My brother Andrew commutes weekly between Southern California and the Bay Area. Since United Airlines brought mainline service back to Burbank, he has switched his business from Southwest to United. He shared this story with me from his flight yesterday.
As airlines continue to offer basic economy fares that lack complimentary seat assignments, it is inevitable that onboard conflicts will arise. I witnessed one yesterday and I don’t like the way it was handled.
On a recent flight from Burbank to San Francisco, I watched drama unfold one row in front of me. The flight was relatively full and the last two passengers to board were a young mother and her 4-year old son. Both held tickets with prominent orange stripes along the top, indicating they were flying on one of United’s “Basic Economy” fares. Mother and son were given middle seats in Economy Plus, one row ahead of the other.
A FA quickly noticed the situation and approached the assigned seats. She calmly but firmly told the passengers seated in those rows that one of them would have to move to a middle seat across the aisle so that the mother and child could sit together. No one volunteered initially, however after another impatient quip from the FA of “who’s it gonna be,” a gracious man gave up his aisle seat for a nearby middle. The mother did not say thank you or otherwise acknowledge. Neither did the FA.
While I am not one to voluntarily separate a mother and her child, this situation presents a dilemma facing all passengers who fly on Basic Economy tickets. Namely, they have no right or expectation of two seats together, regardless of their circumstances, even a mother is traveling with child, or two love birds on a honeymoon. It is a benefit that is given up in order to pay less for a ticket. I found it ridiculous that a passenger who paid more or earned the right to sit in Economy Plus and who further chose the seat of his liking was shamed by the FA into moving to a less desirable seat so that accommodations could be made for a lower-paying passenger. The way it played out was unfair, and the FA should never have put that pressure on the passengers.
What would you have done? Is this a matter of treating fellow humans with decency and respect or receiving fair services for what was paid for?
His question is fair and I don’t think it is as black/white as saying yes or no. Unless the mother did not book the ticket herself, she had absolutely no reasonable expectation to get a seat next to her son. That was HER voluntary choice.
I don’t blame the FA for trying to diffuse conflict, but s/he was totally out of line for compelling another passenger to move. That’s just not the way it should work, especially when United now allows Basic Economy passengers to pay for a seat assignment in advance.
On the other hand, who wants to sit next to someone else’s four-year-old? I believe United should not allow the sale of Basic Economy tickets to any passenger under the age of 12.
It’s still ironic to me that Basic Economy passengers are ending up with the best seats on the plane…
> Read More: One Surprising Reason to Buy United Basic Economy