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Are Seat Assignments a Thing of the Past?

K.C. Summers

Our Travel section e-mailbox and weekly Internet chat are good barometers of all the latest outrages in the travel world -- if our readers are getting mistreated by the industry, believe me, we hear about it. And one thing we've been getting a ton of mail about recently is airline seat assignments -- or rather the lack thereof. We hear it from passengers as well as from frustrated travel agents who can't help their clients: It's getting harder and harder to lock in seat assignments at the time of purchase. Customers are being told that assignments are only given out at the gate or, maybe even more frustrating, are assigned seats only to find out they've been unassigned or changed arbitrarily. Passengers tell tales of families with little kids being separated on board, and of gate agents refusing to make assignments till the last minute so that they can sell more upgrades before boarding.

But it's not just a matter of not being able to sit where you want. Passengers without seat assignments who are the last to arrive at the gate are the first to be involuntarily bumped if the flight is oversold -- so it becomes more important than ever to lock in a seat. We're working on a story about this trend, but for now, just wondering -- do you have a seat assignment horror story? Any tips on how to fight back (other than driving)?

By K.C. Summers |  May 22, 2007; 10:37 AM ET  | Category:  Airline Industry , K.C. Summers
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On my last trip (to Orlando and Boston) I found that some passengers just asked other passengers, "Hey, do you mind if I can switch seats so I can sit with my family?" Everyone seemed to be quite reasonable about the situation. The crew did not object as long as the exit-row rules were followed.

My next trip is to Hawaii. Driving will not be an option.

Posted by: Greenbelt Gal | May 22, 2007 12:43 PM

I think it depends on the airline. USair seems to be more problematic than Delta, for instance. What happened to Passenger's Bill of Rights?

Posted by: DCgirl | May 22, 2007 2:05 PM

United (for one) gives out seat assignments if you're an elite flyer, but only rarely if you're not.

I figure it's just another tool in their push to encourage you to fly them enough to become a Premier Member or Premier Hoo-Ha or Premier Super Hoo-Ha.

Only elite members get even a basic level of good service any more, it seems.

Posted by: Silver Springer | May 22, 2007 2:44 PM

Bah humbug. The way I've been cheated of selected seat assignments lately makes me almost prefer the great Southwest seat race. At least that way, if I've got an A I've got a shot at the type of seating I prefer.

Posted by: Karen | May 22, 2007 2:52 PM

It is getting more common - and even more frustrating for long international flights - where logging in 24 hours in advance to get a seat that you want might be difficult. BA has that in place for flights to London and connections from London.

Posted by: Brightwood | May 22, 2007 2:55 PM

I've found also that it is getting harder and harder to change seats. My husband is really tall, so we always got to the airport a bit early to see if we could get exit rows or bulkhead. The agents in the "front" of the airport almost never now will help with that, and some airlines are requiring the agents at your exact gate to handle any seat changes. I guess a symptom of overbooked flights?

Posted by: Beth | May 22, 2007 3:09 PM

I was on a flight to Tahiti and i had to sit in chewing gum for 7 hours. Sometimes, they will upgrade on Air Canada if there are no empty seats but mostly, out of luck.

Posted by: cd | May 22, 2007 3:20 PM

I was on a flight to Tahiti and i had to sit in chewing gum for 7 hours. Sometimes, they will upgrade on Air Canada if there are no empty seats but mostly, out of luck.

Posted by: cd | May 22, 2007 3:21 PM

I was on a flight to Tahiti and i had to sit in chewing gum for 7 hours. Sometimes, they will upgrade on Air Canada if there are no empty seats but mostly, out of luck.

Posted by: cd | May 22, 2007 3:21 PM

I was on a flight to Tahiti and i had to sit in chewing gum for 7 hours. Sometimes, they will upgrade on Air Canada if there are no empty seats but mostly, out of luck.

Posted by: cd | May 22, 2007 3:21 PM

In the past few years, my family of four has had perhaps one family trip where the seating we were able to arrange in advance was honored at the time of our flights. The most frustrating trip was one with four "legs" with none of the seating we had reserved in advance available at the time of departure. Our youngest was about seven -- shy and unsettled about flying. None of the gate agents would help. In Miami, we were handed four boarding passes for seats located all over the plane. I asked the agent if my child could travel as an unaccompanied minor so there would be an adult looking after her on board. I was told that was not possible because her parents were on the plane. Gate agents consistently advise us to just trade seats with other passengers once on board. When my daughter starts crying, someone usually asks her where her mother is and offers to switch seats. But, in my view, families trying to enjoy a vacation together shouldn't have to deal with that kind of "service" from the major airlines.

Posted by: lessfrequentflyer | May 22, 2007 3:27 PM

Here's my horror story. I flew Northwest airlines home for Christmas. My companion and I tried to select seats online. We were each randomly assigned a seat. When we tried to switch them so we could sit next to each other, we discovered that the surrounding seats were blacked out as "special upgrade" which cost $15 extra. None of the other seats were "special upgrade" EXCEPT the 4 directly next to each of our assigned seats. Basically, NWA effectively rigged it so if you wanted to sit next to your companion(s), you were forced to pay the extra fee.

We tried to change our seats at the check in counter. My companion was assigned a seat, but I was told that I had to get my seat at the gate and that they could not assign me a seat at the check in. No explanation for why this is, even though we checked in together. I get to the gate and the agent assigns me a seat--the SAME seat as my companion. This effectively removed his seat assignment and he then had to go to the ticket agent and get reassigned. This is particularly absurd in light of the fact that anyone who doesn't get an assigned seat is bumped first. If we hadn't been traveling together, there's no way he would have known that the ticket agent assigned someone else his seat.

Once we boarded the plane, there were several families with small children who were all separated. We had to sit on the runway for a good half an hour while the flight attendents tried to move passengers around to accomodate these poor families. I was asked to switch my seat so a father and daughter could sit together. For all the trouble, NWA gave me a coupon for a free in flight snack or 500 FF miles. I have been a frequent flyer member with Northwest for over 20 years and after this experience, I don't intend to fly them again (if I can avoid it).

Posted by: KW | May 22, 2007 3:27 PM

I don't know why more airlines don't switch to the Southwest, "open-seating" model. The Delta Shuttle uses this and it works fine. The plane is boarded faster than with assigned seats. You never get any of this headache with your 'assignments' being arbitrarily changed. If you want to sit together, you line up together and find a space that fits you all. It sounds like some airlines are paying lip service to assigning seats in order to charge more fees and placate frequent flyers while the unsuspecting passengers lose out.

Posted by: notea42 | May 22, 2007 3:43 PM

Recent United horror story:

Outbound DC to NC. No checked luggage carry-on only. My travel agent couldnt get a seat assignment. Had e-ticket but incomplete-had to wait in line to check-in; but they wouldn't give me a seat assignment when I checked in; said seat assignments were only at gate. However, got to gate to find there was no assigned agent,just one panicked overworked lady trying to board 2-3 commuter flights at one time. Got on at last minute (after waiting in line over an hour)-in very back row of plane. Return trip next day-tried to check in at kiosk; no record found. Waited in line to check-in-they said my ticket had been cancelled because they had no record of my checking in the previous day and flying to NC. Resisted the temptation to ask exactly how they thought I got there. Again wouldn't give me a seat assignment even though I was checking in--said they would only do that at gate. Waited in line at gate hour and fifteen minutes--then they moved the line to another gate! I'm handicapped so was in back of new line when pre-board was announced. Still without a seat assignment. This type of corporate discourtesy is seriously hurting people who are physically challenged, as well as abusing the entire flying populace.

Posted by: BN | May 22, 2007 3:49 PM

It's easy to deal with--no confirmed seat assignment, no business. I won't fly with Southwest because of it.

Posted by: EndHaiku | May 22, 2007 3:54 PM

Easter Sunday evening. We had booked the seats through Orbitz approx six weeks before. Flight from Orange County to DFW to BWI. Orange to DFW: we were assigned seats. DFW to BWI: even at the time of booking, we were told we'd get assignment at the gate.
On the day of the flight, the agent in Orange County STILL couldn't assign us seats (reason, it turned out...flight was oversold!).
When we changed planes at DFW, we immediately went to the gate (approx 60 minutes before takeoff): no seats!! (remember, the flight was oversold). The only way we got on was by being given the seats of the volunteers who got off. Two of us got to sit together (a couple got off), the other two were scattered around (single-seat volunteers).

Posted by: Henry | May 22, 2007 4:30 PM

On my last trip from Orlando to Detroit on Northwest I had gone on line within 24 hours and paid for an exit row aisle seat. I checked in and had a boarding pass in my hand with the seat I thought I had reserved only to be told when boarding the plane that I had changed the seat. How would that have even been possible? When I protested the re-assignment to a really crummy seat, much worse than the one I had before I reserved the aisle because I had paid for the upgrade and had a boarding pass in my hand, they told me I could get my money back. When I told them I didn't want my money back, I wanted my seat, they bumped me up to first class. All was well in the end but I'm sure they would have preferred I make my way to the crummy seat like a dumb bunny.

Posted by: Sara B. | May 22, 2007 4:58 PM

I bought--not upgraded to...BOUGHT--first class tickets (DC to Portland, OR) on America West a few years ago for my significant other's 60th birthday. At the time I booked the tickets I was able to select two seats (aisle and window) together in row 3. When we checked in at the kiosk he still had the same seat assignment (row 3 window), but mine has mysteriously changed to the opposite window in row 4. Asked at the gate...got some lame excuse about their database (given that I work with databases in my profession, I know what I was told wasn't true) and absolutely no help from the AWA staff--even showed them the original reservation with the seat assignments listed. On the plane, asked if anyone would be willing to switch. No luck. (Granted, at the end of the flight the fellow next to me did apologize for not being able to switch--turns out he was an Air Marshal and had to have an aisle seat for obvious reasons). I hope the AWA staff and our fellow passengers all had miserable birthdays that year too!

Posted by: LB | May 22, 2007 5:04 PM

It is the stress this cuases me beforehand that is the worst. I find that I am so worried about seating assignments that I am not looking forward to trips. Being separted from my kids on an airplane would be a nightmare for me. I want to be there with them, right next to them and I do not think this is unreasonable. I hate having to beg pepole to change seats with us. I hate the stress this causes them and us. Every time we fly we book 4 tickets that is a lot of money to the airlines and I do not think that sitting together is too much to ask.

Posted by: Amy | May 22, 2007 5:46 PM

NWA seems to hire flight assisting personnel that do NOT know how to count, or they just do not care. I have been a frequent flier since the 60s, only because they are the ones that head the airports here in the middle of the U.S.

Since I am now disabled, I no longer fly with those clowns. I drive to a UA terminal --- they try, at least, and know the internal configuration of their hardwares.

Do many of ya remember the good ol days with OZARK ??

Posted by: TJ in CID | May 22, 2007 6:19 PM

A friend recently traveled with her family to visit her grandmother, and the airline seperated her entire family. The 2 year old was sitting alone, and they had to have a fit at the gate to get them to change the seats around. They had enough to do with looking after a young toddler... they didn't need to be begging other passengers to switch with them. And it's not even like the baby could get to her seat alone. On top of that, the gate agent tried to prevent them from taking the carseat on the plane because it was "not approved," even though it WAS approved and they had traveled with it several times before. Sometimes I think these gate agents just have the most terrible attitudes and want to take all their frustrations out on passengers.

Posted by: reston | May 22, 2007 9:05 PM

i fly swa becasuse they allow parents with youngsters to pre board. Since no one has an assigned seat, anyone is most willing to change seats. I had a miserable experience on united several years ago. I was traveling with my wife and my 8 month old, from Baltimore to Portland. United allowed the premier azz kissers to get on, then the under elite azz kissers, etc, and then started to board. No preboard. When we got on the plane with the child and the 10,000 things needed for a child on a long trip, the ahhh forget it. United sukz

Posted by: slick | May 22, 2007 10:10 PM

UAL's commuter carriers are the worst. Experience just in the past week flying through O'Hare to Alabama shows these commuter carriers can't tell if they overbook, double-book a seat, lose a seat assignment if you got one at all, or manage to assign un-usable seats (two broken seat backs on the last overbooked flight that couldn't possibly be upright for takeoff/landing -- do they even do maintenance in the cabin these days?). Or their worst trick, cancelling overbooked flights on what sure seems to be a whim with no hope of the passengers getting out of these smaller airports they serve on the same day. These are fully full 50 passenger planes and they still say they are losing money? If it's 6 hours or less, just drive and be done with it. And pray for Greyhound & Amtrack to come back and take all the newbie flyers off the planes so flying business air travel can become dependable again. Business pays mightily for the last minute flights so why shouldn't we expect there would be service to match? I fully expect fellow business travelers are willing to pay an extra $100 just to get a known service level. (A passenger's Service Level Agreement, now that's a novel idea for the airlines!)

Posted by: AB | May 22, 2007 10:12 PM

I fly a lot and never have this problem, but I always buy my tix from the airline and book a seat at the time I make the reservation. I can usually check-in online 24 hours in advance and see if any better seats are opening up. So, do they give better treatment to those who book directly? I almost always fly NW or United.

Posted by: Hmm | May 22, 2007 10:25 PM

My experience has been that a couple of problems have arisen when our family has used a website such as travelocity, expedia, etc. to purchase tickets. When going directly through the particular airline's website to purchase tickets, and selecting seats at the time of purchase, there has never been a problem. (Caveat, our travel tends to be planned at least a couple of months ahead...)

I did have one experience where I reserved a few months in advance and the airline changed the flight to another, departing at a reasonably similar time, and seating for two remained together.

I use the online travel services for research, but when it comes time to actually purchase the ticket I go directly to the airline's website.

Posted by: pdech | May 22, 2007 11:46 PM

Stories like these make thank God (yes really, God!) that most of my flying is done on Midwest. Further, it makes me pray extra hard that Midwest gets to stay Midwest until I'm done with DC.

I feel for you guys!

Posted by: Banana Pants | May 23, 2007 12:43 AM

Stories like this make me glad I only fly Southwest and Delta. I never have a problem getting a seat I want on either of those airlines.

Posted by: Reese | May 23, 2007 7:12 AM

I just flew with US Airways and I wasn't able to select my seats on both the departing and returning flights. Although the online check-in gave me the option of selecting my seat, it returned an 'error' and wouldn't let me do so. On my return flight, it seemed like nobody had been able to select their seats, so many families and couples were negotiating with other passengers to switch seats. Being able to select one's seat during the online check-in process was such a wonderful enhancement; it's unfortunate that it's being offered now to squeeze out more money. Southwest announced that they were switching to a seat reservation process some time ago.

Posted by: A-lo | May 23, 2007 7:26 AM

In January I traveled solo with a 4 month old (who I had purchased a seat for) and a 2 year old on Jet Blue. On my return trip from the west coast I looked at my boarding passes in the waiting area and realized the seats I had reserved initially had somehow been changed and now the infant was travelling across the aisle. Gate agent and I got into a heated argument as he didn't understand why the baby couldn't travel by himself. He finally moved the three of us to the last row with the threat that if someone who was handicapped boarded, they were entitled to that row. He also "punished" me by telling me he didn't think the infant car seat was FAA approved (even though I had taken probably 10 flights with it between the 2 kids) and wanted me to wake up my sleeping baby to inspect it. I didn't and he finally relented. The joys of travel.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 23, 2007 7:44 AM

I rarely, if ever, have an issue with seat assignments. I book directly on the airline's website, so I book my seat when I book my ticket. I also HATE switching seats for couples. You can deal with being apart for a flight, ok? I won't do it for families where the kids are over 12 either. Sorry! Not my fault you booked late. I am 6' tall and book where I book on purpose. I will move, however, if it's a parent with a small child.
Sorry, if that makes me the b-word, I don't really care. It's a tough world out there and the rampant sense of entitlement in the DC area has made me less accomodating because I KNOW you wouldn't return the same favor for me. heck, people won't even let you merge over!

Posted by: ChickieBaby | May 23, 2007 8:31 AM

I thought switching seats was officially frowned upon by the airlines (something about needing correct records). Now it's suggested by them?

Posted by: NoVA | May 23, 2007 9:30 AM

Travelled on Southwest to Orlando for a short vacation with my 9-year-old son, who is autistic and has an anxiety disorder. Think we could sit together? No, and not because we, and others, didn't try, but because the seats a couple of people had given up so my son and I could sit together were grabbed by others.

Never again.

I want seat assignments. I do NOT want my kid sitting by himself, even now that he's 13. HE doesn't want to sit by himself, either.

I would fly more often if I could be assured of sitting with the people I am travelling with. (Flying to Tennessee with my son and fiance -- getting married -- flying home... yeah, I want to sit with my new husband and son. We can drive instead, and be assured of being together!)

Posted by: Owlice | May 23, 2007 10:00 AM

There are a lot of reasons to be upset about having seats changed: if you're really tall, if you're traveling with young children, if you are on a nonstop flight over 8 hours, etc. However sometimes people just need to chill.

I was flying on a nonstop 4 hour flight from LAX to IAD where I had paid the full fare and was in Economy Plus. A couple on the plane had apparently made reservations together in regular old Economy. It was a 100% full flight, so the husband got bumped up to Economy Plus, next to me.

This flight was the second leg of a very long trip for me and since I paid more for the seat, I wasn't budging. I took a nap, but woke up when the flight attendant stopped by to beg the husband to calm his wife down. Apparently she had been throwing a fit over being separated from her husband for the last 2 hours. Interestingly, the husband didn't seem to be bothered by the prospect of being separated from his wife for 4 hours. Finally another woman in Economy traveling with a pre-teenaged son switched with the husband next to me. She seemed to enjoy her upgrade.

Posted by: alexandria | May 23, 2007 10:00 AM

I read these comments and wonder if I am simply blessed, or if others are doing something wrong or perhaps are very unlucky. I used to be a VERY frequent flyer (United 1K from 1999-2003), but still fly 2-3 times per month. Most of my flights are on United/Ted to Florida with flights to Atlanta on United, Airtran or Delta and I cannot remember a problem over the past few years with seat assignments. Maybe this is due to the fact that I will upgrade to Economy Plus on United or Business class on Airtran when offered. The additional fee is only $30-40, but the extra space and earlier boarding is worth the cost. Even when these options are not available, I have not had any issues selecting a seat online.

Maybe some of these problems are due to booking tickets through sites like Orbitz and Expedia which do not offer a direct connection to the airline's website/booking engine. I generally use Kayak to find my flights options, but always go straight to the airline's website to book my reservation since the cost difference is generally only a few dollars.

Posted by: Lester Burnham | May 23, 2007 10:30 AM

I fly JetBlue *because* I can select my own seats when booking online. Thankfully, in the 6-8 trips I make with them per year, I have never had them reassign my seat. I flew the late, great Independence Air for the same reason. Southewest's cattle calls put the traveler in more control over seating, and the passive-aggressive jockeying for place & access is easily learned. I am forced to fly United/TED and AA for business travel, and have come to despise them both. I push all my FF miles from both airlines over to Amtrak.

Posted by: Casta Lusoria | May 23, 2007 10:46 AM

Ever since US Airways switched over to their new reservation system I cannot reserve any seats online through my company's online reservation system (it's run by Amex); I always have to call up Amex myself later to get myself a seat assignment. I never have this problem with Delta or American, though. Consequently, I've switched most of my business to Delta whenever possible, since I can actually reserve a seat that I want when I book my flight.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 23, 2007 11:22 AM

I find it very interesting that anyone would expect an infant to NOT be right next to the mother/father. I find it interesting that the airline would expect a stranger would want to sit next to an infant that wasn't theirs. Once that baby starts crying, poops or throws up or whatever..... can you spell STRESS for the WHOLE flight? Couples need to get over it and be adults - it's ok to be separated for a period of time. However in the grand scheme of things -- if anything would happen to occur on the flight that could determine whether or not I get on the ground alive, I would not want to be separated from a loved one or close friend during that time.

Posted by: cj | May 23, 2007 12:08 PM

Count me as another who has never run into this problem. Including on United and United Express recently. Maybe I'm just lucky? This is making me nervous.

Posted by: Julia | May 23, 2007 12:25 PM

My husband and I flew United to Aruba in January, six weeks after I'd had foot surgery. The airline would not assign seats ahead of time. Our travel agent put a note in our record to request that we have a bulkhead seat so I could elevate my foot. (Otherwise, the altitude change would cause very painful swelling-- as anyone who's had foot surgery well knows!) At our travel agent's advice, I also brought a letter from my doctor stating that I needed to be able to elevate my foot.

We checked in three hours early and presented the agent with our doctor's letter. But the gate agents at Dulles could not have been more rude or dismissive to us-- telling us that there was nothing they could do. They put us in a regular row of seats, far back in the plane, and would not even, at the very least, attempt to seat us on the left side of the plane so that I could sit in the window seat and prop my left foot up somewhat comfortably. Instead, they seated us on the right side of the plane. It was basically the worst possible place for me to be seated.

The flight attendants were equally unhelpful and seemed not to care.

Of course, the true issue is that many airlines, including United, are now charging extra for the "premium" coach seats. That's why the bulkhead rows were unavailable.

Luckily, some fellow passengers switched sides of the plane with us. I still could not elevate my foot very much but it was slightly better than the original seat assignment.

On the way home, we paid an extra $40 each to sit in the bulkhead row.

Lesson learned: I will never fly United again.

Posted by: Rockville | May 23, 2007 1:15 PM

I have also never had this problem, except once when we had bulkhead seats (which I actually hate since I like to keep my traveling messenger bag on the floor in front of me instead of in the overhead bin - my husband booked the tickets because he wanted to get off the flight as quickly as possible).

It turned out the people in the row behind us had two people in wheelchairs and the airline (NW) simply switched our rows since they actually needed the extra room. But they informed us at the gate and apologized. No big deal.

I'll second what someone else said above - if you know what airline you're going to fly, simply book with them directly. We fly NW because we live near MSP (where the flights are 85% NWA). So by booking directly with them and checking in early, we seem to get our seat assignments *knocks on every available piece of wood*.

I think all these online booking services contribute to the overselling thing, and it leaves you with less recourse (at least at the gate). Which passenger is the airline probably going to side with at the gate - one with an Orbitz/Travelocity/Expedia reservation or one with a reservation directly from the airline?

Posted by: Chasmosaur | May 23, 2007 1:20 PM

Never had a problem getting my assigned seat. I book online, directly with the airline, and it seems every carrier allows me to choose my seat from the available options. And if I'm travelling by myself, I really don't care. A seat is a seat.

Posted by: Anthony | May 23, 2007 1:37 PM

I rarely fly any domestic carrier other than Southwest - it's just too easy to check in 24 hours in advance, be practically guaranteed to greet courteous - even happy! - employees, and since we check in early we have always been able to sit together. It wasn't until flying United and Delta last week that I realized that people get to the gate without seat assignments then have to beg and plead employees who are noticeablely less satisfied than their colleagues at Southwest. These two airlines felt, to me, like they were working in an archaic business model.

Posted by: heather | May 23, 2007 2:47 PM

I've had several bad experiences. Recently, my husband and I were unable to sit together on the outgoing DC-Paris United flight (I had to be upgraded to get a decent seat); we sat together on the return flight, but only after much negotiating by my husband.Another time (again United, DC-Marseilles), I and eight or so other passengers could not get a seat assignment until twenty minutes before departure (nearly everyone had boarded the plane) although I arrived three hours early -- no reason given, no one knew anything. Needless to say, United is now my last choice in flying -- there's got to be a pretty compelling reason to fly them.

Years ago (pre-9/11) I was flying with my two young children and we were seated separately although again, we checked in early. I could hardly believe that anyone could be so hard hearted as to separate young children from their mother (or so foolish as to remove them from their disciplanary source) and I now move voluntarily if I can facilitate seating parents and young children together.

Posted by: P. Slater | May 23, 2007 2:47 PM

It is not difficult. As others have suggested, buy from the airline. Most airlines let you choose your seat online. If that makes you unhappy, fly Southwest. It is not difficult to get an "A" boarding pass.

As for the customer who complained that United has eliminated preboarding for families with small children, well, that is United's choice. Southwest has a different plan. Perhaps they are marketing differently. There is no constitutional right to board early, either for families or frequent fliers. Pick your airline based on what makes you comfortable.

Posted by: Gary | May 23, 2007 8:55 PM

I won't go into the horror stories but inconsistent explanations from ticket agents and gate agents (many of which contradict what you're told over the phone) have been characteristic of United for years.

The classic is "we can't give out seat assignments "x" hours before the flight, check in at the gate", while they have been giving out seat assignments for months prior to this.

No agent has ever been able to logically explain what useful purpose is served by stopping seat assignments "x" hours before the flight. Agenst have speculated about all sorts of reasons, but none were compelling enough to say "this makes sense."

United has a bad policy which makes them look bureaucratic and stupid.

Posted by: DC | May 24, 2007 1:10 PM

Had this happen recently on Spirit Air - on a full flight, they lost their original plane and had to use a smaller one with fewer seats. Basically a big game of musical chairs. Only those passengers who booked their travel directly with Spirit had pre-assigned seats, and they got priority in getting on the new plane. Pretty much everyone else got bumped, regardless of when they bought their tickets, how much they paid, etc.

That was my first and last experience with Spirit.

Posted by: Andy | May 29, 2007 6:19 PM

I find it interesting that of all of the posts here, none seems to be about American. I fly between DC and St Louis and always use either AA or Southwest, depending on whether I want to drive to Baltimore or not. Never had any problems with prereserved seats on either.

Posted by: jj | May 30, 2007 11:11 AM

I find it interesting that of all of the posts here, none seems to be about American. I fly between DC and St Louis and always use either AA or Southwest, depending on whether I want to drive to Baltimore or not. Never had any problems with prereserved seats on either.

Posted by: jj | May 30, 2007 11:11 AM

I also book directly with the airline, and although I've have flight schedules change, my selected seats have held. I willingly pay $100 or more per flight to avoid Southwest's cattle call. And that "easily obtained" A boarding pass is no guarantee of a good seat. Southwest is notorious for allowing large groups of people to preboard with a single disabled person or young child. The last time I flew Southwest (only because I was given a free round-trip), my outbound flight stopped at BWI without a plane changeover. A lot of people, including me, were continuing to Tampa, and when the BWI-bound group deplaned, the ongoing group grabbed most of the "good" seats. Several "A" boarding pass holders getting on at BWI were very unhappy to discover that there were few aisle or window seats available. The "C" passengers from Providence had already moved to them.

Posted by: Plet 39 | May 30, 2007 12:24 PM

United put my 5 month old infant in one row, me 3 rows away, and my husband (a Star Alliance Gold flier) 5 rows away for a Munich-Chicago flight. The flight crew wasn't much help, and when I gently asked the woman seated next to my infant if she'd be willing to trade, she refused and asked if I had separation anxiety. Fortunately, a nice couple surrendered their seats to help out. Needless to say, we avoid United whenever possible.

Posted by: kp | May 31, 2007 5:28 AM

Thanks for this article and comments. I just had the experience last week of being told by a flight attendant that I would have to sit separately from my son. It was on Southwest (which I usually like very much). Apparently, The flight was continuing from somewhere else and so already had a lot of people on board. I was in group A, but it was already packed and only had middle seats open. Someone offered to move for us and the flight attendant actaully discouraged him! ("You'll have to sit in a middle seat!") I have been on flights before where they have asked over the speaker if anyone would volunteer to movce for this very reason.
I agree with the other poster that I will be the first to volunteer if possible. I also sympathize with the poster who has an autistic child with anxiety disorder. An incident like this can traumatize a child for a long time and cause nightmares and other fears to spring up. Thanks to all those with a heart who volunteer to move.

Posted by: olive | June 3, 2007 9:09 AM

Just recently, my husband daughter and I traveled together to the Carribean. At the time of purchase, I was allowed to select seats. After confirmation 24 hours later, I received a message that seats would be assigned upon check-in so we arrived early to get seats together. For the most part, this did not work. We we in the same vicinity of the plane. The most disappointing part of the trip, cancelled flights, included receiving seat assignments, then boarding the flight only to find others in our seats. When we questioned the steward about this practice, we were told to "just find other seats. These horrors occurred on US Airways - so beware!

Posted by: Joyce | June 8, 2007 10:11 AM

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