“That’s Illegal!” Passenger’s Brilliant Hack For Extra Space Called Out By Aggressive Flight Attendant

One of the better tricks to flying comfortably is when there are cheap tickets, just buy two. You often need to work with the airline (don’t just buy an extra seat in your own name, the airline might think it’s a duplicate). But you can usually buy more than one seat and sit in both. That’s more space for a lot less money than paying for business or first class.

One woman though had the extra seat she paid for taken away, told what she’d done was illegal, and her return trip was cancelled – all because of mistakes by the airline.

  • 3 passengers traveling in coach, they had 4 seats between them.
  • Everything worked fine on their first flight, but on their connection they were called out by cabin crew for committing a crime
  • And flight attendants forced them to give up the extra seat to accommodate another passenger.

So my daughter just left to go over seas with other family members/ friends, 4 people total. The financier of the trip bought herself a first class ticket and then 4 seats for the other 3 people to give them a little more space since 2 of them are a little larger. They used their boarding passes including the pass for the extra seat. Everything went fine for the first leg of their trip. They had a layover before getting on another flight.

Once boarding the second flight they got settled before a flight attendant saw the empty seat and told them to scoot together so she could seat someone else in the row. They tried to explain they had the ticket for the empty seat. The flight attendant then told them that since it was an international flight it was against international law to buy the extra seat and they could either move or be thrown off the plane. So not wanting to get thrown off they scooted in.

Once arriving at their destination they found out the flight attendant had canceled their return flights. My daughter (17) is currently thousands of miles from me without a return flight.

Their return flight was cancelled, but that is almost certainly unrelated to the confrontation with cabin crew. Most likely the gate agent failed to properly scan the extra seat boarding pass, the reservation system thought they no showed, and simply cancelled out the return.

It’s not likely that all of the passengers were cancelled – although that happens too. I was just corresponding with someone in Dubai, trying to head home to Turkmenistan, but Turkish cancelled their tickets saying they hadn’t flown the outbound portion of the trip.. even though they’d earned miles for those flights.

However it is very much not illegal to book an extra seat on an international flight. It just has to be done correctly. It cannot just be done as a fake name because the manifest will be provided to the departing and arriving countries and need to match. And extra seats may be a problem if ticketing a reservation with multiple airlines, because each airline’s process for it can vary.

If you run into problems of agents not knowing how to process the extra seat for a person you can also consider booking an extra seat for special luggage, like an instrument.

Frontier Airlines now sells empty middle seats between passengers and up until 2007 United Airlines blocked middle seats for all elite frequent flyers, only filling them on full flights. They ended the benefit when planes became regularly full, because the number of seats having to be assigned at the gate was too unwieldy. With greater automation now (American performs many gate tasks now via ‘AgentAssist’, for instance) it makes sense to bring this benefit back.

With most airlines, customers can buy an extra seat which will generally mean an empty middle seat, by paying whatever is the current fare. Almost nobody does this, and airlines don’t make it easy. PlusGrade offered a tool for airlines to upsell passengers this during the pandemic, yet strangely it didn’t take off. (Their tool allows for booking as many extra seats as you want, all part of the purchase path.)

Etihad Airways, Oman Air, Royal Jordanian Airlines, Malaysia Airlines and Philippine Airlines all worked with PlusGrade on selling extra seats inside the customer booking path on their websites because it is not illegal. Air New Zealand famously has sold extra seats as a ‘Skycouch’ for some time.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. On a discount airline, it can certainly make some sense to buy an extra seat, especially if you’re a party of 2 and can block the middle seat. Fares on discount airlines can be quite cheap because their business model relies on selling ancillary products that empty seats don’t need! Like I often see fares on Frontier that start at only $19.

    Yet almost nobody does it. Probably because nobody thinks about it, and the people flying discount airlines are doing it to save money. Also, everyone LIKES an empty seat next to them, but nobody really wants to pay for it. Human nature, I guess.

    Speaking of Frontier, they are now specifically selling their first 2 rows with blocked middle seats. I am almost 100% certain this experiment will fail, for the above-cited reasons.

  2. @Gary Leff: You wrote, “Everything worked fine on their first flight, but on their connection they were called out by cabin crew for committing a crime
    And flight attendants forced them to give up the extra seat to accommodate another passenger.”
    Please let us know the name of the connecting airline that requires passengers to give up the extra seat they purchased in advance and if they received a full refund for this purchase.

  3. I’ll probably get called a fat-shamer for this, but if you are obese, please buy two seats. You’ll be more comfortable and I won’t have deal with you encroaching on my space.

  4. Would be an interesting option on something like RyanAir, where the seat is often nearly free, but they charge for everything else but the oxygen. But you would have to pay for seat assignments, otherwise the extra “passenger” could wind up in another row.

  5. I have bought an extra seat for comfort on two airlines. With JetBlue it was extremely easy to do online. No problems with the flights. On Singapore Airlines I had to call customer service to get it set up. It took several calls, long wait times and agents that didn’t know how to accomplish it expeditiously. At least they gave me a discount on the second seat. No problems on the flights. Neither airline allowed me luggage for the extra seat. The airlines make out on selling extra seats because they don’t have to expend the same resources as for the first seat. They at a minimum save on fuel but instead of that, can carry more revenue generating freight. The terms of contract allow the gate agent to take back the extra seat with the money being refunded (make sure you get a refund, not credit which can expire.) This is why you should always make the extra seat the one less desired. The extra passenger in the article should have had to sit in the middle seat. The flight attendant on that flight was not only a liar but a bad liar. Both that airline and the flight attendant should be taken to court unless the money was refunded.

  6. It is certainly not illegal and I fail to see the stupidty of airlines not to allow this as it is paid for less the weight of the passangers and luggage = petrol saving.

  7. JetBlue has it as a check box on the booking page. Super easy. However, if you do it with points, they will still charge you the per person taxes, airport fees, etc. and they pocket it.

    And this isn’t a new practice. Thie tix start with something like EXSEAT/DOE/JOHN. Why they insist on drowning in a glass of water I have no idea. Such a simple, and revenue positive thing to sell you’d think they’d make it easy.

  8. It would be nice to know which airlines make it easy to book an extra seat. JetBlue, to begin with. And others?

    Or, would it just be easier to book for the instrument and then show up with no instrument?

  9. The top commenter in the original Reddit thread explains the source of the problem well – I didn’t realize international is a different beast in this regard, but it all makes sense.

    “First, the “it’s illegal” argument: the airline is absolutely required to give an accurate passenger list to the authorities in the departure/arrival countries. Inaccuracies here—including fake names extra seats are booked under—are a big deal that will get the airline fined. The gate agents and flight attendants are trained on this, and on the need for accurate counts and passenger reconciliation. That’s where the flight attendant is coming from, even if they seem to have gotten it a bit garbled (from “accurate passenger list a must” to “more than one seat per passenger is impossible”).

    The problem is airlines have very old computer systems, which mostly don’t support a single passenger having two seats. Different airlines work around this in different ways, often by booking an extra seat with the passenger’s first and last names, and EXST or XS as the middle name, plus some information linking the two bookings.

    On domestic flights, they just check in both boarding passes. On international, the name accuracy rules mean they can’t: instead, they need to check in the first seat and block the extra seat without checking it in, and then somehow stop the later segments from getting automatically cancelled.”

  10. The naming format on Singapore Airlines for the extra seat was FAMILYNAME/EXST. The naming format on JetBlue was EXST FAMILYNAME. Both of these flights were in 2022.

  11. It seems quite silly to me that airlines wouldn’t make this easy to do. I’d even go for an option where you could volunteer your second seat for compensation on overbooked flights.

  12. Why don’t these people (or you Gary) name the airline so I’ll know who to avoid? This information is worthless…..

  13. I have bought an extra seat on JetBlue. It is pretty easy to do, but needs to be done with the airline naming convention. Just an FYI, the extra seat doesnt earn FF miles.

  14. I’m a flight attendant and I would have absolutely no problem with it. I’ve also never heard that it was illegal on an international flight.

  15. @Adrian, it’s not fat shaming to call it out as it is. Whatever the reason for being obese, it should not infringe on other passengers’ personal comfort and space that they also paid for. My issue is generally not with the passenger of size, but with the airline employees who purposely look the other way and pretend they don’t see it to avoid the confrontation or being called fat shamers. They should be enforcing the rules and not dumping the hot potato on you and leaving you to deal with it on your own. If you can’t do that then find a different job.

  16. To the poster explaining why for manifest reasons it can’t be done, there are ways around that and it can and is done. At least for any US carrier.

    Frontier’s blocked middle in the first two rows… I’ve sat there by virtue of having booked the window in row 1 or 2 for free as an elite before they implemented this thing. I’ve heard gate agents and crews complaining many times. “I’m not leaving a nonrev behind if we have 4 empty seats, that’s just wrong.” I asked so will you give those passengers a refund? One supervisor told me that the manager (or actual Frontier overseer) can unblock the seats in event of an oversale. Presumably refunds would be issued but what if the people don’t want that and no longer want to fly? I might say screw this if I had a 5 hour Frontier flight with a supposedly guaranteed empty seat next to me. Wouldn’t have booked it otherwise.

  17. It isn’t a “hack” – it’s a “tip” or practice. A hack is circumventing the design of something in a way that was not intended. You can buy extra seats. This is ignorance by the flight attendant.

    Millennials and their “hacks” – sheesh, they are just tips people.

  18. @Tal: You said, “It is certainly not illegal and I fail to see the stupidty of airlines not to allow this as it is paid for less the weight of the passangers and luggage = petrol saving.”

    Where are the petrol savings when a 440-pound or 200-kilogram passenger buys an extra seat? If an average passenger has a mass of 181 pounds or 82 kilograms, the additional mass, even without passenger baggage, does not appear to generate a petrol saving for the airline.

  19. All the responders to “Uncle Jeff” understand he was being sarcastic, right?

  20. Well, you can be sure that it wasn’t AA or Gary would have made sure the whole world knew it. Must be his fave DL, who can do no wrong.

  21. I can see the straw man is 200kg. I doubt many 200kg people fly. More reasonable would be someone between 100kg and 150kg who is wide for one coach seat, depending on seat width and personal height.

  22. I’ve done this in the past by booking “XTRASEAT SMITH”. Just be sure to get the extra seat boarding pass scanned so no empty seat shows on the manifest.

  23. To Adrian: if anyone can be happy over Ozempic it’s the airline passenger.

  24. I am a retired Delta ticket agent.
    It is not “illegal” to purchase an extra seat. But it should in one of the passenger’s name. Many people “of size” need to do that. Others do it for comfort.
    Some professional musicians purchase what we refer to as an “xtra” seat for their instrument.

  25. @Gary would you mind naming and shaming the airlines in these stories please? It would be beneficial to know what airlines are playing games and perhaps avoid. Thanks!

  26. We just had this happen last weekend on Delta flight 0102 from Atlanta to Venice. Delta booked us online with the middle seat designated as Extra Seat Family Name and one of our passport numbers. Gate agents called us to the desk four times trying to figure it out and finally blocked us when actually boarding and went through the process again.. They claimed that we couldn’t us the passport twice even though that’s what Delta’s online chatbox had instructed us to do. Eventually we were allowed to board but one of the two gate agents was very rude and outright nasty down to the last minute..

  27. Anyone who complains about overweight people not getting two seats should lobby for airlines to make it less of a hassle, as I try to buy two seats whenever possible, but it always involves a ton of time and embarrassment at the airport.

  28. It is not illegal to buy 2 seats. Large people do it & it’s just fine. It’s impossible for a F/A to cancel someone’s reservation, they do not have access to the gate agent’s computer.

  29. I did not see anyone mention the two airlines (that i’m aware of) that refund the extra seat for passengers of size. KLM and Southwest. Actually SW originally had a policy that i thought made sense. If everyseat on your flight was full, you were charged for the extra seat, as they would lose income giving it to you. If there was even one open seat on your flight, it was “yours” and they refunded your extra ticket. Seemed fair, but now they just give you the extra seat for free, regardless. You don’t even need to buy it, but we always do and then request a refund after the trip as we are more comfortable.
    KLM gives the free extra seat, but only on their own equiptment. Seats booked thru them on partner airlines do not qualify.

  30. United also makes it easy to buy extra seats now. AA and Delta need to update their systems to match. United and Jetblue have a simple “check the box” selection for extra seat purchases.

  31. Another fake story. You’ll notice the airline wasn’t named; that’s a dead giveaway. This never happened.

    People buy second seats all the time, on every airline, and under their own names. You just tell the reservation agent you want two seats (and of course, pay for them). They do it for comfort if they’re overweight or excessively tall, for privacy and space if they’re weird or germaphobes. They do it to put expensive and fragile musical instruments in. Etc., etc.

    Also, flight attendants (and pilots) don’t have the ability to cancel anyone’s ticket. This story was invented by someone who doesn’t know anything about the industry.

  32. Hold it a second! Airlines sometimes charge “weight challenged” people the opportunity to buy two seats. Why would this one person not be afforded the same thing without the “blob factor”? I doubt that any US flag carrier’s flight attendant can cancel a reservation. A suggestion would be to call the airline reservation center, give the agent the PNR(s) and ask that a note be placed in the PNR(s) indicating the purchase of an extra seat for one passenger. Issue solved.

  33. just buy a premium or first class seat, you cheap arse idiots. God, I really hate humans more every day.

  34. Tried it once on JetBlue. Three days before the flight I was moved to the back row away from my empty purchased seat so an Air Marshal sit there and enjoy the empty seat next to him. I got a refund and a few miles but that was it.

  35. Steven, I’m surprised that the airline disclosed that a federal marshal was on the aircraft, even after the fact. Normally only the crew would be notified. I happened to be on a flight where the federal marshal and I had breakfast together only a few days prior. That was a bit awkward but it was handled with ultimate discretion. Disclosure, even after the fact, could put the marshal in jeopardy.

  36. @Gary it bothers me that so many of your readers have directly addressed you with zero response. It gives the impression that you throw these posts out there like a grenade and go running for the hills. I don’t care whether you want to name the airline or not, but if you don’t want to interact with readers can we do away with this charade and clearly state in your articles that you don’t read the comments section? I’ve noticed this pattern a number of times, not just this post.

  37. I assume the empty seat could allow the person buying the tickets to bring 2 carry-on bags. Does anyone know whether that’s the case?

  38. Well said Jeff. …. And if the article is to be informative- name the freaking airline!

  39. @Infrequent Flyer, that is not the case. If the second seat was like the first seat it would have a personal item allowance, a carry-on allowance if the first seat had one and a checked bag allowance if the first seat had one. Sadly the extra seat does not have those allowances, at least on the airlines I have bought an extra seat on. It is sad when you pay full price for an extra seat and only get part of the package.

  40. Can I use frequent flyer miles to purchase the extra economy seat on international flights? Business class award tickets are ridiculously over priced!

  41. @Mary, that is a good question. I think you will have to work with customer service for that and getting a hold of customer service is not always easy. You might also have to give more money or miles for them to process the request. One of the questions that would have to be answered is if one of the seats has to be paid for and if so, which one. Usually things are easier if the airline has revenue coming in from at least one of the seats. I have personally never used miles in a seat plus extra seat situation.

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