What to Do If You Have No Room for Your Flight

When you buy your flight, airlines often don’t list all of the other fees you’ll be responsible for, such as the cost of shoddy boxed food, fuzzy Wi-Fi, and often the actual allocation of seats.

Checking in online for a JetBlue flight, our editor-in-chief Virginia recently faced a dilemma: Is it worth paying $ 90 for a seat assignment just to secure a window seat; otherwise, she would risk heading to the airport and relying on the whim of the flight attendant to take her preferred seat.

“Is this a new scam ?!” she asked the Lifehacker staff. And judging by several of our responses, this is hardly a unique experience with airlines – I was also in this difficult position when faced with the opportunity to buy an aisle seat to calm my fears that I would be burdened with an average or somehow even flew out of my flight.

Why is this happening? Well, the obvious answer is that airlines probably understand this fear and use it to their advantage to make some money off your ticket. (For more practical reasons, airlines may also lock seating sections to make room for elite, crew members, or passengers with special needs, such as families and children, so that they are not separated.)

And frankly, your options as a passenger are limited; yes, you can buy an upgrade and guarantee yourself a seat. This can help you if, say, you want to be absolutely sure that you are sitting in an aisle seat. Or if you just want a little extra legroom and you can pay extra for that.

But if you’re willing to give up the absolute guarantee of aisle or window seat, don’t give up. Why? Well, chances are you are not the only passenger in this situation. If you are waiting to receive a quest, you can still get a pass or a window. (And if you get an average seat, you can use this opportunity to buy an upgrade if you want.)

Depending on the airline, if you have just purchased a flight and have not assigned seats, you should generally wait up to 24 hours before departure for the check-in window to open (and locked seats become available). Often times, the airline will automatically assign you a seat at that time – which could very well mean a window or aisle seat – saving you the trouble of shelling out extra money for a premium seat.

If you have not been assigned a seat after check-in starts, just wait until you arrive at the airport. I had this very situation on a JetBlue flight and got an aisle seat at the airline counter. (A JetBlue customer service representative confirmed to me that you are guaranteed a seat on your flight, even if you do not reserve it in advance.)

If you are wondering if you will get a seat at the aisle, think about the cities of departure and arrival, as well as the time of departure; If you’re flying to or from a popular tourist destination, the chances of getting stuck in a middle spot may be higher. If your travel dates fall on weekdays, you may be in better luck than traveling on tough days like Sunday.

And if you have special needs, try contacting your airline by phone to let you know that you require special accommodations; depending on your specific needs, they may try to find you the best available location. (I had food poisoning right before the 14 hour flight from Tokyo; I contacted the airline to inform them, and although they could not allocate a seat for me at the time, I found myself very comfortable with an aisle seat next to the toilet – which could happen simply by sheer luck.)

And always always download your airline’s app . You might be able to get a better seat with the app without standing in a long line at the exit.


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