If There’s an Empty Main Cabin Extra Seat on American, Take It, It’s Free

United Airlines doesn’t let you move to any open seat in coach. When passengers try to change seats on United, the airline’s flight attendants stand on the bridge between seats declaring “none shall pass.” It used to be that passengers could change to any empty seat in the cabin, but now the airline charges extra for some seats in economy and flight attendants are the airline’s revenue protection force.

American’s policy is vague, but they do not ask flight attendants to enforce seating with a cabin. If there’s an empty seat with more legroom and you move to it, flight attendants aren’t expected to stop you (let alone charge you, the way United might).

With American starting to offer free booze to customers in extra legroom coach seats this spring this takes on increasing significance.

The Forward Cabin shares what American Airlines is telling flight attendants about the new benefits for Main Cabin Extra seats with more legroom.

Specifically, passengers in these seats get free alcohol. And anyone can move to these seats if they’re open.

By the way this is true even if you’re booked in Basic Economy, you had no advance seat assignment and are stuck in a middle seat in back. Basic Economy, therefore, gets free beer, wine, and spirits on a space available basis.

Just as flight attendants won’t be asked to police the supposedly dedicated overhead bins for Main Cabin Extra and first class, they won’t be asked to monitors passenger seats.

Ultimately American Airlines management wants employees to like them. They gave employees unilateral raises. They’re afraid to insist that employees do more work. But this doesn’t translate into happy employees or good service, it just makes management weak. American Airlines must not fly to Munich and they’ve forgotten that appeasement increases aggression.

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. @gary
    Gary, now IAHPHX will go to his drunk master parker and demand enforcement…..it’s over….

  2. This is smoke and mirrors. Admittedly, I’m a Delta guy, but when’s the last time you saw open seats in Economy Plus, Comfort Plus, Cattle Plus, whatever they’re calling “the way seats used to be.”? There’s a mile-long list of people waiting to get a comp for those seats so it’s neither here nor there that a customer would get free booze and headphones (that $9 is really going to break the bank) since in reality the chance of 45B sliding into 12A are pretty slim.

    I disagree with the “FAs aren’t going to police the overhead space” bit and agree with you, Gary, that such is just weak management afraid to say “DO YOUR JOB.” Second to getting a middle sat between sumo wrestlers is the emotional pressure cooker of getting on a plane in Economy Plus and some collection of ding dongs seated in row 20, 30, 40 has put their “carry-on” (which incidentally looks like about 2cf of everything they own) over my 12C seat (and their two parkas, of course). It makes me smile when the FAs on Delta (I’ll take my ad revenue in the form of cash) tell a customer, “I’m sorry, sir, that space is for [this cabin/class/seat] please take your bag with you to your row. If there’s no room above or below your seat we’ll be happy to check it for you.” THAT’s customer service (i.e “attending”).

  3. Only thing is they definitely do fly to Munich, from Philadelphia. Took that flight last year and it is still operating

  4. United really doesn’t enforce either. Recent flight: the seatmap on the app showed empty seats next to me, but some guy came an grabbed the seat. No attempt to enforce by the FA’s. I’m going to try this on my next flight since my elite status with them is expiring.

  5. @Doug — You got it (again). I guarantee you that when AA starts giving free booze to Main Cabin Extra pax, some sort of “enforcement” will occur. It’s just common sense.

  6. AA management sucks. We passengers want better service. Yes that includes PDB and attentive service with a smile.

  7. @ben, mce is not an upgrade. It’s an option available to elite members at the time of booking. Likelihood of self upgrading after doors being closed is small, especially at a hub where you might have many standbys. People on the upgrade list are waiting to get bumped into first, not into mce.

  8. I’d like to see how other airlines laugh at AA in their board mtgs…Exec 101 course material is to watch what AA does and NOT do it!

  9. So, assuming I buy into MCE when I buy my ticket and then after boarding completes I see others move up into those seats, I assume I can call in and request a refund of my MCE amount.

    I smell the blood of a wounded airline, the scavengers are circling…

  10. Agree with You on That Alan…..and Why wouldn’t Someone demand a Refund? Was told F/A Seat maps on their Inflight Tablets get updated prior/during/closing of the actual boarding and They will know Who belongs in the Seat and will VERIFY with Your Name on Tablet and an unoccupied Seat. People want to think All of the Airline Management Positions are filled by Idiots but it is the Scammers that are the Idiots proven again and again. The Seats will be limited, the alcohol will be regulated (you sure as hell are not going to drink profusely) and the situation will be managed. (Long term I wouldn’t even be surprised to see the actual Cabin decreased or an Cabin designator determined Fare established…..They will not be giving things away to just Anyone. You Get What You Pay for. And Basic Economy…..Perks…..lmao.

  11. Please don’t be the overweight jerk that moves to an open seat in the middle that you did not pay for when some of paid for a window seat with extra legroom.

  12. What’s with the crack about Munich? If it’s a joke, it needs explaining (and perhaps an apology).

    – Big Fan of Munich

  13. Would you please provide a reference to those MCE rules? Looks like an FAQ entry but I don’t see it on AA.com. I want to print it out for my next flight so when they try to eject mek I have some documentation.


  14. @ Bill – You can probably look forward to seatmates who also prop their feet on tray tables and armrests, as well as individuals claiming multiple seats. I don’t like saying that self-upgraders are always cheapskates and lowlifes, but that’s exactly what I’ve seen.

  15. Read the policy wording in your article again, you can move to any open seat in your “ticketed cabin”. So you can’t move from coach to MCE! You should retract this entire article, it is very misleading.

  16. @Gene Main Cabin Extra is not a different cabin. In fact American followed up with a letter to flight attendants underscoring that they are not responsible for confronting passengers and stopping them from moving.

  17. “If there is an open main cabin extra seat, take it” is nothing new. MCE has been around for a long time. Why now, is everyone’s hair on fire over it? Maybe because it now include free booze? If I had a choice between free booze or extra legroom, I would take the extra legroom. So this hype around who paid and who is getting it free, is just silly. The debate could have been made a long time ago. The booze doesn’t really change anything.

  18. Well we tried this yesterday and the FA made us both move back to our original seats. Bad advice Gary.

  19. Note that this is flagged as “No Change to Existing Procedure”. It is simply documentation for clarity and consistency. Existing procedure is that customers usually ASK if they can change seats once the door is closed, and the flight attendant says yes. There has never been a “mad dash” to grab a seat. On the other hand, this might be useful info for those flight attendants on the regional carriers that operate as American Eagle. Because some those crews may work across the big-name carriers, having the documentation can be useful if they’re coming back to AA after a stint on UA or DL:.

  20. AA “airline of last resort” I will fly south to go North to avoid. A miss managed airline with wrong headed rules that will create more challenges in the cabin for attendants as passengers in steerage bull rush the open seats for a free drink and unlimited peanuts.

  21. As Ben says, this is really a non-issue since your chance of spotting an open seat in the FWD cabin after door closing is NIL. There are too many behind the scenes upgrades going on with many Airline employees, free FAA employees and Federal agents filling those seats.
    As our economy is improving there WILL be more and more people flying this year and into 2019 & 2020 with more and more incidents of Air Rage caused by fighting for this ‘open’ seat.

    For those flying International, if you really want good ‘Human’ treatment fly on a Foreign Carrier, i.e. Singapore Airlines, Cathy Pacific, ANA, Japan Air, British Airways, Air New Zealand, Qantas, KLM, Lufthansa, Air France, SAA ,Emirates Etc. All of the above offer far superior service to any American Airline whose only interest in you is your ‘number’ ($) and how many of you #’s fill their seats at the most $$$$.

  22. This just shows how The Gold and Platinum benefits are useless at AA. Now the basic economy customer who flies once per year will have the open seat next to them rather than the Platinum and Gold members in Premium Economy.

    I have actually moved back to the coach section on longer flights to get an entire open row during longer flights (since I could spread my work out and get more done.since the premium economy seats do not have an open seat next to me anymore – unlike the US Airways days)

  23. Why all this debate on airline seats? I remember when it was exciting and a privledge just to be able to fly. Inow go to the last row on any plane just in front of the restrooms. Flight attendants great you great back there. I wait until all passengers have exited and walk right off the plane with nice miss from all staff.

  24. Donna, It is not being debated, these are just opinions (good or bad). It is all about ‘personal space’ or lack there of. The back of the airplane might have more space but the drawbacks are more:

    1.) The aircraft ride in Turbulence is much more pronounced in the last row. A lot more bouncing around.
    2.) The constant use of the Toilets disturbs your sleep and can keep you awake.
    3.) If the aircraft is not serviced adequately there can be an Odor.
    4.) Not likely, but the rear of an aircraft has the lowest survivability in an accident or incident.
    5.) Being the last off the aircraft can lead to misconnecting your next Flight at a far away gate.

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