etihad’s A380 flight to JFK, this Friday’s flight is displaying two buy-up options: Standard Seats (essentially regular seats in the forward economy cabin) for about $41, and Preferred Seats (exit rows and other extra-legroom options) for $182. There are plenty of “Available Seats,” though — those are the ones that don’t cost extra, and they’re available throughout the rear cabins.

Beginning Sunday, while “Available Seats” are still listed in the Seat Map Key, there aren’t any displaying on the seat map — the seats that are free for flights through Saturday cost about $33 for flights beginning Sunday. Additionally, the current “Standard Seats” become “Preferred Seats,” with today’s “Preferred Seats” then labeled as “Extra legroom seat.” There’s no change to pricing for those options, though.

The one saving grace is that “Economy Flex” tickets appear to be exempt — though in the case of Abu Dhabi (AUH) to New York (JFK), a Flex ticket will cost you nearly $400 more than regular coach. That might be worth considering if you also expect to make changes or apply for a full refund, but that differential far exceeds the $33 seat-selection fee.

Similarly, Economy Flex award tickets are also exempt, though those require more than twice the number of miles on the AUH-JFK route.

Now, all this said, it’s easy for anyone to avoid this new seat-selection fee. Beginning 24 hours prior to departure, you’ll be able to pick any remaining standard seat for free — you only need to pay to select a seat before the check-in window opens.

You may also be eligible for a seat-fee refund if you don’t actually get to fly in the type of seat you purchased — being reassigned to a similar seat in a different row won’t trigger a refund, though, nor will accepting an upgrade to business class, upgrading to a “Neighbour-Free Seat” or, unfortunately, changing your itinerary.

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