American Airlines sits right with this passenger

By | August 18th, 2016

The world’s most complained-about airline just did something really nice for CiCi Williamson on her red-eye flight from Philadelphia to Paris.

With ample unsold premium seating toward the front glaring at her and the less fortunate economy passengers crammed in steerage, the flight attendant offered an unused seat to weary Williamson for no extra cost.

Without even asking.

It has been years since I’ve seen that happen, and I forgot that once I too had that opportunity. On one flight to Europe so long, long ago, we were actually allowed to freely mingle and rotate our seating among the leftovers. Everyone was pleasant and polite.


Williams, a seasoned traveler from McLean, Va., agrees. “I am an ‘old bird’ flying for decades having visited more than 100 countries, all seven continents, and all 50 States,” she began. “In the past if any airline was half to two thirds empty, the attendants let you move to the more spacious seats,” she says.

What happened, airlines?

There is no real reason for an airline to prohibit similar class seat changing once airborne other than to send a message to any repeat fliers that a better seat will cost you more money. Period. And if an airline wants to spend the entire flight deliberately dangling unused preferred seats in front of you for no other reason than a form of consumer torment just on principle, they will do it just because they can.

Which is exactly what her return flight carrier did.

Nice. But that is another story.

After becoming the most complained about company in America, American didn’t rest on its laurels, but rather continued to widen its complaint lead. And their profits are not hurting.

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American even overthrew Comcast, which once had that non-airline title, and also was the subject of previous juicy topics.

The bottom line is most of us, as Williams did, need to suck up a long-haul cattle car class flight in return for an affordable fare, which many are prepared to do. We can take it. But there is no need to rub our face in it by guarding empty seats for imaginary passengers.

“On an overnight flight, I had a seat in the back coach cabin along with all the other ‘peons’ who didn’t want to pay twice for a better seat,” she said. “This is another airline money grab.”

Gosh, American Airlines. You have a lot of PR work to do. Williams is right.

Wait…this is supposed to be a good news story, and I am becoming a downer. Let’s get back on track and give American its due. The Good News Guy is also a fair guy.

“After take-off, the front economy cabin was virtually empty,” Williams noted. But before she had a chance to ruminate over completely wasted comfort so close and yet so far, something wonderful happened.

“When reaching flying altitude, not only did the flight attendants let us move to an unoccupied row in the front economy cabin to stretch out and sleep, one attendant actually came to my seat and asked me if I’d like to move up to the “extra cost” seats for no extra charge.

Now that would make me patronize that carrier more, and isn’t that what the company would want? As Williams said, “apparently the logic of treating passengers well so they will appreciate that airline and be a repeat customer has ‘flown out the exit row.’”

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We all need to do our part, as Williams did, to encourage exemplary customer service by complimenting even the biggest of the big guys with the same vigor as complaining. It’s not that hard. You can do it.

“I had a terrific flight and arrived in Paris refreshed,” she concluded. “Kudos to American!”

Well done. Let’s keep it going.

Should airlines offer better seats to their passengers after take-off?

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  • Chris Johnson

    Not just a yes, but a hell yes! You pay for the privilege of confirming a more comfortable seat; once the plane is ready for takeoff, it’s all up for grabs. I couldn’t care less if I happened to pay for the more comfortable seat while someone else got it for free.

  • jmj

    After becoming the most complained about company in America, American didn’t rest on its laurels, but rather continued to widen its complaint lead. And their profits are not hurting.

    shouldn’t you say “according to complaints submitted to”. Simple googling shows other websites have their own opinions. e.g. The CFPB (via consumer reports), and “Pissed Consumer”

  • jmj

    also per the DoT, American is the most complained about airline in volume, but is 3rd per 100,000 enplanements. See pages 41 and 47of this DoT report.

  • Kerr

    Not sure all passengers share that sentiment.

  • Hanope

    I too remember a flight from LAX to Cairo 30 odd years ago that the plane was half empty and we got to spread out all over the plane to sleep on 3 seats. That was great flight.

  • MarkKelling

    I am all for allowing passengers to take unoccupied seats, aisle window exit-row or whatever, after takeoff — but only within their own cabin and Economy Plus (or whatever each airline calls the section with extra legroom) is NOT the same cabin as economy.

    The extra legroom section (not including exit rows) is a different cabin from regular economy even if there is no bulkhead separating them. It costs extra to sit there, just like it costs extra to sit in business or first. And yes, the majority of people who paid for those seats will be pissed if after takeoff all the empty seats around them fill up with the middle-seaters from regular economy. If the airline chooses to give one or all of those seats to someone who didn’t pay, I have no problem with that (mainly because if someone gets on with a boarding pass for a specific seat I have no way of knowing what (or even if) he paid for it. .

    Why am I opposed? The airlines sell those seats because people want to insure they have the couple extra inches of space. It makes the airlines a few dollars in profit. Allowing anyone on the plane to occupy those seats at any time they want means there is less incentive for any passenger to buy one. If they don’t sell those seats (or at least a significant percentage of them) the airlines will see them as a loss instead of a profit. The airlines will then change them back to regular economy with the lack of leg room. Also, there are not enough of those seats for everyone to get one. How do you decide who gets one if there are empties? The fastest passenger who claims one when the door is shut before push back? Do flight attendants pick random passengers to move them there? No matter because there will always be someone who doesn’t get one of those seats and will be unhappy about it.

  • Skeptic

    Cynic that I am, I have to wonder if this had anything to do with aircraft center of gravity and weight and balance needs. Planes fly in slightly nose-up attitudes — that’s where they get the most lift with the least drag — and the distribution of weight within the fuselage and gas in the center and wing tanks affects this. E.g. if there’s too much weight aft of the center of gravity, the pilots have to adjust wing and tail flight surfaces to compensate, which can result in drag (less speed per pound of gas). The pilots may well have asked the FAs to redistribute the passengers in the near-empty cabin in order to make their work trimming the plane easier.

  • MarkKelling

    I have been on flights were the passengers were redistributed due to weight concerns. But that was on a Beechcraft 1900 which seats 21 people including the pilot and co pilot. Never on a large commercial jet no matter how empty the plane was.

  • It’s a nice thing to do, so it couldn’t possibly be fair.

  • jsn55

    You’re reminding me how small-minded people can be.

  • jsn55

    TRAVEL PROVIDERS: Empower your employees … very simple way to create loyalty.


    I was on a Delta flight from LHR this past winter where passengers were moved at take off and landing for proper weight balance. This included passengers in the front of the plane.

  • Skeptic

    Well Mark, not only do I have a firm grasp of the physics of flight, but I’m married to an Air Transport Pilot: a retired Marine fighter pilot, who’s flown everything from SuperCubs to “heavies” from local flights here in bush Alaska to Pacific ocean corssings, landing on carriers, etc. Whether you realize it or not, weight and balance is an issue in all aircraft.

    A plane with an aft center of gravity will pitch up on take off, causing an aerodynamic stall. The only thing that would save the plane and its passengers in such a situation is having afterburners like on a fighter jet. No conventional jet engine can generate enough thrust to keep the plane flying when the angle of attack is too steep.

    A plane with a forward center of gravity will not “rotate” — the motion pilots put a jet through as it reaches the point of no return (known as V1) on take off. Its nose will not rise enough to create the angle of attack needed to for the wings to generate enough lift to get the plane airborne, no matter how fast it’s rolling down the runway. Sooner or later, there is no runway left, but at V1 you are going too fast to abort.

    So, be grateful others understand weight and balance even if you don’t.

  • Travelnut

    I don’t understand, can you elaborate on why you disagree?

  • Don Spilky

    It is an “everyone or no one” mentality.

  • MikeInPA

    Yes, but that would be done BEFORE the plane takes off. In this case the people were redistributed AFTER taking off.

  • MarkKelling

    Thanks for the info.

    I was a pilot certified for multi engine and was working toward a helicopter license when medical issues forced me to give up my license. So yes I do know a bit about weights and balancing planes for flight. I was just stating that modern large jet planes used for commercial aviation are balanced so that if everyone decides to walk aft to use the toilet the plane is not going to become unflyable. :-)

  • MarkKelling

    Just stating the facts about airlines and their desire to make money. And how most people would react if they were not picked to take one of the “better” seats for free. I respect your right to disagree.

  • MarkKelling

    Interesting. Maybe I have just been lucky to never have been on a flight like that.

  • MarkKelling

    Which seems to be very common among everyone these days.

  • James Dworak

    It’s the “humane” thing to do?? Humane? Does American draw straws as to who does and who doesn’t move?
    As far as Americans negative rating, go ahead, find another airline! Try!
    It’s all about the best flight at the lowest cost, just get us there.
    So airlines will make money where they can because you really don’t have a choice!
    The last time I used American they absolutely ruined my trip both going and returning back from Hawaii.

  • James Dworak

    I’d put money on the center of gravity reasoning! Shhh don’t tell the customers that.

  • AirlineEmployee

    What are you going to do let it be a case of musical chairs once airborne ? I can just see passengers racing for the better seats, arguing and fighting about who sits where, “I got here first”, kids and screaming babies, etc. This would not be a good idea to give it away once onboard. No flight attendant is now going to put on another hat as gate agent onboard. Horrible idea.

  • James

    The extra legroom section (not including exit rows) is a different cabin from regular economy

    It varies from airline to airline. If I remember correctly, United has historically treated their extra legroom seats as being just economy — and if a flight is delayed or the like, and you get stuck in a non-extra-legroom middle seat, bad luck!

  • Steve Rabin

    I’m guessing it’s not the flight attendants who have a problem with people moving up, it’s the airline’s beancounters. They want to create the image that those seats are worth more, and keeping them empty just drives (flies???) that home. (Not to mention the fact that the people that use them pay more, or are high level frequent fliers, who want more space and an air of exclusivity).

    That said, good on the AA FA who moved her up. Doesn’t cost anything, and creates some good will.

  • Jeff W.

    Yes, re-balancing occurs smaller regional jets. Typically those with 50 or less seats. I have never seen it on a larger mainline plane.

  • Jeff W.

    I fly United quite regularly and the Economy Plus seats are indeed treated differently than the standard economy, I have seen many a passenger told that they could not sit in that section without paying the surcharge.

  • cscasi

    Most of the time, if there is a weight and balance issue, it is taken care of BEFORE the flight leaves; not after. Also, if the aircraft does move passengers for weight and balance issues, it is usually resolved during flight with the fuel burn off so that it is no longer an issue at landing, so passengers do not have to be redistributed again. If it were to happen, then someone did a poor job of weight and balance by improperly loading the aircraft.

  • S363

    I hope the details of this particular flight remain obscured. Otherwise this flight attendant might get in trouble for violating company rules by being nice.

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