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?