A customer service manager at a major airline shared a story in a Facebook group that I thought was worth passing along.
He was helping a family flying on basic economy fares with young children who had never flown before. And they did not pay for seat assignments and checked in late — there weren’t any seats left to give them together (something that the ‘system’ wouldn’t have given them on its own). All that was left “are middle seats 1 row apart in the back of the plane.”
- Here’s my first question: what obligations does a passenger have to understand their fare, and how what they’re purchasing either does – or does not – meet their needs? I’m second to no one in abhorring the practice of airlines making their product intentionally worse so that customers will spend more to avoid it, and paying extra to be able to assign seats in advance adds up for a family.
However at least if tickets are purchased on the airline’s website basic economy restrictions are well-disclosed, and regardless the family had to know they did not have seat assignments (or at least didn’t know that they did) and that they would need seat assignments.
Here’s an American Airlines seating chart for basic economy, showing paid seat assignment options a couple of days out from travel:
In this case it was two adults, three children, and a lap infant. The parents were on separate tickets, eligible for seat assignments, they just didn’t select seats. It was the kids who were in basic economy.
Our customer service manager hero took the time to listen to the problem and try to find a solution,
I get on board and ask if there are any pairs who are willing to switch for these kids on this 3 hour flight, in exchange for a modest travel voucher. A younger couple ring their button to volunteer their seats. By the time I make my way to their row (coincidentally right in front of the kids), the mom had made her own arrangements (I can only imagine what she did to get it done), so the young couple didn’t need to volunteer after all.
This agent was willing to spend the airline’s money to fix the problem of the family not spending enough with the airline (and not paying attention on the tickets where they did). He may even have risked pushing back by a few minutes to do it.
I see him as someone going above and beyond, a real hero. I’m not sure he did what his employer would have wanted though. But what would the travel experience have been like for the rest of the plane, with unaccompanied kids separated from their parents between other passengers?
Even though the volunteers didn’t ultimately need to switch seats he “gave them the vouchers anyway for being willing to be uncomfortable for [several] hours for these kids.”
The parents? They didn’t say thank you. To anyone. Not to the couple that was willing to give up their seats. Not to the agent who go on board to solve the problem.
It’s fair to blame airlines for a lot of how we experience travel, but I also think we have to blame ourselves or at least take some responsibility for ourselves — at some level don’t we need to take ownership over our own experience? And travel would be better for everyone, all around, if we’d practice gratefulness.