I bid on a business-class seat, but I only got half of one

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When John Banister’s bid for an upgrade is successful, he thinks he’ll be flying home in style. He’s half right.

Question: Aer Lingus has a lottery system for upgrading selected passengers to business class. On a recent flight from Dublin to San Francisco, the airline accepted my $710 bid to upgrade.
Aer Lingus’ business-class seats promise “luxurious seating” and the ability to “travel in comfort,” but that’s not what happened. Unfortunately, the seat controls were not operational for the entire flight.

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There was no audio, and the seat was stuck in the upright position.

Needless to say, the flight was miserable. The flight attendants were apologetic, and the cabin supervisor even wrote me a note documenting the seat trouble.

I contacted Aer Lingus customer service by email and received a form letter with an offer for a $500 travel voucher in response. I replied by email that this was not acceptable. I have sent several follow-up emails, some addressed to senior people at the airline, but I’ve received no response from anyone.

At a minimum, Aer Lingus should refund my $710. Thank you for any help you can provide. — John Banister, Lafayette, Calif.

Answer: I’m not sure if I agree that you deserved a full refund. After all, the ability to recline your seat and use the in-flight entertainment was only part of the flight experience in business class. But I think Aer Lingus should have given you the courtesy of a response, even if it was to say “no.”

I love the idea of a lottery system to upgrade, because in a sense, most of the passengers who sit in the front of the plane are playing the lottery. Try to score an upgrade using your hard-earned frequent flier miles, and you’ll know exactly what I mean. Aer Lingus’ lottery is truth in advertising.

It should be unnecessary, though. Every passenger should have adequate legroom on an aircraft. The plane you were flying on, an Airbus A330, has economy-class seats with between 31 and 32 inches of legroom and 17 inches of width. For most Americans, that’s hardly enough for an 11-hour flight, so it’s no surprise that passengers are clamoring for a little more room and are willing to bid $710 for a chance at more comfort.

The solution? Give people in the back of the aircraft a humane amount of room. And please don’t tell them they asked for these tiny seats when they booked an inexpensive airfare. I’ve never heard a passenger demand less space on a plane, and I’m willing to bet no airline has, either.

You did the right thing by trying to address the problem in real time and getting a note from the cabin supervisor that documented your seat troubles. Following up on the airline’s $500 voucher offer by email was smart — that creates a paper trail that you can follow, if necessary. The problem with a voucher, of course, is that you have to fly on Aer Lingus again. Given your last experience, you might not want to do that.

I contacted the airline on your behalf to find out if it could answer your email. In response, it apologized and refunded your entire airfare, an unexpectedly generous resolution.

Did Aer Lingus offer John Banister too much compensation?

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