US Airways: Sorry Your Sister Is Gravely Ill. $30 To Sit Together, Please.

Bernadette writes that when sister-in-law was gravely ill on the other side of the country, her husband booked an expensive last-minute flight to bring her back to the East Coast. He was alarmed to learn that U.S. Airways couldn’t guarantee that he and his sister would sit together on the flight from California to New Jersey…unless he paid an extra $15 “choice seating” fee on each ticket. It’s a relatively small amount of money, but the family found it heartless under the circumstances.

My husband recently flew out to California, because his sister was hospitalized in serious condition. Given the severity of her condition, the decision was made to fly her back to New Jersey for treatment. On August 7, when she was discharged from the hospital with clearance to fly, my husband called U S Air to make reservations for the next day. He explained to the agent that his sister was just released from the hospital, and is terminally ill (and that he had documentation from the hospital backing this up), and that he would like to sit next to her for the flight back to NJ. The agent responded that they cannot guarantee seating, BUT if he wanted to pay an extra $15 per ticket, they could have seats together (choice seating) – on top of the $1500+ he was paying for the tickets. He paid the extra money, because he felt he had no choice, but he was quite irate at the lack of compassion.

We wrote a letter of complaint to US Air, and received the following response back:

Dear Mr. [redacted]:

Thank you for contacting Customer Relations. We appreciate it when customers take the time to share their concerns.

I apologize for any confusion regarding advance seat assignments. Despite our best efforts, we are unable to guarantee specific seats will be available upon check-in. This applies to seats requested directly with our Reservations agents as well as to seating requested via our website. Operational challenges encountered throughout our routing system will occasionally affect the cabin configuration and pre-assigned seating for a specific flight.

Additionally, US Airways does not pre-assign all available seats on a flight. For a number of reasons, a percentage of available seats are reserved for the airport to assign on the day of departure. I regret any concern or difficulty this may have caused.

We know that you have many choices when it comes to traveling, and we thank you for choosing US Airways.


US Airways Corporate Office

So, they are unable to guarantee specific seats, UNLESS you’re willing to pay for them. This also seems too indicate that they didn’t bother reading the email, because there is no mention of the specific set of circumstances surrounding the request that was made.

We are making this issue as public as possible, because we’re sure other families have had similar experiences. When a company puts profit before humane behavior, we will make every effort to boycott them.

It could be even worse. Another reader recently shared his story and let us know that paying the $15 fee doesn’t necessarily guarantee the seat of your choice, either.

It would be nice if this weren’t the reality of air travel in 2010, but it is. Most likely, airline staff would have accommodated the siblings and found a way for them to sit together on the day of the flight, but is that something they needed to worry about under the circumstances?


Edit Your Comment

  1. Larraque eats babies says:

    I really hate how the slogan of the airline industry for the past five years has been “We may suck, but have you seen how bad the other guys suck?”

    • Rocket80 says:

      Sounds a lot like the Democrats campaign slogan for the upcoming election.

      • Ahardy55 says:

        That actually seems to be the slogan of both parties. But, you know, don’t for a third party, ’cause that’s just like voting for the main party you like least.

  2. Jevia says:

    Works for when you have small children too. At least I’ve found that most passengers don’t want to sit next to small kids, so they gladly change seats with a parent. I’d expect someone would have changed seats for the brother and sister too. Unfortunately, this lack of guarantee seat w/o payment is what we get for demanding low prices and making pretty much everything a la cart.

    • jessjj347 says:

      Actually, all of these people who want to move seats, such as people with small children create problems for other people who have paid fees…

      For example, I witnessed a woman who paid for an aisle seat have a woman who was with a child ask her to move. The woman in the aisle seat became really irate because she had already paid the fee.

      So basically, it wasn’t that the woman wanting to sit next to the child was necessary in the wrong…but these fees complicate things when people want certain seats.

      I imagine with the OP here, that they may have kicked someone else out of a choice seat that was paid for with extra fees.

      • lettucefactory says:

        Well, it sounds as though the OP did pay the fee. But yes, I’m with you – these things create problems for everyone. It is not unreasonable to want to be seated next to the person with whom you are traveling – and in some cases, like parents with small children, it’s even necessary. But when folks who did pay fees are moved to accomidate this, it’s not very fair. I could totally see that complaint making Consumerist, too – “Bill Pays United $15 to Not Guarantee His Seat.”

        The fee-for-seats system only works if everyone who really needs reserved seats pays in advance. But there is no way in the world to enforce that.

        This is one reason I fly Southwest almost exclusively. I’m always traveling with small children these days (sorry) but it’s no big deal to get a seat together.

        • Jevia says:

          Well this only started because the airlines CHOSE to start charging extra for booking seats in advanced. If the airlines hadn’t started imposing these extra fees, there wouldn’t have been a problem. Instead of raising prices on the tickets, the airlines chose to impose special fees, which cause more problems. Not passengers’ fault, they’d probably still pay the ticket price even if it was raised $30.

      • isileth says:

        I agree with the irate woman who had paid for the seat.
        Once I was in a train where you could book the seats or not.
        We had booked and it was a good thing because it was really packed.
        Our seats had been chosen taken by someone without the booking and we made them stand up.
        In one there was a boy with scoliosis.
        He got up and complained that “I have to stand when I have scoliosis”.
        I wanted to tell him that next time he should ask his idiotic mother to think in advance and book the seats in one of the most busy day of the year.
        But since I am a nice woman and despite her son, she was nice.
        We moved a bit and they were able to seat.

      • hattrick says:

        “I witnessed a woman who paid for an aisle seat have a woman who was with a child ask her to move.”

        You know, if I were the parent, I really hope I’d have called the airline’s bluff on this one. If the airline thinks it’s in their airline’s best interest to have parents at the ready to keep kids from screaming, then they should put parents next to kids.

        I think airlines that want to charge parents $30 to deal with a screaming kid don’t actually understand who has the leverage here. Sure, if my kid is screaming for an entire flight and I don’t deal with it, the passengers are going to be ticked off at me. But they are going to see where I’m sitting and where the kid’s sitting and they are going to be even more ticked off at the airline that idiotically put me 20 rows back from my kid in spite of me telling them I had a kid that I needed to take care of.

        And, um, I’m never going to see these people again. They’re not my customers. They’re the furious people who had to deal with my misbehaving kid while I was totally oblivious and took a nap. 6 months from now, they’ll still hate me, but they won’t remember my name when they’re booking their next flight. What they will remember is the name of the idiot Airline that put that mother 20 rows back from her horrible, screaming kid…

  3. angelmvm says:

    Ugh. Why should they make an exception? Where does the need for exceptions start and end? They won’t make exceptions so that I can sit next to my 3 year old.. why for your adult sibling?

    My solution… USE ANOTHER AIRLINE.

    • MrEvil says:

      I hate to say it too, but Southwest (assuming SWA has service near them) you can sit together if you board together.

      • TheGreySpectre says:

        Assuming you check-in online and almost exactly 24 hours before the flight or pay the extra 10 dollars to check in extra early. Wait any longer then that and you will get B or C boarding groups where you have to hope that there are open seats next to each other, and if you have more then 2 people who want to sit together good luck on southwest. I prefer the US airways method of prebooked seats. It’s very easy to sit together with people on US airways as long as you aren’t booking a last minute flight.

    • sleze69 says:

      I have never, EVER not had a seat when I booked a flight on US Airways (whether booking a flight 2 months out or the day of). I always am able to select a seat when I purchase the tickets. Although I regularly use the internet for booking, I just recently made a reservation over the phone and was able to select a seat. What is different here?

    • grumpygirl says:

      I am so grateful to the Universe that Alaska/Horizon allows no fee seating choice with online bookings and that they go to the 2 destinations I ever fly to.

  4. FatLynn says:

    Not letting people select seats together is bad policy, BUT IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH A SICK SISTER. People, do we really need a sob story to talk about consumer issues?

    • danmac says:

      I totally disagree with you. This is a consumer story because:

      1. Evidently, the airline IS able to place people next to one another as long as they’re willing to cough up the money.

      2. The airline’s response to the OP’s letter is a total PR non-answer that ignores the original issue: “well we can’t absolutely guarantee it…sorry”. Fuck you, [redacted]…no one was asking whether you guaranteed anything; he just believed that it was pretty ridiculous for the agent to say “well, I can’t guarantee seating, but for $15 a ticket I can pretty much guarantee seating.”

      Knowing this site, I know there will be many like you who take the “this isn’t about an emotional story; it’s about policy” stance. To that I respond, why is it that we feel companies are morally justified in hiding behind policy, even when that policy may be silly or unnecessary? We praise companies that go “above and beyond” because they permit the individuals who work for them to “be a human” and operate contextually. When a company’s policies are so Machiavellian that it’s employees aren’t permitted to operate with a modicum of emotion or personal initiative, it ultimately fails it customers.

      • danmac says:

        Blech…sorry for the grammar problems at the end there…it’s hard to write coherently when frequently distracted.

  5. humphrmi says:

    I’m not blaming the OP here, it sounds like he was treated shabbily. But I must say, there are still *lots* of airlines that assign seats at reservation time – why not just fly one of those?

    And if the answer is “It’s cheaper…”, then… well, I guess that’s why he was treated shabbily.

    • Pansy P says:

      If they were flying from not-LAX/SFO to PHL, which is likely if they’re in NJ, it’s likely they had no real choice other than USAir. USAir flies something like 80% of the flights into and out of PHL.

    • Pinkbox says:

      The story says he paid $1500+ for the two tickets, so I’m guessing he didn’t get them cheaper.

  6. wonderkitty now has two dogs says:

    Air travel is a suckfest-free-for-all. Pick your poison carefully.

  7. shepd says:

    The airline is under no requirement (ethical or legal) to make people feel happier. It’s good business, of course, but that’s it. Both passengers would have had a safe flight whether they moved or not. Sorry, but the airline did the right thing, if this is a fee they would normally charge that was well disclosed ahead of time (both of which I imagine are true).

  8. Skellbasher says:

    If you call US Air, and you don’t like what they’re telling you, CALL SOMEONE ELSE. They’re not the only airline that flies from Cali back east.

    This line made me laugh: “When a company puts profit before humane behavior, we will make every effort to boycott them. ” They obviously make ‘every effort’ didn’t because he paid the fee anyways, then complained about it afterword.

    Side note: I would dispute that a hospital would clear someone to fly who was ‘gravely ill’.

    • Osagasu says:

      It depends on the illness, and if moving the patient would be dangerous.

    • crazedhare says:

      Someone can be terminally ill and have, say, 6 weeks to live – a prognosis which I would think in common parlance would surely qualify a person for the ‘gravely ill’ description – and have comfort and care issues without being in immediate medical danger.

  9. wonderkitty now has two dogs says:

    Air travel is a suckfest-free-for-all. Pick your poison wisely.

  10. Dyscord says:

    I think the thing about this story is how shitty it is that they can’t guarentee seating unless you pay them extra. What’s so special about it that necessitates a fee for it? If you get on a bus you can sit anywhere you want.

    • Fubish says: I don't know anything about it, but it seems to me... says:

      Actually, travelling on a bus is more pleasant than flying… (I never thought I woukld write that sentence). I refuse to fly anymore because of the inane security hassles getting on the plane and the discomfort during the flight.

  11. sufreak says:

    There seems to be a lot of non-stories here lately. Every time you book an airline seat now, you have the choice to pay for ‘premiums.’ Seat selection, leg room, etc.

    I’m sorry for your sick sibling..but this is standard.

    • LadySiren is murdering her kids with HFCS and processed cheese says:

      You’ve got a point but geez, US Airways…have an effin’ heart, eh? A little human decency goes a long way. They’re completely in the right to want to maximize profits but there should be a little leeway in that policy so that the airline doesn’t come off looking like D-Bag Airlines (IMO, anyway).

      • danmac says:

        Completely agree with this.

      • tundey says:

        How do they look like a douchebag for not violating their policy? If they bend it for him, how’s that fair to others that have paid the fee? He should have not paid the fee and switched with another passenger on the plane. Someone who isn’t making money from seat assignment.

  12. Extended-Warranty says:

    What is the big deal? It’s a service they offer and you were interested in such service. So purchase it. I agree it’s shitty, but I’m also sick of tired of everyone who thinks they get to pick what’s free and what’s not.

  13. Sunflower1970 says:

    Soo…what about kids and parents? Pay $30 to maybe sit with your child?

  14. Griking says:

    Actually wouldn’t they only need to pay one choice seating fee? They can seat Bernadette where ever they want (no fee) and then have her sister in law pay $15 to sit next to her.

  15. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    I’d like some clarification on what this girl had. Does gravely ill include a communicable disease?

    • sufreak says:

      Unless its an airborne illness, in which case she shouldn’t be flying, it shouldn’t matter.
      Exceptions become status quo, and no longer are the rules.

      • MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

        Actually, even with a communicable airborne illness, unless it was a pathogen so virulent that she was quarrantined, she’d probably be cleared to fly if she wore a facemask. But most illnesses that require specialized treatment are not communicable anyway; I’d say if someone is visiting a specialized treatment center, it’s more likely a cancer or genetic disorder, or one that people just seem to develop for reasons we don’t understand, probably due to a number of genetic and environmental factors (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s).

  16. Rask says:

    Why is everyone expecting charity from for-profit organizations is beyond me. Last I heard, there’s isn’t a company called Bleeding Heart airlines.

    Sympathies go out to Bernadette and her husband..

  17. lehrdude says:

    I’m flying in 2 weeks with my 3-year-old. I refused to pay the fee to allow us to sit together. I can’t wait to see what they are going to do with her….

    • Elphaba says:

      Delta moved someone so I could sit by my daughter. They said it was their policy that children can’t fly alone without an adult until age 5.I also use a car seat on the airplane because a: that way I ensure it gets to my final destination, and b: my child can’t get out of a 5 point harness and she feels safe and is used to traveling in the carseat. I don’t know if the car seat made a difference or not.

      The lady got moved from a middle seat to an aisle, so I don’t think she was complaining.

  18. SpendorTheCheap says:

    You hear people complain about the younger generation feeling “entitled”.

    What about these folks?

    “I’m sorry, we can’t just let you sit where you want at the last minute.”

    “But my sister’s sick.”

    “I’m sorry about that, but we can’t do it.”

    “But my sister is REALLY sick.”

    “Oh, she’s REALLY sick? Why didn’t you say so in the first place? Why don’t you both sit in first class? Maybe your sister would like to FLY the plane?”

    Bernadette is wound up over 30 bucks. 30 bucks? Look in the sofa cushions.

  19. SpendorTheCheap says:

    You hear people complain about the younger generation feeling “entitled”.

    What about these folks?

    “I’m sorry, we can’t just let you sit where you want at the last minute.”

    “But my sister’s sick.”

    “I’m sorry about that, but we can’t do it.”

    “But my sister is REALLY sick.”

    “Oh, she’s REALLY sick? Why didn’t you say so in the first place? Why don’t you both sit in first class? Maybe your sister would like to FLY the plane?”

    Bernadette is wound up over 30 bucks. 30 bucks? Look in the sofa cushions.

  20. There's room to move as a fry cook says:

    Works for me whenever I claim to have a dying grandmother. I’ve been through 9 of them already.

  21. Bernardo says:

    I’m confused. I thought when you bought plane tickets you could pick the excact seat you wanted to sit in. And if you and your gf/bf/bff…etc bought together you can then buy two seats next to each other. When did this change? I want to take a trip to france with my friend but I want us together both ways might that not happen?

    • NeverLetMeDown says:

      Depends on a lot of things, including the airline, and how much you paid. Generally, the cheaper the ticket, the less likely you’ll be able to choose your seats ahead of time.

      • TheGreySpectre says:

        US Airways allows you to pick for any ticket class. There are a couple of rows like the exit rows that slightly nicer to sit in that you have to pay the extra $30 for. This guy bought last minute tickets so I can almost guarantee what happened is 95% of the seats were booked already and he was stuck booking middle seats that were apart from one another on different rows. If he had known about the trip earlier he would have been able to book seats together. You generally get the short stick when doing things last minute even it is forced, this is not new or unique to the airline industry.

        • NeverLetMeDown says:

          Interesting, because if he was booking at the last minute, he might have been in full-fare coach, which will often get you into better seats than people on deep discount tix. It seems he was in Y, since Y class LAX-PHL on US is $760/seat, so $1500.

          Could have also flown United, though. Would have gotten economy plus for free (full-fare coach), so more legroom too.

  22. Macgyver says:

    If everyone else have to pay for choice seating, what makes him think that he doesn’t have to pay for it.

  23. Shadowfax says:

    When are people going to stop being surprised that corporations are heartless. That’s the definition of a corporation: To make profits without concern for how it effects people. Being heartless is good business.

    I’m surprised when corporations are compassionate.

  24. Urgleglurk says:

    Looks like a form letter to me.
    Someone at USAir just pushed the “Reply” button and selected the letter off a pulldown menu.

  25. moderndemagogue says:

    Heartless given the circumstances? Huh? Its somehow more important that these two people need to sit next to each other than your average family of four flying with small children? They should get their fee waived for what?

    You either explain to the flight attendants the situation, and they’ll make something happen because they don’t want someone dying on them over Illinois forcing a diversion to god-knows-where, or pay the fee.

    Is a corporation expected to not be heartless? It’s a corporation, not a person. It wants money. Here’s an idea, stop capitulating to companies all the time so that their morality is forced to change. Don’t pay the $15/fee. Inform them if she dies due to their negligence, what the repercussions will be.

    This is a complete non-story.

  26. StevePierce says:

    I am so sorry to learn of your sister-in-laws illness.

    There is no guarantee that you can sit together. Yet for $30 and the fact my sister was dying, I would pay it so I could sit next two her. Thats not even the cost of a dinner out. Seems cheap to assure seating next to my sister for a cross country flight.

    Next time, book with another airline. If you want to sit together, fly Southwest, get in line two hours early and you can pick any two seats in the plane.Just remember, even on Southwest you can pay extra to board early to get your favorite seat.


  27. Donathius says:

    Unless they don’t fly the route you needed I’m willing to bet Southwest would have been willing to put the OP and his sister in the pre-board group. It wouldn’t have cost $1500 either.

    Although, come to think of it, with someone that ill SW might not be the best choice due to the probable need to change planes on a trip that long. But, seriously. Fly with someone else. Anyone else. I know Delta does assigned seating. As does American…and United…just fly anyone but USAir (and Southwest under the circumstances).

  28. Datruth says:

    I’m sorry for their family situation, but this kind of thing annoys me. I had actually booked a seat on JetBlue a few years ago in a good location and on the exit row aisle. I like aisle seats, which is why I always book them when they are available. (Now that they charge extra for exit row, I usually avoid that).

    So, I’m happily boarded on the flight, and all of the sudden here comes a gate agent telling me I have to move. Why? Because a “family” needed to be seated together. No one was sick. They just “needed” to be seated together. And where did I end up? In a very cramped non-exit-row window seat (I’m 6’2″). That was total b.s., and I told them so in the proverbial “sternly written letter’ after I got home. I did end up with a $50 credit for my trouble after complaining.

    Sorry…you get what you get when you book last minute. And this guy was given an opportunity to pay extra just like anyone else would have. Suck it up, dude.

    • energynotsaved says:

      I had booked ahead for an isle seat so I didn’t have to sit in the middle seat between two large people. Got on the plane. Huge guy sits in the middle. He starts in on me immediately about letting him sit on the isle. I said no. He was really mad. We sat in the plane for 1+ hours. Waiting. Off loaded.
      Four hours later, got back on the plane. I figured I wasn’t messing with karma ever again. I took the middle seat. He thanked me. The window seat guy didn’t re-board. I sat next to the window. He had the isle.
      I hate sitting in the middle, but I hate bad karma even more!

  29. Talisker says:

    Your ticket doesn’t even guarantee you a seat on the plane regardless of how much you paid for it. Why would you be guaranteed a particular seat?

    • TheGreySpectre says:

      Yes it does, on US airways you sign up for a specific seat when you book the flight.

      • Skellbasher says:

        And you can still be bumped if the pilot ate a tuna sandwich for lunch on a Wednesday. (AKA no reason at all.)

        • TheGreySpectre says:

          That may be true, but it comes out to a whole bunch of hassle if one passenger bumps another passenger, when there are no issues such as overbooking. Just because the OP did poor planning and booked late does not make it an emergency for that warrants moving other other passengers around.

          And if they did move people around to make it so those two would sit togethor what is to say that doesnt break up another couple. It also opens up the door so that the next time I have to book late I can say my friend here is “sick” I need to sit with him.

          I have no sympathy for the OP, they gave him an option and he wants US Air to screw over other customers for his benefit just because he doesn’t want to pay a fine.

  30. ohiomensch says:

    If I buy two tickets to the theatre or a ballgame I am pretty certain those will be together. Why, when someone purchases two or three tickets together an airline doesnt have the capability to seat those persons together? I live in a world I don’t understand.

    • Blueberry Scone says:

      I don’t get this, either. And yeah, I’d love to see what would hapen if DH and I were each separated from our kids on a flight. You want us to pay money so we can sit together? No way.

    • Jevia says:

      Oh they are perfectly capable of sitting people together, they used to do it all the time when I was a kid. They still can, but now you have to pay an extra fee for it. Why? Because they can!

  31. TheGreySpectre says:

    US airways has customers choose seats beforehand. Generally at the last minute most seats have been chosen, If they did let them switch for free then we would be seeing a story from someone else about how they booked a seat then the airline changed it. If you want to sit together either book early or pay the fee.
    In fact if you book early on US Airways you are more likely to get seats together for 3+ people then on southwest where you will only gets seats a row of seats if all 3 if you check-in exactly 24hours before your flight.

  32. dush says:

    Then don’t book with them if you don’t like their seating policy.
    Do NOT give them your money if they won’t serve your needs.

  33. db1 says:

    This recently happened to me (my wife and 3 year old)

    I recently booked a flight for my wife and 3 year old to fly to Japan and visit her folks (I could not come due to work).
    This flight was the first half of the flight which would take them to San Francisco before changing to another carrier.
    When I booked the flight I was able to choose seats together but when confirming the flight we found that they were seated on opposite sides of the plane.
    I called up to complain and get this fixed, explaining how my child is 3 years old and HAS to sit next to his mother and the reps answer was “I can’t do that…… UNLESS you pay a $30 per seat upgrade for premium coach”.

    Needless to say I was not happy with this and went back and forth with the rep and it wasn’t until I threatened to report them to the FAA that the rep was a little more accommodating (and I mean only a little).

    At that point she put a “note” on the reservation that would allow my wife to talk to a stewardess before boarding and that they would arrange it so they could sit together.

    Never will I spend my money with that airline again.

  34. baristabrawl says:

    People die. Why do you deserve special treatment? Just getting to the other side of the country before the gravely ill (and possibly not dying) sister is should be enough. I really think you should file this under “Entitlement Complex.” You are special just like everyone else.

  35. speechteach says:

    …and then there are those of us who read of this situation and will probably not fly USAirways again because of it. The OP has reason to be outraged. Customers should be accommodated in unusual circumstances that they can document. What’s the $30 to the airline, anyway?

  36. TacoChuck says:

    US Airways is awful. They are the only airline I won’t fly no matter the cost. Just yesterday I booked a transatlantic flight that was USD$200 cheaper on US Airways on Delta rather than fly that garbage carrier.

  37. Altdotweb says:

    Let’s say that the OP had an aisle seat in row 17 and the middle and window seat were already assigned. There was an opening in row 14. Do you forcibly relocate the passenger in the middle of row 17 to row 14 so the OP and his sister can sit together?

    Now let’s consider that the passenger being relocated is Chinese and very superstitious and, in his/her culture, the #14 is considered to be unlucky since it can be translated to “Want to die”.

    Do you want a gate agent to choose one scenario over the other?

    Chances are that the OP was an infrequent traveler and was not aware of many of the changes in the airline industry.The seat confirmation fee is a junk policy, but it’s not fair to expect the airline to push other passengers around simply because you don’t agree with the rule.

    In this situation, I would’ve moved if asked, but would not appreciate being forced to move unless it was into First Class or a better seat.

  38. sopmodm14 says:

    i like how airlines take extra money for things they can control, yet refuse to accept responsiblity for damage items that are in their control

  39. Blious says:

    I am not sure why the Airline is at fault

    They can’t make exceptions for claims like this as more customers would simply make things up and demand free exceptions for what they deem to be a reasonable excuse

    I am glad the Airline stuck to their guns as I have wanted someone near me but paid the money to change

    It should apply to everyone