American Airlines Tells Flight Attendants: Crack Down On Passengers Moving To Extra Legroom Seats

It used to be that when the doors of the aircraft closed, passengers could re-arrange themselves freely. If there were empty seats, you’d see passengers spread out for more room. That made sense.

However airlines now charge for seats, and they don’t even just charge for extra legroom seats. An aisle seat and even a window can cost more than a middle. A seat towards the front of the cabin might cost more, too.

I’ve seen United Airlines flight attendants policing this for awhile, although enforcement varies. Five years ago American Airlines had no real policy, and passengers could mostly still move freely unless a flight attendant told them not to (and of course moving to an exit row seat required being eligible to sit in one of those seats).

Four years ago American started offering free alcohol to passengers in their extra legroom coach seats.

The ability to change seats took on added significance (and cost to the airline). Still, the policy allowing customers to move remained in place.

That policy is no longer in effect, and American is telling flight attendants that they should police passengers moving from regular coach up to extra legroom seats (“Main Cabin Extra”), as shared by aviation watchdog JonNYC. Not all flight attendants will enforce this, but some may.

It’s not unusual for Main Cabin (MC) customers to ask to change seats after they’ve boarded the aircraft – to sit next to a family member or get out of a middle seat, for instance. However, customers may not be familiar with our seat change policy; particularly when it comes to Main Cabin Extra (MCE) seats. While you may allow a customer to move to an available Main Cabin seat after boarding is complete, they’re not permitted to move into an MCE seat unless they are booked in that class. So, if a customer asks to move to a seat in a different seat classification (i.e., MC ot MCE, MCE to First, etc.) politely decline their request unless there is a customer service or regulatory conflict present. If a customer asks to change seats before the boarding door closes, work with the gate agent to accommodate the request. As always, please remain on the aircraft to avoid a minimum crew violation while assisting the customer.

It strikes me that American specifically talking about Main Cabin Extra as a class and not merely as different coach seats, with different attributes, means they ought to be paying a higher UK Air Passenger Duty for customers in those seats on London transatlantic departures, since the charge is higher for anything other than economy. Yet Delta has been formally treating its similar Comfort+ product as a separate cabin for some time and doesn’t charge higher taxes than economy, so they seem to have figured this out.

I also wonder about flight attendants sending customers off the aircraft, back to the gate, to pay for Main Cabin Extra seats. Especially with single agent boarding this seems like a recipe for risking D0 exact on-time departures.

Regardless, don’t expect to stretch out into empty extra legroom seats on American Airlines anymore if you have a regular coach seat assignment, because the airline is asking cabin crew to serve as auxiliary revenue protection staff.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Again, greed coming to the forefront. If you did not want to pay for the seat, keep your butt in the one you paid for. Tired of freeloaders!!

  2. Isn’t it awful that companies, corporations, and even individuals do not care about another person’s comfort anymore? It used to be they wanted to please the customer and accommodate them to the best of their ability to make them comfortable. Now they just want to squash you into a seat like a sardine in a can, whether you are comfortable or not. They do not care about your individual circumstance, or your health, they just care about the money. As a matter of fact in the cargo bay animals have more room than the humans in coach. Shameful

  3. I think its about time for passengers to frankly stop these companies from acting in this way. if people did not buy the seats and they are open, the compNy loses NOTHING by making the people sitting like cattle, more comfortable. in fact in gains positive feedback from passengers and brings them back. trust me, american needs all the positive PR it can get because their ability to get peoples bags and themselves anyplace on time is beyond putrid.

  4. Sorry, if you want a more comfortable seat then pay for it like I do! If it’s not free, then it’s not up for grabs just because it’s open as others have made the point , you don’t get the presidential suite at the hotel you reserved a standard room at even if it’s “open” for free!

  5. Just another reason why I only fly Southwest – all seats, except for the emergency row seats, are the same. Apparently all of you whiners enjoy paying for your seats and your baggage. Please don’t fly Southwest, those of us who do prefer not to have a bunch of complainers spoiling our flights.

  6. I’m sitting in first class at this very moment. Flight attendant just took my drink order. Coach travelers still boarding. An empty seat next to me, 2 empties in front of me and two empties behind me. And one more two rows back. Guess what!! They better stay empty too unless they were paid for. I paid for these perks. As a matter of fact a lady and her daughter right now are trying to snatch two of the seats. Let’s see if they get asked to move.

  7. AJ – “They better stay empty” – and if they don’t, just what are you going to do? Here is a thought – sit in your overpriced seat, sip your “free” drink and mind your own business. I will never understand why some people seemingly look for some reason to get upset over something that does not affect them.

  8. AJ – You ask- “Now what?”– Do you feel better? Are you proud of yourself? Apparently you must be one of those rare individuals who has never taken advantage of a situation, which did not affect anyone else, while being beneficial to yourself. So here’s what – smugly sit back, ask for another “free” drink and savior your “victory”. You really showed them, while showing what kind of a person you really are…Bravo — Encore! Encore!

  9. @David Miller so you think it’s OK that they sat down in first class when that’s not their seat? That is considered stealing American Airlines is trying to run a business. I’m sure that if you ran a business you wouldn’t want people stealing stuff from you.!!!!

  10. KW – Do you work for AA? Then just what is YOUR problem? Try minding your own business. Others sitting in a vacant seat has NO effect on your personal situation. If AA has a problem, let them handle it. Try worrying about something that is important .

  11. @ David Miller, wow you really feel you’re entitled don’t you? That’s what’s wrong with todays world is people like you who think everything belongs to them. Bless your heart

  12. KW- “Entitled”? Bull – That is you and those like you who are not happy minding your own business. I never said anything “belonged” to me – those are your asinine words. All I have said is – if what they do does not affect you , then mind your own business. Let the airlines handle such situations.

  13. @David Miller. I’m far from feeling entitled. I would mind my own business. I’m sure the FA would realize that those two are in the wrong seats.. I’m saying why if you were seating in FC and Paid for FC would you want someone else to sit there for free? Unless they were military or some other circumstance.especially , if you paid full price for sitting in first class. That’s all I was saying, is that, just cause the seats open doesn’t mean it belongs to you!

  14. KW- Apparently you have comprehension issues. So, for you, I say once again – If someone sits into a seat that was vacant that they did not pay for, I don’t care as long as it does not affect me. I am not going to get worked up about what someone else does when it does not affect me. There, I have said it twice – understand? Here is something for you to consider – currently I am sure that someone on some plane someone is doing exactly what you are complaining about – now, are you going to get all upset knowing this? If not, why not? I can guarantee that you won’t because it is not affecting you. Again, I never said -just cause the seats open doesn’t mean it belongs to me – those are your words. Try minding your own business.

  15. @David Miller – “See Something, Say Something” – sorry dude if you see someone committing a crime (which this is since theft of property that has value) you report it. Also not sure why you feel this doesn’t impact those that paid for first, business, premium economy or MCE/Comfort + seats. They BOUGHT a better seat and if people are allowed to just plop themselves down without paying it not only is offensive to those of us that paid for the seats but also undermines the airline’s ability to get people to pay a premium.

    Crawl back under your rock or go have a drink with AOC since you obviously are a socialist who has no concept of a capitalistic, business driven economy

  16. Retired idiot – I am not a socialist and I despise AOC and the DemocRats. That said, “see something, say something” is defined as —- What does if you see something say something mean?
    “If You See Something, Say Something®” is a national campaign that raises public awareness of the signs of terrorism and terrorism-related crime, and how to report suspicious activity to state and local law enforcement.—– Your usage here has nothing to do with this mantra/policy. Those who pay extra only “find it offensive” if they choose so. And as I have repeatedly stated many times, let the airlines handle this situation. Now get off of your high horse and find something worthwhile to bitch about.

  17. Am I the only one who always gets a little chuckle out of the irony of one person telling another person “mind your own business” ?

  18. During spring break season, on a nearly full New York to Los Angeles flight, two college-age passengers moved without permission from the coach cabin to unoccupied seats in first class. Unfortunately, the flight attendant overlooked the passenger’s self-upgrade. During meal service, these squatters received their choice of first-class meal selections. However, there were two passengers who paid for first-class tickets but received their meal selections after the coach cabin defectors. The first-class paid ticket holders were advised, “sorry, your preferred meal choice is no longer available because our flight is catered with a limited selection of meal choices. Instead of your meals, would you like to choose something out of our snack basket? or whould you like a choice of snack boxes from the coach cabin.”

  19. Well, I just came upon this article and am commenting belatedly. I pay a lot for Main Cabin Extra seats on American Airlines. Well over $100 per leg for long-haul flights. I travel frequently. There have been a couple of times when my husband and I have found ourselves in a three-person exit row with an empty 3rd seat and someone has tried to come in and seat themselves in the third seat. They didn’t pay. We did. Why should be have.the discomfort of a stranger beside us for an 8 hour flight who didn’t pay for it? This causes resentment and makes it harder for AA to charge high amounts for those seats. I also tire of people who are too lazy to choose their seats and then ask others to move for them. I put effort into my seat choice, looking up seat configurations online before I choose my seat. This boils down to the planners who are wiling to pay versus the freeloaders who are too lazy and cheap to pay for the seat yet feel entitled.

  20. I totally agree on making sure that if you didn’t pay for the seat you don’t get it! Not sure they’d let anyone move to 1st class if they didn’t pay for it why should it be any different in other sections of the plane!

  21. On a Delta flight, about a year ago, some South American was found sitting in my first class seat that I paid for.
    The Flight Attendant made him move, but before he did, he urinated on the seat!
    I had to move back to Economy, as I couldn’t sit on the seat. He was thrown off the plane.

  22. Stuart, that is awful. Glad to hear he was thrown off the plane. I hope he was put on Delta’s no-fly list as he doesn’t sound mentally able to handle being a member of the flying public.

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