Are advance seat reservations a scam? To many readers of this site, they are. Period.
But James Hand flies often and he knows about ancillary fees. He knows that the things that used to be “free” — like advance seat assignments and certain seats in the economy class section — now cost extra.
Still, he feels duped by an airline’s strange game of musical chairs, and I wonder if you would, too. His case involves an American Airlines flight from Philadelphia to Tampa, and an unexpected upsell even after he’d confirmed his seat assignments.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
It all started, he explains, when American changed his flight numbers, which appeared to be routine. But it wasn’t.
“My seat, 18F, was left alone, but 18D was changed because of the newly designated preferred status of aisle seats by American,” he says.
In other words, American retroactively wanted him to pay for a seat he already had been assigned.
He refused and rebooked his party in row 19, which were not designated “preferred” seats.
He asked American for an explanation. Here’s what it said:
A systemwide migration went into effect after you made your seat reservation [that] created a problem with your reserved seats. While it may seem like a small matter, schedule changes can play havoc with seat assignments.
We have introduced programming changes to improve the reaccommodation, however, since seats are never guaranteed if they are changed into premium seats you would have to pay the charge to keep them.
Please know we make every effort to secure seats as close as possible to the original request, but in all frankness we are not always successful. We apologize for your disappointment.
Hand thinks this game of musical chairs — now it’s “preferred” and now it’s not — is basically a scam. “I would like to see American admit this policy of retroactive extortion is not fair,” he says.
It appears this change was related to the merger between American and US Airways, and was a one-time event. The right thing, of course, would have been to let Hand’s party stay in the economy class seats without charging him extra.
To me, this case shines a bright spotlight on American, caught in the act of optimizing its aircraft for maximum revenue. It’s great if you’re a shareholder but disappointing if you’re sitting in one of those seats.
Hand’s question isn’t really whether one single act of retroactively switching his seats is scammy; it’s more an issue of whether charging more for seats within the same class of service is morally wrong.
Now there’s the debate. It’s the same kind of seat in the same class of service — one day it’s a not a premium seat, the next day it is. What kind of a screwed up industry is this?