I told myself I wouldn’t write about the industry in which I worked for so many decades, but enough is enough.
On November 20, 2016 my wife booked herself, her daughter and me on flights from Washington DC to Tampa tomorrow morning. Since we were denied the opportunity to get free seat assignments on the return, my wife paid a premium of $24 per seat so we could sit together in Row 15. She received an email confirmation of the purchase and the seat assignments.
Today we received the usual notice to check-in and saw that we no longer had the seats on the return flight. Instead we were offered the opportunity to buy two of the seats we had already paid for but at a $10 higher price. The middle seat was gone. But we can buy the middle seat in Row 14, an Exit Row, for $61. Or we could wait until we get to the airport and take our chances. All of the other seats on the seat map are shown as X’d, meaning they are “unavailable.”
American’s explanation was that there was a “reconfiguration of inventory.” This action occurred on January 4, roughly six weeks ago. No notice from American which is sitting on our money with no intention of returning it until, they said, it was noticed that we didn’t sit in the seats we paid for, at which point they would “automatically refund” the money paid for the seats.
We were further told that it is “no longer possible” to move the person occupying the middle seat that we had paid for. The other two seats in Row 15 are still available for purchase at the $10 higher price.
This bait and switch scheme is another example of what happens when there is no real competition among the airlines. And, of course, there is no practical remedy because the airlines are immune from suit under state laws governing fraud. We could, perhaps, make out a case of breach of contract, but I suspect there is buried somewhere in AA’s terms and conditions a statement that says its promises to provide special seats in return for additional charges are not binding.
The bottom line from American – come to the airport and bring the situation to the attention of the gate agent who will “do her best” to get your party seated together, somewhere on the airplane, precisely what we intended to avoid happening by paying extra for assigned seats.
I will be lodging this as a complaint with the Department of Transportation but it is largely helpless to compel airlines to live up to their promises regarding purchased seat assignments.