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Feb 07

Three Airline Policies That Need To Change

Airlines are complex beasts and, because of that, have regulations books roughly the size of a small elephant. As passengers, we accept those complications and learn to live with them.

But what about policies, rules and regulations that make no sense, or are never enforced? Most people can deal with unusual approaches, as long as they make sense or are enforced consistently. But when airlines communicate poorly or contradict themselves, it leads to passenger frustration. Here are a few policies that not only pop up frequently but also need to be changed or clarified.

Saving Seats on Southwest


Everyone needs to learn to play nicely in the sandbox.

Nothing creates more havoc than boarding an airplane. Southwest, which divides people into small numbered groups, is generally recognized as one of the more efficient airlines, but there is one big gap in the process: saving seats on airplanes.

Southwest has an “open seating” policy, which means that you can take any available seat. You’ll receive your number based on when you check in, although you can also pay to get into the  first boarding group or receive it because of your airline status. Thus, there shouldn’t be any saving of seats. If you want to sit with others, you should pay to be in a premium boarding group, earn elite status or check in exactly 24 hours in advance.

The problem is that nobody enforces an open seating policy. Employees are advised to stay out of disputes which, to me, indicates that the airline isn’t serious about it. The seat savers are likely to end up winning the dispute, because forcing a seat open would likely involve a physical confrontation. Sadly, that means that people who paid to get on the plane early may not actually get the “premium” seats (front of the plane, exit row, etc.) that they wanted.

My Solution: Sorry, seat-savers. I think it should be banned. If you want to sit together, you should pay for it.

Delta “You Board You Lose” Upgrades

Delta has become one of the best airlines when it comes to getting you to your destination on-time. Part of that (and only part, as we shall discuss later) comes from getting people on the plane as quickly as possible. But if you’re on the wait list for an upgrade, should you board? If you do so, do you risk giving up your spot on the list?

That’s the question behind Delta’s “you board you lose (YBLB)” policy. Technically, if there is an open seat in F after everyone has boarded, a flight attendant could pull up the highest status elite member to do the walk of glory from coach to first. But Delta feels that moving people around once the plane has boarded would simply slow its departure meaning that, if you are on the wait list for an upgrade, you should hold back from boarding the plane.*

Does that policy actually get the plane off the ground faster? Probably not, since you still have to board those people who are waiting behind to see if they got upgraded. In addition, those folks likely have elite status, making them among your more valuable passengers. If they wait until the end of the boarding process, there probably won’t be overhead space.

If you are on the wait list, though, make sure to ask the gate agent if first has boarded in full. They may tell you that first class has checked in in full, but that only means that everyone scheduled to be up front has gotten their boarding pass. If they were connecting from another city and their flight were delayed, though, they may never actually board, opening up a seat for an upgrade.

My Solution: Gate agents and flight attendants should be empowered to move passengers up, and passengers should receive an email when their upgrade has cleared. If they flew the flight in coach, they should be able to call Delta and find out why the system upgraded them but they didn’t move on the plane. Delta must take those inquiries seriously. It’s not a perfect system, and will still likely result in “shenanigans,” as Flyertalk likes to refer to it. But it beats forcing an elite passenger to wait to board and not having overhead space as a result.

American Must Go from A-14 to D-14

This is an issue that I’ve brought up before, but here’s the tl/dr version: American likes to brag about how frequently its planes depart from the gate within 15 minutes of the scheduled time, or D-14 (D=departure, 14=14 minutes or fewer past that departure time). Sadly, departing on-time doesn’t equal arriving on time. We’ve all had occasions when the plane pushed away from the gate on time and then sat on the runway for an hour. Is that really “on time,” as American likes to brag on its conference call? Of course not. If you get to your destination late and miss a connection, you don’t really care that your plane left the gate early. In fact, such a policy encourages gate agents to close the doors early, or at least give up any wiggle room for passengers trying to board. Nothing like having a door slammed in your face, only to watch the plane sit on the runway.


*I do believe that most gate agents are reasonably good about upgrading those who should be upgraded, rather than encouraging passengers to board so that they can upgrade employees who are flying.


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