HomeAirlinesTwo small things that airlines do that I really wish they didn’t

Two small things that airlines do that I really wish they didn’t

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When it comes to bad or annoying things that happen to us on our travels, the things that usually stick in our minds the longest are also usually the things that don’t happen very often.

For most people, truly bad experiences with airlines are not a common occurrence, and so while an airline stranding us somewhere overnight, losing our baggage for days, or cancelling our flight at the last moment, are all examples of highly stressful situations, these aren’t the things that annoy me most.

For me, it’s some of the smaller annoying things that airlines do over and over again that irritate me the most, because while I don’t like having my flights cancelled at the last minute or discovering that my favorite Briggs & Riley suitcase has been flown to the wrong part of the world, I know I’m not going to have to deal with those kinds of issues multiple time a year.

The annoying small things, however, can happen on multiple trips in a row, and even if they’re so small that they’re basically irrelevant (first world problems!), they can add up and become frustrating.

Specifically, there are two annoyances that I seem to be encountering more and more and while both are, in the grand scheme of things, highly insignificant, I really wish airlines would stop doing them.

Aircraft seat swaps

Aircraft swaps are a fact of life, as are the seat swaps that usually accompany them, but why are some airlines incapable of dealing with a seat swap with any kind of intelligence?

Example 1

If I’m booked into an exit row seat and there’s an aircraft swap, I can’t help but feel that logically, the airline’s seating algorithm should put me into an exit row in the new seat map.

I’ve already confirmed that I’m happy and able to sit in an exit row seat (I did that when I first reserved the exit row seat), so what’s the excuse for not putting me in an exit row seat when the flight’s seat map gets changed?

Sure, if the swap sees a flight go from offering 12 exit row seats to just 6, I understand that some people are going to miss out and that I may be one of them, but what’s going on in the image below?a screenshot of a phone

What sort of algorithm decides that this is the right seat for a passenger that was in an exit row before the aircraft swap?

11 of the 12 exit row seats are still empty, so what am I doing in 15C?

I could just about understand what had happened here if my original seat had been 15C, but it wasn’t. It was 16D, and that’s a different row and a different side of the aircraft, so the system has made an active decision to put me in 15C.

Why? Why not the exit row or, at worst, why not as far forward as possible?

On this occasion, I caught the swap (there was no alert) and immediately put myself back in an exit row, but a lot of the airlines that I fly with (BA, American, Qatar, etc…) are terrible at sending through seat change alerts, so on several occasions in the past year, I’ve found myself kicked out of the (relatively) comfortable exit row, placed in a horribly tight seat (one that I would never have booked in the first place), and left to discover this for myself … by which point all the exit row seats had been snapped up.

That’s infuriating.

Airlines whose systems are not capable of making logical (and basic) seating choices on behalf of passengers that are being moved, should have systems in place that inform passengers of seat swaps every single time they happen, and not just every now and again when the mood takes them. Sadly, however, that’s not how the real world works.

Example 2

On one of my bookings for a flight back to LA, British Airways swapped a civilized 777 (with the Club Suite seat) for a very uncivilized A380 with abysmal seats that date back to the dark ages.

Originally, Joanna and I had been booked into two window seats (3K and 4K, I think) before the A380 took over the flight, and yet what you see below is what the British Airways system decided was a good choice of seats for us.

a screenshot of a computer

BA’s system had most of the Business Class cabin to choose from when it reassigned our seats, and yet it managed to assign us two of the worst seats in the cabin!

With these seat assignments, one of us is at risk of being knocked into every time someone walks down the aisle (especially during meal services), while the other is at risk of sharing what is essentially a double bed with a stranger!

What sort of idiocy is this?

This can’t all be down to the airline’s systems not being capable of sensibly applying seat allocations because following an upgrade a few weeks ago, BA’s computers knew to put me into 1C – the best seat in the Club Europe cabin – so the capability to do things sensibly is clearly there.

a close up of a ticket

So, is this down to a lack of programming, down to incompetence, or down to something else?

When ‘priority’ means nothing

I know that some airlines like to use the idea of ‘priority’ this and ‘priority’ that to sell credit cards, but we’re rapidly reaching a point where unless some of this nonsense is reigned in, no one will have any kind of ‘priority’ at all.

Qatar Airways likes to tell us that it’s the world’s best airline, and yet here it is offering oneworld ruby members (an elite status that requires absolutely no effort to earn), the same access as oneworld emeralds, and passengers who have paid for a Business Class experience.

a sign above a building

And here are three of Qatar’s oneworld partners offering equal access to pretty much everybody, and if you look closely at what American Airlines is doing, it’s offering the same ‘priority’ access to AAdvantage Gold members as it’s giving to Flagship First passengers.

a group of signs in a building
Click or tap to enlarge

Yes, I know that a lot of this kind of thing happens mainly at outstations and not at an airline’s hub or stronghold, but is it really necessary to have every single ‘elite’ member checking in through a single ‘priority’ line? Or, in some cases, boarding thorough one line and at the same time?

I’ve been in ‘priority’ lines that have taken 45 minutes to clear (I was only in line because online check-in wouldn’t work) and that didn’t feel like ‘priority’ at all.

To be fair to the airlines, I should point out that giving Ruby members access to Business Class check-in is a oneworld rule and not a rule that individual airlines are deliberately implementing of their own volition, but as they seem to be great at carving out exceptions to oneworld rules when it suits them, why not do something about this rule too?

Let me get ahead of something…

I have little doubt that because the internet will insist on living up to stereotypes, someone will be tempted to use the comments section to tell me that none of this is important, that these are first world problems, and that I’m being ‘elitist’ or ‘entitled’ by getting irritated by the ‘everyone has priority’ issue.

Well, I’ve already said that, in the grand scheme of things, none of this is really important, and I’ve already called these issues first world problems so that’s that point taken care of, and as far as the accusation of ‘entitlement’ goes, blame the airlines, not me.

It’s the airlines that give frequent flyers and premium cabin passengers the idea that they will get high quality treatment in return for their business and money, so what do you think is going to happen when these same people see that the whole ‘priority’ thing can sometimes mean absolutely nothing at all?

Bottom line

I know that I shouldn’t let the small things in the travel world annoy me, but sometimes I can’t help it.

In an age where AI seems to be everywhere, I cannot understand why airlines can’t deal with seat changes a lot more efficiently than they currently do – at the very least they should be unfailingly efficient at letting passengers know the moment their seat allocation changes.

And at a time where a lot of airlines are charging flyers more and more to reach the higher tiers of elite status, I cannot understand why we still have ‘priority’ lines that clearly don’t give anyone ‘priority’ at all. What’s the point of that?

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  1. with BA it is their outdated and error-prone IT system.
    At least YOU get the exit seat “for free”. I wonder what happens with people who paid for it, or many complains they get from customers who paif for it and are now sitting in 15D

  2. I never had an issue with lines, but an issue with ‘priority’ that I’ve had was being in a class of service that included priority on baggage so they’re supposed be one of the first on the belt at claim.
    Once, my bag had the priority tag but came out as one of the last. (likely ground crew didn’t prioritize since i saw other tagged bags come out interspersed with untagged bags)
    Once, one bag had the priority tag but the second checked bag didn’t and the tagged bag literally came out first, the untagged bag was one of the last. (Not sure who to blame with this one, I watched the ticket agent tag both, tag probably came off in transit somewhere)

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