Ah yes, the game of musical chairs. The music stops and everyone rushes to find a seat. You have to move quick because there are not enough for everyone. While perhaps you can think of a better analogy, the latest United Airlines app update offers a very helpful middle seat avoidance feature…but the potential to promote a mad scramble.
Musical Chairs: New App Feature Will Help You Avoid Middle Seats On United Airlines
No one likes a middle seat. Well, except for this guy–
To help, United’s latest app update offers a new feature: if you are in a middle seat and a better seat opens, you’ll receive a push-notification alerting you the seat opening.
Sounds great…and it is great. If you are fast.
So imagine a Boeing 737 MAX 9 with 27 rows in economy class, meaning 54 middle seats. A woman is upgraded and all of a sudden an aisle seats opens. If the flight is pretty full, imagine 40 people receiving that alert. Now let’s say that half of those passengers are traveling with a companion and don’t want to move. That’s still a lot of people who will be encouraged to pounce on the seat.
To be clear, this isn’t a complaint. This is better than nothing at all and fairer than just auto-assigning the seat to a random passenger. I do think some passengers will get the alert, get excited, act quickly, only to be disappointed when the seat is already gone…but that’s the nature of scooping up airplane seats, so I hope they won’t hold it against United.
Kudos to United for its frequent app improvements that are moving it in a linear positive direction. The United app is far and away the best in the business and the ability to help passengers avoid middle seats is just another cherry on top.
(H/T: Zach Griff at TPG)
I see an issue with this. Say for some reason the app glitches and un-saves the seat you preselected (happened a few weeks ago to me on Iberia). This means that everyone rushes to grab your seat before you even have a chance to realise the glitch, and next thing you know you’re in a middle seat despite pre-booking an aisle or window months in advance.
A very good point, Alvin.
I played that game once and ended up in a middle seat to Sydney. I vowed never to fly again. I was watching the app and a aisle seat popped up. I went to the customer service agent to have my seat changed. I had only booked the ticket two days earlier and it was a super cheap airfare from LAX so seat selection was not very good. I did manage to snag at least a window seat. When the plane starts boarding, I heard my name being called to go to the counter. The agent apologized that the computer had released the seats for a couple who were flying from San Diego and their flight was delayed but they managed to still make the flight. By that time, my window seat was taken, so she said I can move you up to economy plus but it will be a middle seat. Worst flight I ever had. When you board the flight and the window seat passenger is in your seat, it is not a good sign that things are going to get better.
I know “seats are not guaranteed” but did you ask for your original seat back?
Expertflyer already offers this. I’d rather that level of info only be available to those willing to buy an EF subscription.
Would be great if you could select to automatically be moved and then they prioritize by status. Sometimes get stuck with a bad seat when booking last min biz trips.
An astonishing number of United’s customers do not have the app so I don’t think there will be as many people competing for that aisle or window seat as you think. An even more surprising number just don’t choose to change their seat when a better one is available.
I’m sure the plan was to mandate their app along with vaccine passports.
I was thinking the same thing. The number of people who might use this feature or make a change if they get an alert could be so small that it would not make much difference. Not everyone is a frequent flyer who reads this blog, flyertalk and the rest. On the other hand, there always seems to be 40+ people with some sort of status on the average domestic upgrade list, so who knows.
Zero of the whiners have used this new feature on the best app in the business.
What about “try first,whine later, if applicable.”
I agree with #Alec that United should give open aisle or window seats based on status but this way the most motivated might be rewarded.
Totally unnecessary – just another solution for lazy gate agents to avoid any discussion or questions from passengers to change seats. Hope it bites them.
Damned if they do, damned if they don’t. What a sh!tty attitude! It must be difficult being you. Hope you make it through the day.
I wouldn’t say “lazy” gate agents; more likely there’s only one gate agent working the flight and the automation helps them rather than slows their gate boarding process. The same as automated standby onloading. Tools designed to assist the lone gate agent.
Agreed. When I have a crappy seat, I start looking for a better one once the CPU window opens and GS and higher up 1Ks get cleared. This new feature may have just outflanked me.
@Neps. You are 100% spot on!
The astonishing way to play a laptop on a plane happens.
There is no better airline app than United’s as far as transparency of info goes (seat maps, upgrade lists, inbound aircraft). Many times I am on the seat map page until I scan my phone to board the plane in hopes of swapping to a better seat. Most of the time I am maneuvering to get a row with the aisle or window seat taken and middle seat open to have some extra space.
I realize I’m subject to getting flamed for this, but at what timeframe would this feature stop before a flight? For those of us that take advantage of same day flight change or heck even for non-rev’s there is usually a point where you can look at a flight and have general idea as to what your chances are for upgrades, seats, etc. So are we talking up to 20 mins prior to departure, 1 hour out? 1 day?
Shocking that no one has yet mentioned who the actor in the middle seat was. It’s none other than super hunk, Milo Ventimiglia. (This Is Us, Gilmore Girls) Go ahead, spread out, no problem…it’s “Just Jack”.
I recognized him from Heroes, the old NBC drama series.
A better way to avoid fistfight (looking you, Gary, Ben and Jerry) for that aisle seat is to let everyone opt-in for a “I have mid11e 5ea7s” queue.and assign in order.
Heck, they can even let the snooty silver status folks cut in line.
They already have this feature for first class upgrades.
Lazy product managers and management.
United, if you want tomoffer me a product manager job, wink twice.
Can I just say… can the gate agents have some kind of article. Now when the app goes bad or someone says I went for the non middle and said it went through but now it didn’t….. who deals with the angry person. The gate agent. Who doesn’t get paid enough, just more to deal with and less recognition, we’re always the nobody’s of the industry, yet deal with so much.