I have a seat but I don’t have a seat assignment

If you have a seat on a plane, shouldn’t you also have a seat assignment?

Did you say, “Of course?” Well then, let me introduce you to Judy Field, who is flying from Dallas to Bangkok next month on American Airlines and Japan Airlines.

Picking the seats for her domestic flight was easy, she says, but when it came to the codesharing leg on Japan Airlines — not so much.

“I would not be given an assigned seat on Japan Airlines’ leg from Tokyo to Bangkok,” she says. “I was told they do not assign seats in the class that I purchased until the day of flying.”

Turns out there’s a difference between having a seat assignment and having an actual seat, a fact that Dallas-based travelers like Field are all too aware of.

Southwest Airlines, which is headquartered at Love Field, famously doesn’t assign seats. (Critics of that airline like to refer to the procedure as “cattle-call” boarding, but it is, in fact, slightly more organized.) But airlines rarely confirm a reservation without having a seat available. That’s called overbooking, and the Transportation Department requires airlines to compensate customers for selling seats that don’t exist.

So what’s going on here?

One answer: It’s codesharing, the dubious practice of an airline pretending another airline’s flight is its own. That’s how Field could buy a ticket on American from Dallas to Bangkok. American doesn’t fly from Tokyo to Bangkok, but Japan Airlines, its OneWorld codesharing partner, does. And Japan Airlines controls the seats on its plane, ultimately.

But that is only part of the explanation. When Sallie Rosa booked an American Airlines codeshare flight on British Airways a few weeks ago, she got a more precise answer.

It’s about the money.

“I purchased the tickets and the American Airlines site, and it said I’d be able to choose my seats on the next page,” she says. “But when I went there, the seat maps were unavailable.”

Repeated attempts to make a seat selection were unsuccessful. She decided to write to British Airways, asking for a confirmed seat assignment. In response, the airline assured her that she had a seat on the plane, but that an assignment would cost her extra.

“British Airways has launched a new service to give our customers more control over their seating options,” the airline said in an email. “Customers are now able to choose to pay for their general seating any time from the time of booking. They can also secure exit row seats between 4 and 10 days prior to travel.”

It added, “We introduced a charge so that those choosing to use this additional service were able to do so without passing on extra costs to those who don’t.”

Well, isn’t that thoughtful of them?

Rosa paid an extra $318 for seats. She’s traveling with two kids, and “I would utterly panic if I arrived and had no seats,” she adds.

This is part of a bigger process called “unbundling” in which airlines are separating everything that used to come with an airline seat, including the ability to check luggage, have a confirmed seat reservation, be served a meal and even have the ability to bring a carry-on bag. Air carriers see these “extras” as revenue opportunities, and they’re not shy about asking you, their valued customers, for more.

But parsing the seat and the seat reservation is bordering on the absurd. It doesn’t cost an airline anything extra to confirm a seat, for starters. It also unfairly targets the kind of air travelers who can least afford to pay for the “luxury” of a confirmed seat: families with young children.

But worst of all, asking passengers to pay for a confirmed seat reservation suggests that if you don’t pony up the cash, you may not have a seat on the aircraft at all, sending air travelers like Rosa into a tizzy.

Maybe — just maybe — the unbundling madness has gone too far. Maybe the airline industry needs to look elsewhere for the ancillary revenue it depends on to turn a profit.

(Photo: moonpie/Flickr)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • y_p_w

    I wouldn’t worry.  Getting a seat isn’t likely to be a problem, although the particular seat may be an issue.  I know people in the travel industry who rather appreciate overbookings that result in bumps.  Airlines get very generous with hotel rooms and cash.  In the meanwhile they’re very good at making sure that someone bumped will be on the next flight out if possible.

    I remember a time when getting a confirmed seat before arriving at the airport was rare.  Getting an assigned seat is also overrated.  I was once assigned a seat that wasn’t there.  It was a quirk of the airline, in that they had one plane that was configured differently than the other models of that plane in their fleet.  The checkin counter also belonged to another airline.  It wasn’t a codeshare; the particular airline didn’t have their own employees at the airport and used Pan Am (which tells anyone that this wasn’t recent).

    If you really want to play fast and loose with the chance of not getting where you’re going, try flying standby.  I’ve done that a few times.  I’ve even got into business class a few times.  Now that’s a real experience.

  • Bruce Burger

    Airlines have the right to change a seat assignment or to not offer seat assignments at all, so I suppose they should be allowed to charge for them or offer them only to some passengers (e.g., those who paid a lot or have loyalty program status). But they should have to disclose this fee up front.

  • lorcha

    I have two small kids, and this new “nearly everything is a premium seat now” policy really hacks me off. 

    Every time we fly as a family, we have to get to the airport super early so that we’ll have plenty of time to beg the ground crew for seats together. They always seem to manage to come through for us, but that’s just one bit of uncertainty that is totally unnecessary. 

    The legacy airlines are trying (and succeeding at) being bigger pains in the butt than Southwest!

  • DavidYoung2

    Same with Air France.  We flew from Amsterdam to Nice with our 4-year old.  Guess what — none of us were sitting together.  We asked to get seats together and they said no, try once you board.  So, fine, we sat her in the middle of two other people and she started yelling and crying and, guess what?  Plenty of volunteers to change (hmmm…can’t imagine why strangers wouldn’t want to sit next to a crying / screaming child for about two hours.)

    Call their bluff – do you really think they’ll keep you separated from your children?  Well, maybe SleazyJet or Ryan/RipOff Air might, but not BA

  • http://flyicarusfly.com/ Fly, Icarus, Fly

    The only time I would pay for a seat assignment is on a long-haul flight to make sure I didn’t get a middle seat. Otherwise, I just ask politely for an exit row and more often than not, get it. It’d be nice if all airlines made it free of charge to choose your own seat, but I wouldn’t want to pay more for that service since I would rarely use it and can see why codeshare flights would be problematic. However, I can see why families with small children would want it. But then, as another poster said, check-in super early and you’ll most likely be seated together. Now if I could only pay more NOT to be seated next to an XL passenger or a breastfeeding mother, that’d be another story. haha. JUST KIDDING, people!


  • TonyA_says

    Nope, most intra-european flights don’t offer advanced seat reservations either.
    Also, most fare rules will allow the combination of AA and JL coded flight in the Pacific, so simply book the non-codeshare flights together. This way you get advanced seating for all flight segments. I do it all the time for my clients.
    British airways is a different story. No advanced seating until check in unless you have status or pay. But a lot of US carriers fly there (London) so don’t pick BA if you like choosing your seats beforehand.

    I do not symphatize with people who complain that all airlines should be alike. They, too, should be free to offer different services and prices like any other business. People should simply shop around and buy what’s best for themselves. To each his/her own.

  • finance_tony

    I’ve found that with partner airlines (not sure if JAL is among them), you can often get the booking number for the partner airline.  It’s different than the record locator that you’re given on e.g. AA.com.  Unfortunately you can’t do this online, but you have to call an AAgent.  I’ve been lucky in that I’ve never been charged to do this.  Then, again depending on the partner airline, you can manage your booking and seat assignments on their site.  Might be worth a try.

  • TonyA_says

    Also want to point out that a CONFIRMED ”seat” (in airline lingo) realy means confirmed space for a specific flight. Advanced seat ASSIGNMENT means you have requested a specific row and number and the airline has confirmed your request. The operative word is REQUEST. An airline will not guarantee a specific seat and you can be moved to another seat.

  • Philippa_FRA

    Blame codeshare for this, not British Airways.

    Passengers with infants can choose their seats from the time of booking free of charge. Passengers with children have to pay for early seat assignments; if they choose not to, then BA will still seat each child with at least one an adult. (Economy, international flights).

    But… this is old news; they’ve been doing it since 2008.

  • $16635417

    Just because you don’t have a seat assignment does not necessarily mean the flight is overbooked either. Many airlines hold back a block of seats for use of the airport agents. This can be for many last minute issues that come up such as air marshals, unaccompanied minors, wheelchairs and others with special needs.

    The DOT does not require airlines to compensate for “selling seats that don’t exist”. Airlines can overbook and it is surprising how many people do NOT show up for a flight they are confirmed on. The DOT requires compensation only if the airline is unable to transport someone due to overbooking. (One of the reasons last minute tickets are so expensive, the revenue collected can cover a potential overbooking.)

  • TonyA_says

    Blame codeshare for this.

    Can we predict the next most requested law coming from the pro-consumer zealots? Airlines must disclose if advance seat reservations are accepted on the flight before it is sold.

  • http://twitter.com/travelingiraffe Crissy

    I’ve flown a couple times where airlines did not allow you to select a seats for any reason until the time of check in.  Although annoying, as long as that is the rule for everyone, I am fine with. 
    I do find paying for a seat assignment really frustrating, particularly on long flights.  On a 2 hour flight I don’t mind so much if I end up with a bad seat. But on a long flight I feel forced to pay money.

  • emanon256

    I voted no, however I think there are multiple issues here.  I don’t like the fact that they charge extra for certain seats, and I think that’s annoying.  However, I don’t think I have ever been able to confirm a seat in advance on a code share flight, I think that’s a problem with code share itself unfortunate.  I don’t know why the airlines don’t do a better job at that.
    I booked on Lufthansa recently and this wasn’t even a code share and I was told at my fare, I could not confirm a seat until check-in.  I wasn’t even allowed to pay for a seat in advance.  Also on my Frontier flights I am always told no seat assignment until check-in unless I pay.
    I would hope that the airlines block some seats together for families, but I have no clue if they actually do or not.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Seat assignments should be included in the price. I understand the airline wanting to charge more for bulkhead or exit row (or offering them to elite pax).  

    HOWEVER, if I had booked a bulkhead and was kicked out of it without immediate compensation, I would be annoyed. And yes, that has happened to me. I am elite on CO (now UA) and I picked a bulkhead. Confirmed res and all that…went to the airport a few weeks later and had been reassigned by the gate agent to a middle seat. 


    Because someone with a “bassinet” (huh???) “requires” the bulkhead. I let her know I was displeased and eventually was put in an exit row.

    But really? I booked the bulkhead. CO sold (via status; I’d have been more angry had I paid the $$$ to ‘upgrade’) me the bulkhead. And I was going to be put in a horrible middle seat in the back of the plane?!?!?

  • emanon256

    This pisses me off too.  Fortunately it hasn’t happened to me in a while, but it has happened to me several times and always at LGA. Each time I was re-assigned to an economy minus middle seat.  Several times I was told it was for a crew member and they were contractually obligated to give them a seat of choice, one other time they said it was for a “Global Service” member who wanted my seat.  At least each time when I complained United gave me a travel voucher, but I would have rather had my extra leg room than a voucher.

  • Kairho

    Federal US regulations require that certain seats (usually including bulkhead seats) be held* for various reasons until 24 hours before a flight.

    *they can be assigned but that person can be relocated should a person who legally requires such a seat show up.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Have you had Chris look into that? Because to me it’s the shadiest of shady business practices.

    I mean, they take my cash, don’t give me what I paid for and return my money to me in the form of a voucher I have to use their airline on their terms.

  • TonyA_says

    This looks to me like they sold you something they were not able to deliver. You paid $59 extra for that bulkhead seat. Why should someone who paid 10% of a fare for a lap child grab that seat from you? What gives families more rights? UA/CO should give your money back and 7,500 miles (like they gave the guy who didn’t like his croissant). Just kidding about the miles.

    We have 3 kids. Although the youngest is 12 now, I can recall numerous flights we had to take between the coasts and international, too. For a number of years, we were one of those families with three young kids traveling together. We’ve never used those [stupid] bassinets – my second boy moved (flew) from California to Connecticut when he was 9 weeks old. Never had a bad experience since nice people will usually offer their seats so my wife and the baby can sit in front, while I seat with the toddlers somewhere else if we all cannot seat together. But this is usually not a problem if you buy early, check in online, and be at the airport counter at least 3 hours before the flight. There is one thing I won’t do – I will not seat-grab someone’s seat especially since they paid extra for it. I cannot understand why families with kids think they are entitled to more than those without kids. A need does not translate to a right.

  • BillCCC

    I don’t have a problem with airlines charging for premium(or whatever they want to call them)seats. My only comment would be that if I buy more than one ticket I should be guaranteed that the seats will be together. In my case I will usually pay extra.

  • MarkKelling

    The key phrase here is “they do not assign seats in the CLASS that I PURCHASED until the day of flying.”

    Sounds like the lowest cost tickets don’t get you a pre assigned seat.  The airline saves those for people willing to pay more (Frontier does that so it is not just foreign airlines).  I don’t really like this but it is the airline’s right to do so.  And of course if I was one of those paying more for my seat I would like there to be aisle or window seats available and not be stuck in the middle because someone paid less (maybe a lot less) than I did and got a better seat.  

    As long as I was able to do early online checkin and have a shot at getting seats together I am OK with it.

  • JPainis

    Actually, few airlines now charge for a seat assignment in advance if there are enough seats left. Only when it gets down to the last few seats do they hold them, and the alternative to holding some and giving people a ‘seat request’ would be to move them around at the airport when they need to reassign them.

    As for charging for seats, why not? You are still confirmed on the flight, and that won’t change unless they oversell it (which they could anyways).

  • Joel Wechsler

    What you say about BA is not entirely true. There are certain large agencies that have preferred status with BA that are able to assign seats in advance without charge and regardless of the status of the individual. Also, if you book a code share flight ,it is easy enough to look at the seat map of the operating carrier and then go back to your PNR to request a specific seat. This usually works.


    He clearly says that he did NOT pay to upgrade – he was allowed to choose that seat based on his status. So, he did not pay $59 extra for the bulkhead seat.  Should they have moved him to a middle seat? No. If he had chosen that seat, based on his elite status, the airline should have accommodated him to another desirable seat.  The problem is that when a situation crops up that causes the gate agent to start changing seat assignments, it is usually close to departure time and they don’t have enough time to re-seat a domino string of passengers and still get the flight off on time.

  • TonyA_says

    Sorry Chris, but I have to disagree with Judy Field’s inability to get advanced seat assignments on her DFW-NRT-BKK codeshared flights.

    AA codeshare flights on JL from NRT to BKK display seat maps – so you can get advanced seat reservations.
    Here’s my proof:

    Display seat availability DFW-BKK on 16MAR:
    16MAR-FR-615A DFWBKK CT **      
    1*O#AA  61   DFWNRT-1245P 415P       777 0E
    2*O#AA5834        BKK- 605P1115P#1   763 0E   

    Display seat map on second segment NRT-BKK

    AA5834Y 17MAR 767 NRTBKK AS 9 N 15
    A C D E G H K A C D E G H K
    15 R R R R R R R 20 R R W R . R W R R
    16 R R . . . R R 21 R R W R . R W R R
    17 R R R R R R R 22 R R W . . R W . R
    18 R R R . R R R 23 R R W R R R W R R
    19 R R R R R R R
    AA5834Y 17MAR 767 NRTBKK AS 51 N 45
    A C D E G H K A C D E G H K
    45 R R W R R R W R R 56 . . . . R R R
    46 R R W R R R W R R 57 R R R R R R R
    47 R R W . . . W . . 58 R R R R R R R
    48 . R W . . R W R . 59 R R R R R R R
    49 . . W . . . W . . 60 R R R R R R R
    50 . R W . . . W R . 61 R R R R R R R
    51 . . W . . . W R . 62 R R R R R R R
    52 . . . . R R R 63 R R R R R R R
    53 . R . . . . . 64 R R R R R R R
    54 . R . . . . . 65 R R R R R R R
    55 . . . . R R R

    You can get advance seat reservations on the NRT-BKK AA codeshare flights!

  • Chasmosaur

    I don’t book bulkhead, simply because I’ve been booted from them so many times.  

    And outside of that, if I’m not in an early seating zone, I never have the necessary OHB space.  It’s more of an aggravation than an advantage.

  • etitus

    Not only are the charging for seats, the premier frequent flyers are now being denied these seats without paying more.  That was one of the few perks for airline loyalty in the pass and as a travel agent I think its horrible that they are also closed out on these seats.  Securing preferred seat assignments for my travelers is one of my top priorities. 

  • TonyA_says

    You’re correct Steve, I misread Raven’s comment.

    However, he surely “paid” to achieve status, so he deserves his seat.

    Some people actually PAY to get preferred seating. They should be reimbursed.

    I for one (even with 3 kids) do not believe that families have more rights when traveling.

    Added: I am now confused. I thought I read a $59 charge somewhere in the original post. Looks like it was edited.???

  • Belle42

    I’d say don’t beg. Just buckle in the kids then explain to the surrounding people that it is due to airline policies that they have to deal with your child with no parental supervision. See how quick people will be willing to switch seats at that point!

  • S363

    Recently flew to BKK myself, using miles.  I was on Thai Air LHR – BKK (very nice airline btw!) and All Nippon Air BKK-Tokyo-SFO (not as nice as Thai but still better than United) returning.  With both ANA and Thai I was able to get THEIR record number, by phone, and then go on THEIR websites and select a seat.  As I recall I needed the ticket number, not the CO record number.

  • LostinTravel

    Southwest’s new system is sounding bettter and better.  it is no longer a cattle call, it is a systematic line by number according to your check in time and status (one can pay for an earlier check in rather than make sure to check in at exactly 24 hours prior to flight).  Very orderly lines, first in picks the seat and OHC space and sits down.  People who check in together, get numbers together and sit together where ever they find seats.  I have almost always been in the first group even without paying extra and have gotten seats to suit me and my family.  I like this much better than having a seat assignment only to discover it has changed.  Best of all people seem to know what to expect and don’t carry on stuff it they are in the later seating numbers. Of course, free checking for TWO bags helps too. SW is sometimes more expensive especially on short notice trips, but I cannot fault their seating methods now with the numbered boarding.

  • S363

    I don’t really get the hating on Southwest.  I like the open seating.  A couple of times I’ve paid the $10 to get an early number, and gotten an exit row every time.  Try getting an exit row for $10 on any other carrier!  I also like the price (especially if one is checking bags) and the fact that one can rebook at no charge.  I’ll take Southwest anytime!

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    This particular issue seems to be gaining in public scrutiny.  Chris Elliott has spotlighted this problem a couple of times in the last two months.  Now, Ralph Nader has been personally affected (see http://redtape.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/02/08/10344838-thatll-be-2000-extra-for-your-aisle-seat-mr-nader ). 

    I understand the concept of paying for premium seating.  But I don’t think there should be a premium paid for middle-seats-in-the-back-of-the-plane (just a general seat reservation).  If those seats are all sold out by the time one makes a reservation, then that information should be displayed while making the reservation.

    Rough example:  Fare from X to Y – $429 (no seats currently available at this fare); Fare from X to Y – $479 (premium seating choices – 6 seats available). 

    In other words, tell us ahead of time that it’s going to cost more to fly, rather than cause a lot of unneeded worry about seating.

  • JPainis

     But it doesn’t cost more to fly – you still will be guaranteed to fly on that plane. You will still get a seat assignment, just not in advance (before check in).

  • Steve_in_WI

    I think if an airline assigns seats, they should be required to let you reserve a standard economy seat at no extra charge.

  • Ivy_B

    I had economy class confirmed aisle seat on Lufthansa from Cape Town to Frankfurt that I bought in Feb. In Dec on boarding flight in CT, discovered I was in one of two middle seats in section of four in middle of plane. Flight was terrible. Complained & was told seat assignment is an amenity we don’t guarantee. LFT gave me 5,000 miles

  • etitus

    you are not guaranteed a seat on the plane.  Thousands of travelers get bumped every day 

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    My own recent experience is contrary to your assertion.  I personally got caught in this situation the last week of December, flying 3 of us out for a funeral (obviously a last minute reservation).  I could not get a seat assignment at the advertised fare.  If I paid for premium seating, which was required for all 3 of us, on all 3 legs, then I had a seat assignment.  I paid the premium, because I didn’t want any issues regarding overbooking, standby, someone else with greater status claiming a seat, etc. and/or other problems (read families, disabled, etc.) occurring at the gate.

    On the way back, I called the airline’s bluff and waited until I got to the airport (well in advance) to get seats.  No seats were available in the class for which I paid for seats on one of the legs.  The airline was forced to seat us in what was available, which was first class.  It was stressed to us that if someone with status or priority wanted/needed those seat(s), we didn’t have a seat on that flight.  Luckily, that wasn’t the case and we all got back together, on the same day we were scheduled to travel.

     I, for one, would have appreciated having been told in advance that the real cost for a confirmed seat assignment on the outbound trip was higher than the advertised fare.  The uncertainty on the return trip bothered my husband and father-in-law; luckily my playing chicken won – this time.

  • Steve_in_WI

    I have never failed to get an acceptable seat on Southwest. I’ve paid for early check-in a couple of times (usually on the return flight of a vacation, when I don’t want to have to worry about checking in exactly 24 hours prior to departure), but even when I’ve just checked in on my own I generally get an A boarding pass, or at worst a low-to-medium B. That has always been satisfactory (all my wife and I require are two seats together, window and middle, anywhere on the plane). We’ve also taken a couple of trips with a group of 5-6 people and have been able to all sit together despite buying tickets at different times, which would be nearly impossible with assigned seats.

    I also find the actual boarding process on Southwest to be much *better* than airlines with assigned seats, because they actually force people to line up and be orderly. Whenever I fly a legacy carrier, everyone just crowds around the gate jockeying for position, and usually the people boarding last feel the need to stand near the front for some inexplicable reason.

  • streamerstoo

    this is ridiculous…charging for a seat assignment…should be illegal!
    What next air…

  • john4868

    I don’t have an issue with the airline charging for a seat assignment prior to check in as long as they aren’t allowed to overbook. That way, someone that has a “must have” seat assignment can pay a premium and those who don’t care won’t have to. Pushes everyone closer to the Southwest model of doing business.

  • Nancy Marine Dickinson

    I was looking at flights from TUS to MEM and the only seats that aren’t premium (read: cost more) are the middle seats.  The rest cost more to reserve with your flight.

    This is all becoming more and more absurd.  How long before we have to pay a toll to use the jetway when entering a plane?  Will the airlines add a gratuity of 15% for parties larger than 3 for the flight attendants?  Will we soon be paying news stand fees for the magazines?  Will we soon be paying a fee to have the ability to raise the shade on the window so we can look out?

    Man, I better stop – there might be an airline exec reading this and I’m giving them ideas…

  • Nancy Marine Dickinson

    This is what I was thinking as I read the plight of the OP.  Nothing like a child w/o a parent to make people change seats quickly, especially on a long-haul flight. I would also sweetly thank them for taking care of my child as I fly ten rows away.

  • http://twitter.com/travelwize Alyse Cori

    You dont necessarily need to pay for a seat assignment. Some professional travel agents affiliated with the top tier travel agencies can unblock seats, exit rows too, without a fee. It goes back to the biggest resistance to using a travel agent is thinking you dont need one. If you were designing a home would you go to a “do it yourself website or would you consult a professional? We know how to save money and offer value at no extra charge.

  • Nancy Marine Dickinson

    With my RA, were I forced to sit anywhere else, with the inability to really stretch my legs, I wouldn’t be able to walk when I landed. 

    I always request bulkhead at the airport because that’s the row for handicapped people.  Being bumped from there is a strong likelihood for any passenger due to the airlines forcing handicapped travelers to make that request at the gate rather than requesting it far in advance.  
    I make my reservations online (which is another fee no one mentions: being charged more if one makes their reservations using a real, live person) but always follow it up with a call to the airline asking to be seated at the bulkhead due to my disability.  I’m always told, “No, ask at the gate about an hour before take-off.”

  • Owassonian

    I voted YES. Not because I like to pay more for a confirmed seat assignment but for the fact that now some government authority is going to dictate what a private business can sell and what it has to provide for free. If the question were ‘should the airlines charge a separate fee for confirmed seat assignments’, I would definitely have voted NO. If the question were ‘should the airlines be allowed to sell a ticket but not provide a seat’, the answer would have been NO.

    If the airline doesn’t tell you what your seat numbers are, you get to know those at the time of check-in. The only thing is you have to be particular about checking in 24 hours before the scheduled flight time. If the airline can not provide you with a seat at the check in counter or at the gate, then it should pony up and pay for its wrong business methods. For that, there is DOT law. But whether an airline should or should not be able to sell a service that they offered for free in the past is the decision only to be made by the airline. Customers can choose not to be on that airline’s flights, or pay a fee for the assurance of knowing the seat number, which the airline can change anyway.   

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TBSCJO6WXX37T5ISTTUETH4OMM Fred Munroe

    There is another issue that seldom gets covered on this topic.  Most airlines withhold about 10-20% of the seats from there advance seat assignment inventory.  This used to be to offer better customer service at the airport.  “Used to be” are the key words.

    In the past this was in order to handle the juggling needed by last minute requests or rather demands at the airport.  This was the way to handle the parent with 3 kids, who is better off in a bulkhead row, but only bought their ticket yesterday.  These seats were usually near the front of coach.

    This changed with the advent of “economy plus”.  So now the airlines just sell you the roomier section of coach.  When I look at a seat map for an almost empty flight, there is still 10-20% of the seats blocked out even on airlines with no “plus” seating or charge for seat assignments.

    You will never get customer service from an airline again.  You will from a human, not online, travel agent.  Try it!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HMW3OTJSBDWWRKIEKEKWWM7BEA bc

    “It also unfairly targets the kind of air travelers who can least afford to pay for the “luxury” of a confirmed seat: families with young children.”
    Really, Chris?? Please explain this statement. Are families with children charged extra per person for seat assignments above and beyond non families? This really smacks of the “do it for the children” emotional ploys people love to throw around. Yes, when you’re traveling with more people you have to pay for more seats. I don’t see how this is unfairly targeting families. If your discussion is that young families have less resources to purchase these seats, how is this a problem of the airlines or why should other travelers subsidize them or pay more for the same service? Do you actually believe this is a reason for airlines to give people who happen to procreate special privileges beyond early boarding?

    I do agree the whole idea of paying extra for a confirmed seat assignment is repugnant but lets not spin this into an anti-family anti-children ploy when it isn’t. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jerry-Flake/1480866042 Jerry Flake

     Last year I booked 2 identical round trips a month apart on Delta from ATL to OSL with a plane change at CDG. The outgoing flights were on Delta the return was on its codeshare partner Air France. On the first trip I had confirmed seats both directions. The Delta portion was OK but on the return flight via CDG my confirmed seats were not honored. The Air France gate attendant and the flight attendant both stated that confirmed seats mean nothing. My wife and I were forced to sit apart and were each placed in the middle seat (2nd from window) on opposite sides of the plane (the row had 10 seats). On the second trip we were not allowed to confirm seats on the Air France portion. Delta blames Air France saying they are not allowed to assign seats on Air France flights but that they do allow Air France to assign seats on Delta flights. I requested, at my expense, an upgrade to Premium Economy. This was not possible because calls to Air France in the US are directed to Delta and the Delta agent was not able to process an upgrade nor, according to the agent, was he able to even see the availability of seats on any Air France seat. I have requested that my travel agent (she’s worth so much more than she charges) avoid Air France.   

  • TonyA_says

    What I am saying is true for the general public .

    I am able to see and offer BA bulk/negotiated fares and can display seat maps for most of their flights and request them for my PNRs. There is no guarantee they will confirm my seat requests 100% of the time. So I know there are exceptions. But I don’t find it helpful for me to discuss or boast what I can do when I know the general public cannot do it. That’s not fair to them. 

    As for codeshares, well not all codeshares are equal. IMO the codeshares of the JOINT VENTURES have become more seamless. For most of them, you can see seat maps and request seats already. No need to look at operating carrier’s seat map. Other codeshares (non-joint venture) are still problematic. Worse, the PNR will only display the RLOC of the marketing codeshare carrier. Passenger still has to hunt down the operating carrier’s RLOC (by calling the marketing carrier) and then make the call to the operating carrier.

    Just my 2 cents.

  • Philippa_FRA

    And it sounds like also Ms Rosa paid for nothing. According to BA’s seating policy, each child will be seated with at least one adult – ergo, Ms Rosa would never have been separated from her children anyway. Two for two!?

  • Joe Farrell

     There are plenty of families with young children who can afford seat assignments . . . . have you looked at the toys these kids have?  And the unnecessarily upscale strollers and other accouterments?

    As for unbundling – why not.  Pretty soon we’ll see them unbundle the class of service perqs and if you are on a coach ticket on an upgrade you will get the coach meal and coach bag allowance . . .

  • TonyA_says

    Unfortunate there are passenger who panic, needlessly. Some demand too much and want to be in control of everything. The last thing other passengers want is to be beside Ms. Rosa’s kids. So they will likely move.

  • Philippa_FRA

    Next week on Elliott…

    Seriously, though, do you know if the seating issues on codeshare flights are due to incompatible systems? Or is it deliberate; do the operators favour their own passengers, so to speak?

  • Philippa_FRA

    The irony: British Airways, who’s starring in today’s horror story, don’t separate adults and children.

  • TonyA_says

    Even “incompatible” systems can be programmed so that they can exchange information using IATA standard messaging for EDIFACT (or XML).

    I agree with your comment regarding the airline’s own self interests. However, almost all the large airlines you can think of, are in one way or the other involved is some kind of Joint Venture over the Atlantic. They share REVENUES regardless who tickets. With JVs there is less need to protect one’s inventory. So, today, you will see almost seamless sharing of seat maps within airlines in a JV.

    IMO, in a JV, sharing seat inventory is in the self interest of all JV partners. One exception I see is with BA since they already had been charging for advanced seat reservations so I guess it’s difficult for them to suddenly give this revenue away for free just because of a JV.

  • lvswhippets

    They shouldn’t but they do & I “choose” to pay for a seat of my choice.

  • Lindabator

    But that means you feel a family is far more important than anyone else on that flight who very well MAY have paid for their seats!  Believe me, I pay for an aisle for an 8 hour flight, I am NOT wanting to give it to you becasue YOU feel entitlted to it for free, just because YOU have a fmily!  So either everyone pay – or no one pay. 

  • Lindabator

    Again, because YOU don’t want to pay, everyone ELSE has to.  NOT FAIR TO THEM!!!   just because you have a family, does NOT mean I should have to either give up the seat I PAID FOR or be inconvenienced the entire flight – either charge EVERYONE or NO ONE!

  • Pdoggs

    Regarding the “bassinet”, I had never seen one until about a year ago when a friend of mine posted pictures of her baby using one on a long flight on Facebook.  It’s essentially a bed that attaches to the wall which allows babies to sleep laying down or just a place for parents to put the babies instead of holding them the entire flight.  She didn’t have to buy a seat for the baby but she did have to pay extra for the bassinet (it cost I think around $150 which was far less than another seat). 

  • Lindabator

    which is why I hate the fact that they charge for any seats – either everyone pay or no one pay, but get what you paid for, or if a change in gauge, then a refund and accommodation to best seat available.

  • Lindabator

    Actually, if you are an elite flier, you are probably the ONLY one able to use that voucher!  :)

  • Pdoggs

    I’m not even a parent and even I can understand that parents might panic a bit when faced with the chance of not being able to sit with their kid on a flight.  Will people switch?  Yes, when faced with babysitting someone’s kid they will BUT should they have to?  no.  Should it be up to the parents to have to ask people (or force them by doing what someone suggested abovee and just plopping their kid in a seat)?  No.  I don’t think it should be that much of a hassle for ANY flier, parent or no parent.

  • Lindabator

    Tony – took the words right out of my mouth — you’re a family I would never mind traveling with — its the others who feel they are ENTITLED to the seat you paid for, because they all want to be seated together, but not have to pay the price.  I don’t really care WHO you are (or think you are), your needs DO NOT superceed another person’s.  I get motion sickness, so need to move about the aircraft a bit – that’s why I PAY for an aisle seat – so I don’t keep climbing over someone else and inconvenience THEM!

  • Lindabator

    Depending on the airline, you should see if they have a medical desk – then they can actually pre-assign those seats with little fuss for you.  United was always best at that.

  • TonyA_says

    Let’s take a peek at a typical AA BDL-DFW  (AA1525) flight like what Ralph Nader took. And let’s look at a seatmap for a flight in December 1 2012 – very far from today, so it will likely be “empty”.

    Seatguru has a layout of this flight:
    It says there are 144 seats in the economy section.

    Now look at the seatmap (from my GDS).

    AA1525Y 01DEC
    737 BDLDFW AS 91 N 7

    A B C D E F
    07 R R R R R R
    08 R R R R R R
    09 S . S S . S
    10 S . S W B B B
    11 B B R W R B B
    12 S . S W S . S
    13 . . . W . . .
    14 E E E W E E E
    15 B B B W E E E
    16 B . B W B . B
    17 S . S W S . S
    18 S . S S . S
    19 . . S S . .
    20 . . S S . .
    21 . . S R R .
    22 R . R . . .
    23 . . . . . .
    24 . . . . . .
    25 . . . . . .
    26 . . . . . .
    27 . . . . . .
    28 . . . . . .
    29 R R R R R R
    30 R R R R R R


    I’ve counted only 72 dots (.), so only a half of the seats are still “assignable” to non-priority passenger some 10 months before the flight. A good 23 (maybe 24) of the seats are coded (S) or Premium Seating.

    Unless people buy their tickets early [not possible for those needing to attend a funeral], then the probability of getting an advanced seat assignment gets less and less. At some point it might not be worth it to pay for advanced seating (or premium seats) because there are BLOCKED seats in the front, middle and back of the airplane that one can get if they check in early.

    I had a similar experience this December-January. I booked 7 seats and I could only get seats all over the place. I still reserved the seats just to make sure we had one. Exactly 48/24 hours before the flight (depending on the carrier), I logged in for online check in and found the mid section of the aircraft available. They were previously blocked. So I moved the whole family over there.

    Unfortunately this whole seating thing has become a game.

  • Pdoggs

    I took the statement to mean that parents flying with their kids are more likely to pay these fees than non parents. 

    I could care less if I fly with whomever I’m traveling with.  Sit next to me, don’t sit next to me, I don’t care.  But parents are not likely to be ok with sitting away from their kids.  Nor are kids likely to be very happy about it.  So they will cough up the fee for peace of mind, to know they are sitting with their kids. 

  • Joe Farrell

    It never was a cattle call – even back when they handed out the little plastic cards they were numbered – I remember getting #132 once when I to the gate to check in 30 min b4 the flight – there were 137 sets on the plane!   It ended up being oversold – I volunteered- got the flight for free, got a $200 voucher and got #4 for the next one leaving only 65 later since the same gate  was working that flight and she just gave me the new boarding card when she processed the voucher and the revised res . . . 

    sometimes it just does not matter and sometimes it works out

  • Lindabator

    But the airlines do NOT open 100% of seating in advance, so to tell you there are only 2 seats, when in fact there may be 20, would be stupid on their part – they’d be sending you to another airline.  And having worked for United in the past, I understand the need to hold back on some of those seats – there may be cancellations or change of aircraft before the flight, and they need to be able to reaccommodate people.  So maybe they should all just move to a Southwest model, or a first come first serve at time of checkin.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_EUTS4TUFMGQZAZLOWGCYXX7D6E Roger M

    Bassinets are the reason why I avoid bulkhead seats.

  • Lindabator

    If they weren’t allowed to overbook, they would need to charge more across the board.  Historically, flights all have no-shows, so they use that information in determining how many to allow to overbook.  In most cases, this is never a problem, and in the few cases in which it is, the costs are covered by the last minute tickets sold, which tend to cover the cost of compensation for a “bump”

  • TonyA_says

    Please read my other posts. Unless you need to fly in a hurry or plan to fly during super-peak season, there is NO NEED TO PANIC if you can buy tickets early and KNOW HOW TO RESERVE SEATS.

  • Joe Farrell

    The time has come to simply say no to the unbundling . . . 

    If you are traveling with small kids why bother paying extra for seats?  You WILL end up sitting next to your small kids because lets say they put you in a middle seat in row 36 and your kid in row 16 . .  what do you think the chances of the person sitting next to your kid – with your kid alone – in Row 36 is going to do?  

    I heard a parent panicking at the gate once in a similar situation and I explained to her to just relax – no one is going to sit next to an unaccompanied toddler – she did not want to see the logic in that because she was in irrational mother mode.   The gate agent told her  I was right and just wait and see – sure enough – she put her kid in the seat [she was across the aisle 2 rows up] and when the business man came to sit down and saw the toddler and the mother – he offered to move. . .  I mean c’mon – why reward the airlines for bad behavior?

    I needed to go to Peoria for a 2 hour appt – took the red eye out of LAX – ORD then a ERJ to PIA – [arriving at about 8a and taking the noon flight back to ORD and LAX home by 6p] and given the last min nature of the trip the only seats available for pre-assignment when I bought the ticket 36hrs out were the premium seats-  so I knew I’d get them and I did. . . .

    Sure, it was  just me and I no bags and nothing to take with me other than ipad and a note pad and change of underwear – but hey – roll the dice. 

  • Lindabator

    How about those who have a death in the family and are on a fixed income, or unemployed?  I agree, just because you CHOOSE to travel with more people doesn’t mean they are “targeting” anyone.  Because if I choose to travel with all my friends, we pay the same amount, and don’t whine about it!

  • bodega3

    I fly UA.  I encountered something recently which makes me wonder if they aren’t trying to get you to pay for their economy plus seating by controling their advance seat assignments.  We had seats assignments but I wanted to change them. I kept checking in Sabre, online and calling. The flight, in all coach classes showed zero, sold out . No seats available on the seating chart. Yet when we took off, the flight was not even close to being full. It certainly make me question things.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_EUTS4TUFMGQZAZLOWGCYXX7D6E Roger M

    Designing a home vs booking an airline ticket is not a good analogy.

  • TonyA_says

    The Air France gate attendant and the flight attendant both stated that confirmed seats mean nothing.

    Well at least they are honest. As I said in my previous posts, seat assignments are mere requests – even confirmed requests are still requests.

    Jerry, next time buy your tickets from Air France (have them validated by AF). Same price.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    I agree that seating has become a game.  My situation was complicated because of codesharing (back to the point of the original article), so strategies for one carrier didn’t work for the other carrier.  Like applying football rules to baseball?? 

  • Rebecca

    It’s like that one person at the office, no matter what job, who thinks the world owes them something because they have kids. They expect everyone else to bend over backwards around them. As if nothing I have to do is important because I don’t have children!


    The policy of Air France, Qantas and British Air, etc. of not assigning seats in coach unless paid for is very disturbing.It seems that as non US carriers they get away with it. Looks like another good reason to support US carriers. BTW, Air Canada has been doing this for some time with their least expensive airfares.

  • E_Woman

    I don’t think anyone thinks they are “entitled” to it – rather, they think the airlines are NOT entitled to charge for something that should be included – if you book a family trip together with all flights at the same time there should be no extra charge to choose all your seats together. If YOU choose to pay a premium for a seat, you should absolutely be guaranteed that seat, but don’t you think you shouldn’t have to pay for it in the first place, i.e. at the time you book your trip, you get to choose whatever seats are available. If no seat is available to your liking, you choose another flight.

  • TonyA_says

    Bodega, it’s not just UA. It seems other airlines are also blocking more and more seats. Problem is many economy seats have been made economy plus. Then they still maintain priority seating on some of the rest of economy. Finally, they also block a portion for airport control. So what’s left for advance seat assignment? Maybe less than one-half?

  • MarkieA

    I understand that you think you’re “sticking” to the airline by doing this, but what about the “innocent” person who paid extra for that aisle or window seat now sitting next to your screaming little angel? Now, if you can switch aisle seat-for- aisle seat with them, fine, but what if you’re also in a middle seat and this person now has the choice between babysitting your child or switching to a middle seat? Are you willing to pay the extra cash to take their seat next to your child?

  • TonyA_says

    Some professional travel agents affiliated with the top tier travel agencies can unblock seats, exit rows too, without a fee.

    Hmm… I never thought travel agents were that powerful.
    Can you provide us with some good examples of travel agents that can UNBLOCK SEATS?

  • TonyA_says

    Don’t forget some European carriers are also charging fees for paying with a credit card. That’s also very disturbing.

  • reasonedthought

    You are so right, just read the contract of carriage and you will discover that most airlines don’t guarantee you much of anything, other than getting you to your destination or close to it, within an unspecified time.  Your nonrefundable ticket, that you can’t change without a fee, isn’t guaranteed by the airline.  While the traveler must be checked in an hour before and can’t miss it without a penalty, the airline can put you on another flight without much of a penalty.

  • rarnold2000

    My lord, who are the 5%?  Airline execs?

  • bodega3

    It was more than just the seats.  They showed all economy sold out but economy was only about 1/2 full. I know about their hold on seating for airport checkin but this was certainly more than that.

  • MarkKelling

    I remember the older days where it was just group A, B or C.  You got a card with a number but it did not mean anything as far as where you were within the A B or C group.  People camped in line at the gate so they could get on first in their group. It was more of a stampede when boarding started than anything. It also really sucked when you had a tight connection and you always ended up in the C group because they could not give you a boarding card for the next flight.  The current system is much better where they provide all of the boarding passes when you check in and you can get good placement in the line for all of your connections.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/ELX6MN7RSOG4HLURC6Y4PWEKLA Jason

    I agree that everyone should either pay or not pay. But it should not be a broken out portion of the fare. Either include the cost in the price of the original ticket (for everyone) or do not charge.

    I think the bigger issue is the nonsensical idea that a family (lets say 2 adults and 2 kids) traveling together are 4 separate entities. If you purchase the 4 seats at the same time, on the same booking, all paid together, etc, there should be a reasonable expectation that those 4 seats will be adjacent to each other. If you go to a show or concert with seating and purchase 4 tickets (all in the same transaction), the assumption is you are buying a grouping of 4 adjacent seats, not 4 random seats in the theater. In a near sold out performance, the only available seats may be scattered single seats, but you are advised of this in advance and given an opportunity to cancel your purchase, or try looking for options on other days.

    I believe this approach should be standard, so it also applies to everyone. It should matter if your grouping of 3 or 4 seats (when purchased together in the same booking) is for parents with kids, a couple setting off on their honeymoon, or business travelers from the same company.

  • y_p_w

    That’s the reality these days.  There’s a conflict because of a sense of entitlement because A) someone paid extra to be able to secure a specific seat and B) families feel as if they should receive special treatment to avoid breaking up their party on a flight.

    I think it can get really nasty if it’s a large family that’s dispersed throughout the cabin.

  • y_p_w

    If they’re not allowed to overbook, then perhaps they also shouldn’t give refunds or allow one to cancel or change flights save standby.

    A fully assigned airline seat could be like a perishable commodity, such as a copncert ticket once the concert is over. 

  • $16635417

    Can you not check the seat map before purchase? I just tried a couple websites and could.

  • y_p_w

    They could treat no-shows like someone not showing up for a ticketed event like a concert or spectator sports. Use it or lose it. No refunds and no exchanges.

    Yeah – that would go swimmingly for those who missed a flight and can’t get onto another flight without ponying up.  Of course maybe give a chance to fly standby in that case.

  • y_p_w

    We have government regulation on what a private business must provide to otherwise paying customers.

    In California, gas stations must provide free water and air compressors for anyone who purchases fuel.  They’re also required to have restrooms, and any gas station within a mile of a freeway is also required to allow any member of the public (paying or not) access to their restrooms.

  • ClareClare

    TonyA, why is it that when I get stuck sitting near a family with multiple kids, they’re never like you?  Normally I’d rather have a tooth pulled than fly transatlantic seated near small children, but I’d sit next to you and yours any day.  :-) 

  • y_p_w

    All depends on the family. There are some who can afford Orbit Baby ($900 for the set). They tend to stick out like a sore thumb for their conspicous consumption.

    Others can only afford the cheapest Graco or Evenflo equipment. I’ve seen plenty of parents using equipment bought at consignment stores.

  • DavidYoung2

    You sound a little bitter.  But you mischaracterize – nobody HAS to move.  Fine, sit next to my 4-year old.  Mom and dad will have a nice peaceful flight instead of entertaining a child for two hours.  They choose to move – their right, but not their obligation.  

  • DavidYoung2

    Wow — issues.  How did the office get in here?   Yes, yes, I’m sure you have things far more important than the health, welfare or upbringing of a child.  It’s not entitlement, but a 3-year old can’t drive themselves to the doctor if they’re running a 102 degree temperature.  That’s just the way it is…

  • TonyA_says

    I noticed that,too, even in Int’l routes. Seat allocation on the lower priced booking class is nil, even if the seat maps display lots of unassigned seats. I’m thinking that TIMING of purchases has become more important, now.

  • Lindabator

    I agree, the seats SHOULD be free.  But if there is a charge, EVERYONE should be prepared to pay – that’s all I’m saying.  And I hear too many times the “I have a family, so I shouldn’t have to pay” speech.

  • TonyA_says

    My folks and my wife’s folks were born or grew up as kids during the depression. The usual advice from the “elders” was not to get married and have kids if you could not afford it. Also, don’t borrow money unless it’s for a home, or a semi-permanent asset. I had my first kid when I was almost 40. Even if my folks became comfortably wealthy after working hard in their own business, I never felt I was ENTITLED TO ANYTHING other than what I worked for myself. IMO It’s this entitlement attitude that is making life miserable for everyone. Furthermore, this consumer protection thing is way too overblown creating too many spoiled consumers. Everyone thinks they are entitled to compensation if their feelings are hurt. I used to jumpseat and the rule was you could not talk until the aircraft reached 10,000 feet. I wish that was the rule for everyone.

    Correction – I’m entitled to an opinion. But that’s it.

  • Lindabator

    Agreed – but we don’t usually hear the honeymooners, business travelers or others “whining” about how they didn’t get seated together.  And then they complain when all the seats are priced for purchase, when everyone else has to pay as well.  I have friends with kids, and their sense of entitlement in this area borders on the ridiculous!  I think you should be prepared to be seated 2 and 2 if that is the case, and not expect everyone else to move to accommodate you.

  • Lindabator

    Because you are not prepared to PAY for the seats???   That’s the real issue here — when you book, look at the seats available BEFORE buying the tickets – I never have problems with couples, businessmen, etc – just the “families” who ONLY buy the cheapest flights without taking into consideration that there were no seats to assign in the first place!  You don’t want to pay, but you have NO PROBLEM inconveniencing the rest of us – knowing full well WE have no choice but to kiss your a@@ and move or deal with YOUR child for you!  Not cool!

  • Lindabator

    AMEN!!!!   That constant sense of entitlement is what ticks me off no end!

  • JPainis

     They can just as easily bump you if you do have a seat assignment. And if
    they do (regardless of whether you have a seat or not), you still get full
    IDB compensation.
    I’ve been bumped with a seat assignment, and plenty of times I haven’t gotten
    seats until check in, and I’ve seen both happen to other people as well.

  • TonyA_says

    Oops wrong post.

  • JPainis

    You get bumped just as often when you have a seat assignment as when you don’t. You also get the same compensation if you do get bumped.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HMW3OTJSBDWWRKIEKEKWWM7BEA bc

    While you make a good point about sitting next to each other, I don’t see this as an issue. There is a risk of being separated but it’s no more of a risk than an a couple being separated on a flight. Again, I don’t see the need for special treatment. 

    When this hypothetical family checks in, they should make sure it’s brought to the attention of the gate agent that they’re traveling with small children. The agent can then move or assign seats as appropriate. 

    This is what I would call a reasonable accommodation.

  • charliebgolf

    I have the same problem for a flight coming up from Colorado to Kuala Lumpur.  I used FF miles and all flight segments are on code share carriers.  I’m already haven’t nightmares about being boxed in for the 40 hours of flight time round-trip. 

  • Pdoggs

    You may say there’s no need to panic and while I, a single traveler, believe you, how many “we fly maybe one a year” families read this blog?  How many of them know that they don’t need to panic? 
    They don’t.  They book their flights, see they can’t book seats and freak out.  The airlines of course could say, “no need to panic, it will all be fine.  Trust us no one wants to sit next to your kid while you sit rows away.” but they don’t.  Instead the airlines encourage that fear and say, “well if you’d like to book seats together it will be $30 a seat per leg.” and parents will pay it for peace of mind.  Because they don’t know how to reserve seats like you do.

  • Pdoggs

    I think the issue is many parents don’t know they can do that.  Let’s say it’s 2 parents, 2 kids.  They may be fine sitting 1 parents to 1 child but at the time the book the seats they cannot get 2 seats together without paying.  What are they likely to do?  Chance it?  No, they are likely to pay for the assigned seats so they KNOW for sure they are sitting next to the kids.  They are paying for that peace of mind when in reality it was there all the time.  The airline created this sense of ‘there aren’t seats together’ panic and is selling a way around it.  Selling a way around something that was already available for free but the parents may not know that.   

  • Joseph Cosgrove

    It isn’t about codeshare – I have a flight from San Jose, Costa Rica (SJO)to Minneapolis (MSP) via Miami (MIA) and I have a seat from SJO-MIA, but American will not let me choose a seat from MIA-MSP, unless I pay a premium.  What a bunch of crap!

  • DavidYoung2

    The airlines’ policies are to blame, not the people who play completely by their rules.  You don’t like the outcome of people obeying the airlines rules — go complain to them.  And ‘no seats to assign?’  Whose fault is that? 

    And I have no intention of paying more to be ‘cool’ to somebody I don’t know to alleviate a potential problem I didn’t cause, which is the result of rules I didn’t draft.

  • emanon256

    I never bothered having Chris look into it; I just sucked it up and took my voucher.  Most of the time if I can’t use them I give them away to someone who was going to fly anyway.  Also I don’t pay for the bulkhead because of my frequent flyer status, but at the same time it’s annoying that they can and do swap my seat for someone with higher status or an employee.  I forgot to mention, each time this happened and I sent in a complaint I got a form e-mail back with a snip of their CoC stating that a seat assignment is simply a request and not guaranteed.  However as a gesture of goodwill they would like to give me a voucher, yada yada.

  • $16635417

    Could have been any of several factors or a combination of them. I recently was able to get on a Chicago-New York flight that had been showing sold out in all classes….even first. A seat opened up for sale and I grabbed it, but with no seat assignment. When I got to the airport, no problem getting a seat assigned and the flight was about half full. 20+ standbys made it as well. The reason? They had a large number of people coming from the Rockies that were cancelled because of snow and could not connect in Chicago.

  • Raven_Altosk

    No, but you are being unreasonable with your suggestion. Let’s say you have three seats, two together and one apart. Rather than put the 3 yr old in the one away, put one of the adults there.

    Far too many times people have asked me to give up the aisle seat I’ve booked so they can sit with their kid/business partner/travel companion/whatever. The seat they want me to switch to is ALWAYS some horrible back of the plane middle.

    To which I say, “Sorry, no.”

  • Raven_Altosk

    Then CO/UA should not be allowed to sell those seats as advance reservations. Go to their site and try to book a flight. They will show up as blue “extra legroom” and you can pay a fee to “upgrade.”

  • scapel

    Well I got that one right. It seems that if you are a couple and have a confirmed reservation but no seat assignments that at the time of boarding they put you wherever there is a seat no one else want and maybe not together. if they did that to me I would make so much fuss about going back and forth to my mate that other flyers would be tryiing to get a swap done.

  • Raven_Altosk

    No, I don’t pay. But people CAN pay. Go to CO/UA and pretend to book a flight–any flight. You’ll see on the seat maps the blue “extra legroom” seats are sold as an “upgrade.”

    I had originally put $59 in there because on a flight last week I heard a woman complaining that she had paid the extra $59 and was being moved out of the seat for a wheelchair. She (rightly) wanted her money back and the gate agent told her to “send a complaint letter.”

    So, they are selling something they can’t deliver and then “compensating” people who are tenacious enough to fight with the airline for a refund.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Yeah, that flight was the first time in all my years of domestic and international travel of seeing this contraption. 

    I guess it beats a lap child, but…

  • Raven_Altosk

    Panicking parents can be scary. I saw one SCREAMING in the gate agent’s face because there was no way to accommodate her request to seat her entire family of 7 in one row across. They had been broken up in pairs and one set of three. Her concern? “You are putting my teenagers next to a potential molester!!!!”


  • Carchar

    If everyone pays, then it is included in the price of the ticket and it is free.

  • bodega3

    It is unusual for a flight to show completely sold out, which mine did.  Something certainly was up and it wasn’t a last miinute situation as I was watching my GDS for a week or so. I even called the agency desk who said the filght was sold out.  Very strange!

  • jennj99738

     This.  You just need to contact the airline with which you booked and get the confirmation number or reservation record number (PNR) for the airline which you’re actually flying.  Call the airline or go online and you have a good shot at getting a seat assignment.  It’s really very easy.

  • TonyA_says


  • TonyA_says

    I read an article the other day about FRENCH PARENTING.
    Perhaps, Americans can learn something to lower some anxiety.

  • y_p_w

    Good thing nobody booked you SJC-MIA by mistake.  The SJC/SJO swap has happened before..

  • TonyA_says

    How much are preferred seats? A couple of bucks more per segment?

  • TonyA_says

    40 hours to KUL? why that long?

  • TonyA_says


    I really couldn’t care less if they charge a fee for some but not all seat assignments. But if they don’t deliver, they must refund promptly. Otherwise, it looks pretty fraudulent to me.

    In a capitalist or free market society, if people like to select NICER seats, then the airline should charge for them because they have more “value”. In a way, they might be subsidizing lousier seats which can be sold for a lower price.

  • TonyA_says

    But not everybody pays the SAME amount. Those who pay more “should” get more.

  • TonyA_says

    I am one of the 5%. I believe in a free market and airlines should be free to make a fool of themselves.

  • JPainis

     How is it ‘disturbing’? I can understand if you don’t want to pay for it (so fly another carrier) but this is simply an optional service, so there’s nothing disturbing about it to any rational person, just annoying.

  • Owassonian

    Finding more examples of the same practice doesn’t make it right. A private business should not be forced by the government to offer services for free, just like a private citizen should not be forced to go bare under a scanner by TSA.

  • Joseph Cosgrove


  • TonyA_says

    Ouch. They say it starts at 4 bucks a flight.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/ELX6MN7RSOG4HLURC6Y4PWEKLA Jason

     I’m not defending the whiners. I am pointing out the problem with how airlines treat customers who buy multiple seats on the same ticket / booking.

    As a former business traveler and frequent flier, I am very sensitive about flying with my two kids (aged 2.5 years and 4 months). The youngest has not been on a plane yet, but when we traveled with the oldest one I was able to select my seats because I am an elite frequent flier. In another instance I booked a flight direct with the airline via telephone, simply so I could explain our situation as a family and insure we were grouped together. Maybe we paid slightly more for that fare, maybe not. I guess my point is that I am not a fan of whiners, be they families (or people whining about families). I think in pretty much all instances these things can be resolved before you get to the airport. But when you have people wanting to pay less and less for seats yet expecting all the bells and whistles in terms of service, etc, then this is what is going to happen. You ultimately get what you pay for.

    Unfortunately I am originally from New Zealand and my family is there (my wife is American). So my grand parents and most of my family and friends have not yet met my kids because as someone who has flown between here and there many, many times, I am not yet prepared to test my luck on such a long flight. If things go pear shaped and one or both kids have a melt down 3 hours into the flight, I just don’t want to be “that family” on such a long haul flight. That is a burden I carry. It is a burden I created, so I can live with it. (Until I win the lottery and lease a private jet, hahaha)

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HMW3OTJSBDWWRKIEKEKWWM7BEA bc

    So airlines should give parents preferential treatment because they aren’t well educated on flying? That makes zero sense. I’m sorry, lack of understanding of the system is not a reason to create a privileged class of people who are exempt from a fee. 

    If they’re so concerned about not sitting together, call the airline before paying for a seat. 

  • y_p_w

    Nobody is forced to offer anything for free (save perhaps the example of keeping a restroom open to the public).  These things have to be factored into the cost of business.  That’s the price that business owners face for being in a business subject to government regulation.

    Government can force service providers to maintain certain minimum requirements as a cost of doing business.  If you build a new restaurant, you are required to meet ADA requirements and meet health department inspection standards.  If you sell anything, you’re required to issue a receipt on demand.  If you sell motor fuel in California, you’re required to provide water and compressed air  to your paying customers.

    Nothing is really free.  The customer ultimately pays for it through the prices they pay.

  • larktraveler

    you are so far off base. The airlines are not giving any seats available. they are trying to scare people into paying extra.

  • IGoEverywhere

    The passenger is choosing the airline by price, but what price are you talking about? An ASTA travel agent gets to the total cost, seats, baggage, and air….fast. Be your own travel agent and pay the airline what ever the airline desires.

  • flutiefan

     A/B/C with no numbers was AFTER the plastic boarding card days, FYI.

  • flutiefan

     i always have to put a quarter (or 2) into the air compressors, regardless of whether i’ve purchased fuel.

  • Lindabator

    Thank you!  My point exactly.

  • Lindabator

    He##, that’s been the point of “unbundling” from the start!  But if you HAVE paid for a ticket, then everyone else should have to as well!  Or not expect you to give up the seat you did pay, beacause they didn’t cough up the moolah, and now want the seat!

  • Lindabator

    That, I wouldn’t put past them.  :)

  • y_p_w

    Not in California.  Although many gas station air compressor and water systems take coins, bills, or tokens, the employees can always press a button that turns the system on.

    It’s a requirement:


    “13651.  (a) (1) On and after January 1, 2000, every service stationin this state shall provide, during operating hours, and makeavailable at no cost to customers who purchase motor vehicle fuel,water, compressed air, and a gauge for measuring air pressure, to thepublic for use in servicing any passenger vehicle, as defined inSection 465 of the Vehicle Code, or any commercial vehicle, asdefined in Section 260 of the Vehicle Code, with an unladen weight of6,000 pounds or less.
       (2) Every service station in this state shall display, at aconspicuous place on, at, or near the dispensing apparatus, at leastone clearly visible sign which shall read as follows: “CALIFORNIA LAWREQUIRES THIS STATION TO PROVIDE FREE AIR AND WATER FOR AUTOMOTIVEPURPOSES TO ITS CUSTOMERS WHO PURCHASE MOTOR VEHICLE FUEL. IF YOUHAVE A COMPLAINT NOTIFY THE STATION ATTENDANT AND/OR CALL THISTOLL-FREE TELEPHONE NUMBER: 1 (800) ___ ____.” This sign shall meetthe requirements of Sections 13473 and 13474 with regard to lettersize and contrast. As used in this paragraph, automotive purposesdoes not include the washing of vehicles.”

    The California Division of Measurement Standards has a complaint form for noncompliance:


  • Michael__K

    “Paid” seat assignments are a red herring when it comes to parents sitting next to toddlers.

    A parent traveling with a toddler needs to sit with their child.  ANY seats together suffice, even the non-reclining seats in the last row of the plane.  This has nothing to do with entitlement and every thing to do with common sense and basic humanity.

    The vast majority of seats in economy are not premium seats (and even among premium seats, the vast majority of those are occupied by elite members and passengers who lucked into them, not passengers who paid for them.  Oh, and BTW most premium seats are not aisle seats either.  It’s generally the entire rows that are “premium.”)

    Furthermore, everyone who flies accepts the airline’s terms and conditions, which state that seat assignments (even premium seats) are NOT guaranteed.  And no compensation is provided if your seat assignment is not honored.

    And if a disabled passenger is on your flight, you could have to forfeit your premium seat near the front of the cabin so that the airline can comply with federal law.  Are you going to argue that disabled passengers have an entitlement attitude too?

  • Owassonian

    In this case, government has mandated that the airlines have to provide a seat to their customers, and if they don’t, then there is a compensation for that. Just for the comparison of the examples quoted, the airlines have to meet FAA requirements like restaurants have to with ADA requirements, to operate a safe business. Airlines do provide receipts for the sales they make. Restaurants do not assure you a specific table even though you make reservations with them. Gas stations have to put up with the API requirements and gas stations do not promise a specific terminal or a specific attendant (in NJ or OR). Airlines have to have a restroom on every flight, just like gas stations in CA.
    Restaurant promises you a table based on your reservation, in your example. The gas station assures you that you will get access to a restroom and a service attendant (in NJ and OR), airlines assure you a seat, in addition to access to restrooms. Which table at a restaurant, which attendant at a gas station and which seat number in a flight is up to the service provider. You may pay more to have the service provider assure you a specific table, attendant or a seat but it can not be forced. DOT does not regulate the seat allottment as of now, and allows airlines to substitute ‘instruments’ and change seat numbers as required. Chris’s question alluded to whether or not airlines be required by law to provide a seat assignment for free, in addition to the minimum requirements per FAA and DOT and the ‘cost of doing business’. My opinion is it should be a decision made by the airlines whether or not a service should be offered for an additional charge or for free. If the airlines are forced to assign a seat number to every person they sell a ticket, the biggest loser would be Southwest, which doesn’t assign seats at all. Airlines should be allowed to decide what fits their business model the best and what gets them more customers. Government is not going to ensure their profit, so government shouldn’t meddle in the pricing of the services. So long as the airlines operate a ‘safe’ business without cheating anyone, I don’t see a need to add more regulations about seat numbers. I believe the airlines themselves should come up with that service for free but to force them to do so would be wrong. Comparing that regulation to the examples of restaurant and gas station do not yield logical answers.

  • y_p_w

    However, what I gave were examples where government has mandated that paying customers must be given certain amenities without being charged a la carte prices.  If the DOT mandates that certain amenities such as advanced seat assignments can’t be charged extra, then that wouldn’t be much different.

    The big argument these days is that there’s so much off the wall al la carte pricing with airlines that it’s nearly impossible for consumers to perform any kind of accurate comparison shopping.  It used to be easy when nearly every airline allowed two free checked in bags up to 50 lbs and 60″ total dimensions, would provide in-flight meals, and wouldn’t charge extra to choose a seat in advance.

    I certainly don’t have an issue with airlines charging extra for premium seat locations, provided they actually hold to that and don’t force a passenger out of such a seat.  However, charging extra for a regular seat assignment could easily be something that I could see being regulated out.  I don’t hear anyone saying that seat assignments must be mandated, but certainly if they’re offered then perhaps they shouldn’t require paying an extra fee to reserve in advance.

    A flight occurs on a specific schedule (save delays).  If anything, it more resembles a scheduled performance.  Most concerts include assigned seating (in some countries movie theaters have assigned seating) although some might have general admission (like Southwest’s seating policy).  However, I haven’t heard of concert venues charging extra for advanced assignment.

  • John McGlade

    Preferred seat type is an important part of the inflight experience. If you book well in advance, there is no reason you should get stuck in a middle seat. The airlines have to start pricing their product so that these incidentals are included. That way you can really compare prices.


  • EOW98

    When British airways told me I had to pay over 40 dollars to get my seat number I decided I was sick and tired of pee poor run and GREEDY airlines so I cancelled my flight with British Airways and choose another airline which gave me an assigned seat. British airways sucks. If they have seats with more room (very few) then charge to reserve them but let the rest of us have a seat assignment so we can sit next to our loved ones.