That’s My Seat

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By: Roy Berger, MedjetAssist President/CEO

Some travel scribes have made a living piling on the airline industry.

The cynics abound running roughshod about everything from delays, cancellations, uncomfortable seating, shoddy customer relations, lousy food, additional costs and you name it.

Fortunately for these folks there is a carrier like Spirit Airlines who came up with the stupidest customer relations idea of all time. They justify cynicism. Let’s charge for carry-on luggage.  You would think whoever came up with this idea in the Spirit boardroom would be given a pink slip not a mandate!

I fly a lot. I’m on an airplane at least three weeks a month and to tell you the truth my complaints are minimal. When you stop to think about the magnitude of the US aviation industry (worldwide as well) and all the aircraft in the air at any given moment, the incredible safety record of this industry can be mind numbing. Wish automobile travel was this safe.~

I’m not a nervous flyer by any means. The bumps are part of the deal. When I travel with my wife it’s a different story. The PA announcement that turbulence might be in the area is enough to cause deep gashes in my hands and arms. I try not to think our fate is on a piece of metal hurling through the sky at 30,000 feet. I’m thankful every time the wheels touch down safely.

I also understand some of the added fees the industry has imposed the past seven or eight years. I get charging for food; we fly to get somewhere not to dine. If we want to eat we can step up and pay for it either on the ground or in the air. I don’t get charging for pillows and blankets and most of all I just don’t understand having to pay to check luggage. Bringing clothes and possessions are part of the travel experience and should be treated that way but let’s save that for another time. I would suggest throwing them in a carry-on but not if you are flying Spirit.~

Sometimes we get caught up in airline minutia and really lose focus of the most important thing the industry does for us. Get us where we are going safely. It happened to me.

I don’t understand the penalty for canceling or changing flights. Southwest does it right. If I am on a Southwest ticket and my plans change I can cancel for no penalty at all. I will either be refunded my full fare or allowed to use the remaining balance as a credit for up to one year. It’s my money let me use it. Virtually all other airlines impose a $150 change or cancellation fee. That’s rubbish.

So last month I was supposed to go with my wife from Birmingham to Jacksonville. One way fare was $95 on an airline that will remain nameless. Delta.

About a week before our journey she decided not to go. If I called Delta and canceled I would have been hit with a $150 change fee.  For a $95 ticket. In that case you just throw it away. Our return was on Southwest and that cancellation lead to full credit for a future flight.

So I figured for $95 I might as well try to get her mileage credit for the flight. I knew better but figured I’d give it a shot.

About a week earlier I read in The Wall Street Journal some international carriers are now letting you purchase two seats in coach for the long journey which in effect blocks off the coveted middle seat for more room and privacy. A very good idea instead of having to step up and pay the accelerated front of the cabin fares.

So 24 hours before our scheduled departure I checked us both in for the flight knowing full well I was traveling solo. I paid for her seat and could make a viable claim the seat was ours.

When I got to the gate I approached the counter personnel and told them my wife wasn’t traveling but I paid for the ticket and checked her in and wanted to get mileage credit. The only thing missing was her!

They told me what I knew I would hear.  It can’t be done. To receive mileage credit the person must actually travel. They never heard of the middle seat program that I read about only a few days earlier.

So here’s the catch. I paid for a seat that I can’t get credit for. I can cancel it and then be hit with a $150 change fee to reschedule. In the meantime with enough advance warning the airline will take that seat, put it back in its inventory and peddle it on the market.

The conversation with the gate personnel was very cordial. It wasn’t their policy and I knew that. Their answers were company policy. I told them I wasn’t going to cancel the reservation and I still didn’t understand why I couldn’t get flight credit for my wife.

It’s akin to me buying two tickets for a major league ballgame and showing up by myself. The other seat is still mine. I can do whatever I want with it but the one thing the host team does not do is resell it if nobody is using it. I didn’t want to personally resell my airline seat but just get credit for what I paid for.

I boarded the flight. My wife was at home having breakfast. At exactly 10 minutes prior to departure my cell phone rings showing a local area code. It was the Delta counter at the gate about 100 yards from where I was seated on the plane. They wanted to know if my wife was going to make the flight. I told them no. They then canceled her seat and the one on the connector as well turning my $95 ticket into a $245 liability with the penalty if I wanted to use it again. Which of course I won’t.

When all was said and done there was one empty seat on the entire aircraft. The one next to me. The airline didn’t have enough time to put someone else on the flight which would have been double dipping on their end because I didn’t get any credit-dollars or miles. However, they did have enough time to re-use her seat on the connecting leg of the journey.

It’s my seat. I paid for it. I should get the flight credit. Of course ultimately the airline did the one thing most important to all of us. It got us to our destination safely. Amidst our complaining we lose sight of that small little goal way too often.~

I can honestly say to myself ‘quit complaining and keep flying.’ A healthy travel industry means so much to the economic viability of our country.

Just give me my mileage credit!