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Why I hate choosing my American Airlines Seating

Jake Redman July 27, 2016 8

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Hate is a strong word, but I seem to spend more time than I’d like choosing an economy seat on American Airlines. While I respect that some seats should be held for the best customers, American Airlines seating choices seem to be tilted disproportionately in favor of elites.

Tomorrow, I fly from New York (LGA) to Chicago (ORD) via Washington DC (DCA) to help cover Lollapallooza for SiriusXM and currently have no status with American. My DCA-ORD seat picker at AA.com gives me ONLY middle seats in premium sections to choose from. Admittedly, I flinched and bought the bulkhead “main cabin extra” middle seat figuring that a bulkhead middle would be the best of the worst. Rookie mistake.

American's seatmap will have you believe you'll be stuck in the middle.
American’s seatmap will have you believe you’ll be stuck in the middle.
American Airlines seating is more open according to expertflyer.
Expertflyer shows what seats are being held for American’s premium passengers.

Upon reviewing what might be a more accurate seating situation at expertflyer.com, I realized things weren’t so tragic and that I’d likely be able to grab a window or aisle on check-in. Why? American Airlines seating for their premium passengers isn’t just limited to seats near the front and at the exits, but aisle and window seats throughout the plane.

So if you’re status-less with American and find yourself looking at a seatmap that oddly made up of middle-seat upgrades, it may not be as bad as you think. Before you buy a premium seat that you don’t want, create a seat alert at a site like Expertflyer.com (seat alerts are still free) to see how many are being held for premium passengers.

American elites! Let us know in the comments if this was a solution to a problem or just a way to get non-elites to buy up unnecessarily?

Update: I was able to call and upgrade both my flights on this itinerary (including the one shown below) for just the fare difference. In this case roughly $98 but wasn’t refunded the premium charges for main cabin extra. 

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Jake Redman

Jake Redman

Modhop Host & Founder Jake Redman brings years of global exploration and travel tips to the podcast and our videos at Modhop. Jake is also a Producer and Host for SiriusXM.

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This post currently has 8 comments.
  1. dan luttrell on July 27, 2016

    Your right. I’m surprised it showed any seats available at all. I’ve experienced that many times and think it should be illegal.
    I’m now AA Gold which means I can choose MCE seats but only within 24 hours of the flight for free. This isn’t too bad but means I get the left overs. The worst thing is say I have a flight on Friday at 8am from STL-ORD with a connection from ORD-anywhere at say 11am. Well when I go to check in at 8:01am on Thursday I can pick a MCE seat for free on the STL-ORD flight but can’t yet pick a free MCE seat on the ORD-anywhere flight yet. I have to wait to check in at 11:01am instead. It’s such a pain.

  2. Daniel Faranight on July 27, 2016

    I imagine that American won’t even allow seat selection for the “basic economy” fares they’re rolling out soon.

    • modhop on July 27, 2016

      Right? Truth in advertising should dictate a more appropriate name…like “ultra economy” or “economy low”.

  3. Dan Adams on July 28, 2016

    So you are buying the day before and you are complaining about seat selection? Sounds like you are getting to pay for the privilege of waiting until the last moment.

    • modhop on July 28, 2016

      I booked a few weeks ago. I’m just not a fan of SO many seats being blocked as it can make casual travelers think they’ll have to pay to choose an aisle or window. And yes, I probably should have known better or looked at expertflyer first. Most people don’t know that though.

      • Dan Adams on July 28, 2016

        I have been flying twice a week for the past six years and have watched the empty seats being wrung out of the system. How many empty seats did the aircraft fly with? This is not a function of blocking seats, it’s a function of filling aircraft. The buyers who had the advantage of time bought the “non-premium” seats.

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