Playing “Chicken” with a Major Airline

Every so often, I share a personal experience that I hope can help others. Imagine buying a plane ticket for a relatively high price to fly before a holiday (i.e., Easter) weekend. When it comes time to pick your seat online, no seats are available that do not cost an additional fee (e.g., extra leg room, front of plane, etc.). What to do?

I recently faced this situation for the first time in 40 years of flying and decided to do nothing. “How dare they force me to pay an extra fee when I’ve already paid enough,” I reasoned, so I bought plane tickets for my husband and I without a specific seat assignment.

Flash forward to the night before the flight and the airline STILL wanted to charge my husband and I an additional fee to pick our seats. So, once again, I opted out and our paper boarding pass read “See Agent” in the space where a seat number would normally appear.  

We ended up playing “chicken” with the airline until seats in different parts of the plane were assigned. My seat, I noted, was one that they tried repeatedly to charge an extra fee for. We were in “limbo” status up until 15 minutes before the flight started to board, along with the upgrade hopefuls and the standby wannabees.

It was a very eerie and unsettling feeling with a total lack of control.

Bottom line: You cannot be forced to pay additional fees to pick airline seats if those are the only seats that are available. You will eventually be seated somewhere. My husband and I declined over $100 in airline fees and ended up sitting 20+ rows apart.

I can’t help but wonder what this experience is like for a family with, say, 2 adults and 3 young children. Do they have to pay several hundred dollars for the parents to sit with their kids or does the airline simply scatter the family throughout the plane if they decline the fees like I did?

Something to think about if you are traveling to popular destinations at peak times. You may get what you do not pay for.

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