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So here's my not-so-hypothetical situation. My wife and I are on an American Airlines flight and for the longest leg (~6 hours) there are only "Premium" economy seats and crappy (single middle) seats left.

I just got changed to this flight because of a night-before cancellation, so I didn't even have a chance to pick a good seat from the free options despite booking this trip 2 months prior to departure.

So here's my theory that I'm trying to validate/invalidate. If I don't pick a seat and let them assign it at the gate, it seems like the odds improve to get a "Premium economy" seat. My reasoning is that if I just pick a crappy middle seat from the remaining free options, that's exactly what I'll get. However, I'm betting that they hold back premium seats hoping to get people to pay for them at the last minute, and they are more likely to be open for people without assignments on a full flight.

Another factor is that my wife and I bought our tickets together, I don't how hard they try to keep people who are flying together (at least couples) seated next to each other, but if they do it would reduce the odds of us getting assigned a single middle seat.

Any insiders with American have thoughts on my theory and whether it increases my odds by not preselecting a seat assignment? Do they give any weight seating couples together on a flight?

  • 2
    Not sure about American's policy, but Delta won't assign you a Comfort Plus seat for free at check in unless there are absolutely no other regular economy seats left. And they offer free upgrades close to departure to elite frequent flyers sitting in regular seats, which pretty much fills the premium seats before check in time. On a brighter note, airlines hold back a percentage of seats for "gate assignment", so while it looks like only center seats are left, there could be some rows totally unassigned at this point and maybe available when you reach the airport. – user13044 Nov 3 '15 at 2:09
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There's a chance that you'll get Main Cabin Extra seats. For example, this chap on Flyertalk held off on checking in until relatively late, and got lucky.

There are, realistically, three things that can happen, assuming you're deciding whether to pick a couple of middle seats now or try your luck:

  1. Two normal seats together become available between now and the flight, you spot them, reserve them, and you're better off than you are now. ExpertFlyer will alert you for free when window or aisle seats become available on your flight, although they'll charge you 99 cents for the "any two seats together" option.

    The seats could become available because seats otherwise blocked for frequent fliers, babies, or the disabled are opened for everyone, or because a frequent flier gets upgraded out of them (or because someone changes their flight of course!)

  2. All the normal seats fill up, and you get assigned Main Cabin Extra seats at checkin. Great!

  3. You end up in a couple of crappy middle seats - no worse off than you would be if you picked them now.

I did wonder whether there would be an option 4 - higher chance of being bumped from the flight - but AA's conditions of carriage only mention check in time as the leading factor. Still, without a seat assignment, it might be worth arriving in plenty of time.

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If you and your wife are on the same reservation (PNR), then AA will try to assign seats together. Better seats may open up as elite members (who had good seats) are upgraded. In your circumstances, a gate agent at the airport is usually your best option to get good seats and be seated together. The thing is, you can only get a boarding pass if you have an assigned seat.

You should check aa.com to see if you can pick good seats for the two of you. Check often as it gets close to flight time, since elites may be upgraded. If you don't see any good seats, don't check in on line, but instead get to the airport very early, and ask the check-in agent for good seats. You might be able to get exit row or Main Cabin Extra.

If the check-in agent isn't able to get you good seats, ask the gate agent.

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