Selling your seat assignment? Should there be an app for that?


Few topics stir up airline passengers like seat assignments. The days of “first-come, first-served” are long gone, as the best seats generally go to frequent fliers or those who have paid extra. Of course, this doesn’t stop some passengers from pleading their case at the gate or with fellow travelers.

Last month, a story made the Internet rounds when a CEO who wanted to sit next to a co-worker on a Stockholm to Newark flight actually offered two of his fellow passengers $100 to switch seats in business class and was turned down. The story would have died there except that he decided to vent about it on his Facebook page, turning him from another cranky business traveler to a being a famously entitled jerk.

And, hey, it’s a free country. Personally, I have no problem with his offer, except that $100 to change a business class seat was a pretty low-ball offer; the ticket price would have probably ranged from $3,000-$6,000 one-way, depending on when it was purchased. And, apparently, a bulkhead was involved, which people either love or hate. So, to my mind, he should have either offered more until he made it worth another passenger’s while or just shut up about it.

The incident does, however, suggest an idea. What if there was a site where people could buy and sell their seat assignments? It would probably have to be done at the airport, as a lot of things can change between making a reservation and actually having a boarding pass. But someone with a good seat could log in at the gate requesting offers, then a traveler with money to spare could log in trying to see if anyone would trade for a price.

I suppose you don’t need technology, as a desperate traveler could simply walk through the boarding area waving cash, though some passengers and the airline gate agents might frown on the disturbance. While we’re dreaming, maybe there could even be a corner of the boarding area for negotiations. (The advantage to the airline might be that private commerce would take the stress off their agents and flight attendants; however, if this catches on, no doubt the carriers would try to figure out a way to get at least a cut of the deal.)

Of course, there are exit row rules that would still have to be followed and it would be an open question whether passengers who made a deal would actually swap boarding passes or just trade seats on board.

Then there’s the whole controversy over whether a family should have to pay to sit together, although an option to sell your seat assignment doesn’t preclude someone changing seats out of the goodness of their heart (and/or a desire not to sit next to a cranky child).

Now, this post is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but who knows? Maybe it could work? Wouldn’t it be nice not to be guilt-tripped on board by someone begging you to sit in a middle seat? What do you think, Consumer Traveler readers?

  • Biz-Traveler

    Why not — put a terminal in the boarding area and just have both parties scan their boarding passes and run their credit cards. Of course the payment to the seller would have the airlines 10-20% commission deduct. (Don’t laugh, ticketmaster sells tickets and then creates a resellers market to take a cut).

  • Charles Smith

    Or the Airlines could change the location of premium seats. Maybe a separate section up front where those that want to pay more can get bigger seats, free drinks, food, priority boarding, etc. And the others can get seats in the back with out having to pay extra to sit next to their spouse, kids, business partner etc.

    Oh wait, that was the original idea between first class and coach.

    When did a window seat in row 23 become a premium seat and WHY!

  • DCTA

    when the cabin starts with row 17 or above because of the Business Class cabin in front of it.

  • Skeptic

    Biggest problem is when flights are oversold, cancelled or delayed, and there are equipment changes. Or the seat in question (e.g. bulkhead or aisle seats near the front of coach) is one of the handicapped access seats that must be made available to someone who really needs it. Airlines have inconsistent, and inconsistently applied policies regarding refunds for preferred seating purchased with cash or miles. What happens if the buyer and/or seller gets bumped, or the replacement aircraft doesn’t have the preferred seat in question?

    And do employees have the right to sell the value of the preferred seating their employers paid for?

    I can even see some money-hungry families converting their kids’ preferred seating to middle seats in the back of the bus to help finance Disney tickets. I’d rather they sit together.

  • Ton

    i read this and the only thing that comes to me is a groan, Not another layer of travelrelated annoyance