I am flying in a few days and I was picking seats for my partner and I hoping that we could be next to each other. The first flight was fine and I got seats but the second did not have any standard seats left. There were plenty of premium seats but I would prefer not to pay extra.

So my question is will I have to pay extra or risk not getting a seat on the flight at all if I wait?

It is an international American Airlines flight if that makes a difference.

  • 5
    Your case is an airline textbook material for the exact reason behind this "premium seats" idea.. they need your money, other than that, most likely your partner will be siting away from you. And that's another textbook material! so after that you will be 100% willing to pay in the future. Jul 16, 2016 at 19:29

4 Answers 4


AA reserve seats in coach for their frequent flyers. They provide most, but not necessarily all of these for payment if the passenger does not qualify by status. These are the preferential seats such as aisle seats near to the front, main cabin extra seats or exit row seats.

All the seats available for free are no longer available and you must pay if you wish to select a seat. If you do not wish to pay for a seat, AA will start providing these seats for free as the flight approaches, or at the gate, including the MCE seats with extra legroom. It's unlikely that you will be sat next to your partner however.

If the flight ends up oversold, AA is required to seek volunteers for voluntary denied boarding (VDB) compensation prior to selecting passengers for involuntary denied boarding (IDB). These passengers will be compensated too.

The answer to your question is the risk you will not have a seat is low if you don't pay now. Make sure you check in as soon as possible as that is one of the selection criteria for IDB.


The airlines tend to sell seats based on what is available on the plane, so XX economy tickets, YY premium economy tickets, plus possibly a bit extra based on historical no show rates on that flight. And while the seating chart may show nothing available, that does not mean all seats are taken, a percentage of seats are held back for what is termed "airport or gate assignment". These are assigned at check in or even at the gate.

If by chance there are truly no economy seats left and the airline has sold you a ticket, then they will find a seat for you. Likely they will offer an elite frequent flyer a free upgrade to premium economy or first class and put you in their previously assigned seat.

Best bet is to check in as early as possible and ask if there is a chance of sitting together.

  • OP seems to be referring to AA MCE seats, not premium economy. The OP doesn't want to pay for MCE
    – Berwyn
    Jul 16, 2016 at 20:11
  • @Berwyn - The OP called them premium seats, so I went with the flow, as that can be a general term for enhanced economy seats. But yes if you want to get picky, AA does offer Premium Economy (but note the capitalization here, versus my lower case generic usage) and the OP may be referring to Main Cabin Extra, but the general advice is the same.
    – user13044
    Jul 16, 2016 at 20:18
  • It is unfortunately not true that just because an airline has sold you a ticket they will always find a seat for you,, as anyone who has been bumped from a flight will tell you. Jul 16, 2016 at 21:02
  • That's true, but if they have someone who flies 500,000 miles a year sitting in Coach and an empty First Class seat, they would much rather put him in First Class and you in his seat, than pay to bump you and fly with the First Class seat unused. Jul 16, 2016 at 21:29
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    @DJClayworth - There are exceptions of every general rule (even first class passengers are occasionally denied boarding). So do we spend a ton of time outlining every possible exception like prescription drug ads do, or do we cover the general situation to help the OP.
    – user13044
    Jul 17, 2016 at 14:05

Flying AA domestic recently, I was unable to select a seat online without paying extra, and did not receive a proper boarding pass but a "see attendant at gate" note when I checked in at the self-check-in station at the airport. I was worried I'd been bumped, but when I got to the gate they asked me if I was able and willing to assist in the event of an emergency. :-) :-) :-)

So basically what they were doing was waiting until the last minute in hopes that someone else would pay to upgrade to an exit-row seat before giving it to me for free.


In these days of unrepentant greed commitment to shareholder value, it is regular policy for airlines to sell more tickets than they have seats on the plane. This is because they know that statistically some number of people will not show up for a flight.

Usually this works out fine, because the expected number of people do not show and they can accomodate everyone who has a ticket.However, rarely, not enough people fail to show, and then they have more people than seats. If you do not have a seat assigned you, then you are one of the people who is at risk of being 'bumped' in this case.

If there are seats in any class then usually they will upgrade someone to make space in economy. It may be you who is upgraded or it may not. You won't be forced to pay extra. However if this isn't possible, then you will be offered some (usually substantial) compensation and a seat on the next flight. Be aware that if regular economy is full (which it is in your case) then premium economy will probably fill up quickly too.

It is likely that this will not be a problem. But if you want to be sure, your only real option is to buy (now!) a ticket in a class where you will get a seat allocation, i.e. Premium, at the appropriate price.

  • 1
    It would be a gigantic waste of resources to not overbook. People don't show up. If overbooking were allowed, every plane would have empty seats, which would be a waste of fuel and money, and everybody's ticket price would be higher. Jul 16, 2016 at 21:31
  • 1
    @Malvolio you mean "if overbooking was not allowed"?
    – Ángel
    Jul 16, 2016 at 22:58
  • @Ángel -- I did but it's too late to edit the comment now. Jul 17, 2016 at 1:38
  • You could delete your comment and repost the corrected version. Jul 18, 2016 at 13:12

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