The NY Times Complains about Middle Seats (and Does Have a Bit of a Valid Point)

Although not nearly as awful as last week’s Slate article complaining about business class seats (sheesh), the NY Times Haggler column on Sunday bemoaned having to sit in a middle seat.

Readers had to slog through this kinda of nonsense: “Securing a window or aisle seat is a lot harder than it looks, especially if you book only a day or two before you fly.” Really? Most narrowbodies have 33% middle seats (MD80s have 20% middle seats). If the typical flight is 80% full, then day before you fly you are quite likely going to end up in a middle seat. I’m not really sure what the complaint even is there.

But he does go on to make a valid point: the seatmap on Expedia showed aisle & window seats available. However, when he went to actually select them, they were being held aside until day-of checkins. That is unfortunate, and it does happen; seat maps aren’t necessarily accurate, and they’re definitely not necessarily accurate when you book through a third-party site.

He brings up an interesting idea: “Doesn’t [displaying seats that aren’t really there] open Expedia and Delta up to accusations that they induced customers to buy a ticket with goodies that weren’t available?”

That is not a crazy thought. I’ve certainly chosen one flight over another because I saw that one flight only had middle seats available while another had exit row seats free and clear. Should airlines really pretend that every seat is the same? Is it really fair to lure a passenger into purchasing a ticket, only to find that the seat they thought was initially available is not actually available? Are you really just buying A seat on the plane rather than the seat you wanted?

Similarly, when an airline swaps out an aircraft that has, say, seatback TV, for one that does not, do they owe passengers something? If there’s no value in the added amenities, why do they have them?

The author’s point really just shows the incredible complexity of selling airline tickets. Yes, it’s frustrating to see seats available that aren’t actually available. And the airlines (as you’ll see if you read the article) don’t exactly help when they refuse to admit that it’s a terrible experience for customers.

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