Are Airlines Blocking Free Seating? American Airlines Is!
After booking a recent flight for my wife I was left wondering, are airlines blocking free seating? I can tell you that it looks like American Airlines is! Charging to select seats was a thing the low cost carriers like Spirit and Frontier played with, not the big three. Low cost carriers lure you in with rock bottom ticket prices and then hit you with fees right and left, including seat selection. With the addition of basic economy the big three (United, Delta, and American Airlines) have gotten down in the muck with the low cost carriers. Except they are not adding fees to the reduced price tickets they are doing it on the full cost, main cabin fares. It is a distasteful practice. I wanted to take a second to review my experience and share tools that can help you avoid having to pay, like I did.
American Airlines Says No (Free) Seats For You
Anyone else hear the Seinfeld no soup for you guy’s voice when reading the above header? Alright moving on :)!
In December I booked a flight for my wife and her friend to go to San Juan. It was around 6 weeks before her trip so not far out but also not last minute. I booked them on separate itineraries which affected my decision making on this issue, which I will get into later. I used vouchers from my last American Airlines debacle for one ticket and Citi ThankYou points on the other ticket. The cash price was low so Citi ThankYou points made more sense than American Airlines miles. Even though the cash price was low I always wanna use my points and miles before cash.
After completing the booking I went to select seats and was left staring at this.
American Airlines, in their infinite wisdom, had decided that pretty much every seat but a middle seat was “premium”. An aisle seat in the back of the plane, yup that is premium! You see airlines are no longer designating the front rows of economy or just the exit rows as premium, they are designating pretty much every non middle seat.
The problem was that the only two free seat selections available were two middle seats a few rows apart. Everything else on the plane, which was a substantial amount, had a price tag on the seat. This is a terrible, not consumer friendly approach.
Here are the options I see available to anyone facing this situation:
- You can chose not to select a seat and you will be assigned one upon check in. It is likely you would get a seat that is better than the current option. We know for sure my wife could not do worse.
- The issue with this is that they were on separate itineraries so it would be highly unlikely they would be paired together. Even if they were on the same itinerary there is no guarantee they would have been seated together.
- You can wait till 24 hours out and hope that seats are released. Some lower tier elites may be upgraded or pick a preferred seat during this window. That could open up some free seat selections.
- Lastly you could pay the fee to ensure you get the seats you wanted.
I decided to go with option two. I selected the middle seats and then hoped availability would open up upon checking in.
What Actually Happened
Over the next few months I would check the seating chart every few weeks but nothing ever opened up. Then 24 hours out I checked her in and this is what I saw:
I took my shot and it came up double zero on the roulette wheel. There were no free selections added. And the fact that I had already selected the middle seats, instead of not selecting anything, meant that they were destined to 4 hours of misery. And not even next to each other.
So I played the sucker and had to pony up the $45 a seat. I am ashamed to say I fed the beast and kept this evil practice going. But in true American Airlines glory they still messed it up!
American Airlines, You Pathetic Thing You
American had won. They pried $90 from my angry, weakened hands. They told me to pound sand and that is exactly what I did. I wanted my wife and her friend to have a great trip so I bowed down to them and accepted my fate. Plus I had some minimum spend left on my American Airlines card so that was a silver lining.
The first flight was fine but when they got to Philadelphia hilarity ensued. My wife was called to the gate desk and told she never checked in for the San Juan flight. She pulled out her boarding pass, which I printed the night before. The agent said well it shows you did not check in and here is your new ticket and seat. Say what?!? We paid your fee to get them seats together and you still jacked that up, oh AA you really are the worst!
The gate agent of course refused to put them together and was rude about it. She said they did not check in so her hands were tied. Even though that was obviously false since she had a thing called a boarding pass in her hand.
Luckily the person sitting next to my wife’s friend was willing to switch seats for them. Customers doing things American agents are unable to, every single day!
I of course could not let this stand. I sent American Airlines a message about the situation and they responded a day later. They had agreed to refund my fees. They blamed it on having to manage so many seat assignments every day, seriously. So I guess that double zero bounced out and landed on a 23 red after all.
Are airlines blocking free seating? You bet they are! If you run into the same situation as me you have a few options. None of them are especially good but there are options.
I love that American Airlines messed up their money grab and ended up with nothing. It is a poetic ending to this story.
Have you ever had a similar situation? Which route did you take and how did it work out?