I’m not buying the anecdote that anchors the New York Times’ latest comically obvious business-trend alert. A Ms. Maury Rogoff claims that on a recent flight, she was not only cursed with a middle seat, but also that said seat left her smack-dab between a bickering couple who argued around her, impervious to her pleas for a merciful swap. This story is at worst fabricated, at best an anomaly, and most likely exaggerated gratuitously. But sure, the middle seat sucks. What of it?
For travelers like Ms. Rogoff, airlines are making it harder than ever to avoid the middle seat based on luck alone.
But if not luck, then what? Cold, hard cash; that’s what.
The Times reports that with airline capacities now just shy of 85 percent—a record high—some savvy airlines are charging more for the more desirable window or aisle seats. And while I like getting nicer things for not more money as much as the next person, this just seems to make sense.
“It’s a way to compete,” said Max Rayner, a partner at Hudson Crossing, a consulting firm in New York. “If you want to go at premium times, there will be far fewer seats available at the lower end of prices.”
In other words: capitalism.
But rather than pony up for whatever level is above Delta Air Lines’ Basic Economy fare, or an early boarding pass on Southwest (an extra $15), some passengers have gone rogue.
Fliers said they have offered fellow travelers money or drinks to switch seats, paid the fee to upgrade to a premium or exit row, feigned illness or switched flights. Some travelers even report buying two seats, just to have an empty one next to them.
“‘There have been instances where I’ve bought someone an upgrade,’ said Michael Winston,” a man with such singular focus on avoiding an economy-class middle seat he’ll pay first-class prices ... for someone else’s benefit.
Do not do this, people! It is not smart personal financial management. If you really need an aisle seat—if, like one curious bloke referenced in the article, you think it is more efficient to wait for a later flight than it is to fly home in the middle because you just have to be able to work mid-air—then pay up.
I’m sorry. I know it feels like Big Airline is gouging you for every penny with their premium-priced peanuts, a paywall separating you from the glorious distraction of wireless internet, and a separate fee for the luggage you’ll need when you get wherever you’re going, but things were not better before. Flying is not only significantly safer than it used to be, it’s also comparatively cheaper—much cheaper.
And if you absolutely have to get what you want without paying the perfectly reasonable markup, you could always just lie.
Of all the excuses, genuine or exaggerated, the one that seems most effective is the threat of gastrointestinal distress.
William Bauer, who travels frequently as an executive at a manufacturer of leather goods, said that hinting at a medical need for quick access to the bathroom usually prompted either gate agents or fellow passengers to make the switch for him.
“Make it clear that you need that aisle seat. Really convey a compelling sense of urgency,” he said. “Thus far, I’ve never been rejected.”
See, and you thought there was nothing redeeming about IBS.