The secret's out on the exit row: fliers would like to be sitting there, preferably sans upcharge. Airlines, in turn, have wised up to this fact, and are most certainly upcharging.
You need look no further than this airline-by-airline guide to exit-row seating from the Points Guy. In almost every case, claiming the exit row will incur additional fees. From Delta to United to JetBlue, you'll have to pay a geographically-specific premium to secure that extra legroom, typically falling somewhere in the $50-$120 range.
There are two ways to skirt around this. First, no matter what airline you're on, you should always inquire at the gate if the exit-row seats are taken. Ask straight up, and toward the end of the boarding process if possible. Many fliers are unwilling to pay the exit-row upcharge, so you might get shifted over there free of charge if they go unclaimed.
A more surefire lifehack, though, is to just fly with Southwest Airlines.
Alone among the major airlines, Southwest employs a Wild West approach the boarding process. Seat assignments are based entirely on who checks in the fastest, so hound your email 24 hours before the flight to secure a very solid shot at locking down the exit row. If you have a hunch your flight's going to be busy, make certain you're in the first boarding group by purchasing A) Early-Bird Check-In, for a $15 fee, or B) the more reliable “A1-A15 boarding guaranteed” boarding option, which costs anywhere from $30 to $50, depending on the flight.
For a more detailed understanding of each airline's exit-row policies, check out the Points Guy's full rundown.
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