When booking tickets challenged goodwill, good sense

Summer vacations are looming, and with it the annual ‘outflux’ of expatriates on their annual leaves, not just to escape the heat, but to check on homes, families and pets. I noted a couple of weeks ago, when I purchased our flight tickets, not so much a new charge, but certainly an unwelcome one, where seating was concerned. A mere two years ago we flew to New Zealand, and only had to choose our seats as an added extra, if we desired extra legroom or the like.
But I did a double take when I came to the last booking step this time and was invited to select seats.
You see what the situation is now is that the language of the seat selection is subtly, yet decisively, different.
It was more like an instruction to choose.
I wasn’t all that keen, but the prompts wouldn’t disappear off the screen, so I called the airline. “Sir, you do not have to pay extra for choosing your seats, you have a ticket and will be allocated seats upon checking-in,” then the cruncher, “however, there is no guarantee you will be able to sit together.”
“Well that’s a bit silly,” said I, “I’m buying both tickets at the same time, one for my wife, and one for myself, and it would appear to be pointless and unsociable, let alone possibly
culturally insensitive, to have my wife and I sitting next to strangers and nowhere near each other. If we wanted to take separate vacations there are easier ways…”
“Sir, when you check-in, at the airport, simply notify the counter staff that you are married, and they will make every effort to sit you together.”
“Every effort… so that’s not a guarantee?”
“Sir, we will make every effort to comply with your request. However, if you select your seats, and pay the minimal fees, you can have ‘peace of mind,’ and know that you will be sitting together, with the added benefit of choosing where on the aircraft you will be seated.”
“So there is no alternative to paying these charges if we want to sit together? It’s a long way to New Zealand you know? 25 hours just from Dubai”
“Yes sir, it is a long way, but I think you will be much happier going on your holiday if you pay…”
“Yes, I know, peace of mind etc etc. Okay, thank you.”
I returned to the website, and no I’m not going to tell you which airline (or they’ll put a group of over-active children around us as the price of complaining) and found to my chagrin that the purchase had ‘timed out’ and I had to do it all over again.
Grrrrrrr!
I followed the cues, and found that for one sector, I had to pay $20, and for another $25, each, and that’s only one-way, so I will have to pay the same for the return flights.
Our selections are not special either, just two seats together.
It’s basically an additional 10 per cent tax for flying!
I’m certain that, given the detail of my purchase, two tickets at once, it would be fair to assume that the travellers would wish to be seated together, and that seating algorithms must take account of such factors.
It would appear though that those algorithms are being used to manipulate the extra seating tax, oops, payments.
So.
Is the airline better off to have two happy travellers, happily married, travelling together, with both keeping each other comfortable,
leaning on each other (not strangers), snoring happily together (not annoying other travellers), being culturally appropriate (think food and drink etc), and socially appropriate (why should someone else have the pleasure of my wife’s stimulating company)? Etc, etc, etc. Or is the lure of those extra dollars just too tempting, after all, industry wise, we are a captive market!
Look, I’m sure that a nice person at the check-in, would try to seat us together, but I don’t want to take that chance, and I firmly believe that an airline has a cultural and social responsibility to ensure that families are accommodated together, particularly on long haul flights. Come on guys, get your act together on this please?

Ray Petersen
petersen_ray@hotmail.com