By | December 30th, 2008

Air travel sure can be a confusing experience.

Just ask Patricia Lapadula, who recently bought a ticket on United Airlines through Cheaptickets.com. At least that’s what she thought.

The itinerary I chose was with United but operated by US Airways — whatever that means.

Cheaptickets asked me to choose seats (they even had a lovely plane seating chart showing what was available). I chose a window seat for all flights. So there I was thinking I had a window seat for my long flight, only to check a week or so before, and realize that I did not have a seat assignment.

Lapadula checked with Cheaptickets and United, but was ultimately referred to US Airways, which was operating the flight under a “codesharing” agreement.

They told me that they couldn’t assign seats over the phone, unless I was willing to pay for a “preferred” seat. So I’m supposed to pay $15 extra dollars for the “privilege” to sit in the emergency row and be responsible for the exit of hundreds of people while the plane is burning? I don’t think so.

They also told me that these sites, like Travelocity and Cheaptickets, don’t really have accurate and updated seating charts, so that choosing a seat with them is pretty useless. Why even present the chart during check out, and give people the impression that they are selecting their seats?

At this point, I need to clearly state my own bias: I think codesharing is dishonest and should be illegal. It’s like opening a box of Cheerios but finding Corn Flakes, buying a Chevy but getting a Ford, ordering a Coke but getting a Pepsi.

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It’s wrong, wrong, wrong.

Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act (PDF), which declares “deceptive acts” to be unlawful, puts these kind of codesharing practices on shaky legal ground.

Lapadula asked her father, who works at an airport, to help with the seat assignments.

He was told that because my reservation showed the tickets were bought through Cheaptickets, that I had no right to a reserved seat in advance. To quote my dad “they made it seem like you were not very important to them.” Just because I didn’t buy my tickets straight from them, and I’m not one of their frequent fliers.

Weirdly enough, the guy sitting next to me had bought his tickets through Orbitz, and on the print out of the reservation he had a confirmed seat for 24C (literally, it said “confirmed seat”), yet his actually boarding pass said 18E, a middle seat. It seems it is the norm to assign irrelevant seats when you purchase through these travel sites. That’s plain deceiving.

And also, my free drink selection on my four-hour flight? Delicious airplane tap water. Ludicrous.

Certainly, Cheaptickets shouldn’t be displaying seats that aren’t available. But beyond that, I think it’s time to stop this codesharing madness.

Maybe that’s something the next administration will take an interest in.

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