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Not paying for seat selection in coach, how does it work out (usually)?

I have mostly flown transatlantic on Delta or Icelandair and both offer free seat selection in regular coach. Once flew Condor where it is not free, did not pay for seats, and it worked out, we were all seated together.

Flying Air France on an 8 hour transatlantic 777 eastbound, a 787 westbound. I'm planning to reserve a set of duo seats on the way over (the 3-4 rows of pairs of seats at the back of a 777 along the outside) since this is an overnight flight. I paid for duo seats once on a 15 hour flight and thought that not being seated in a row of 3 was worth the money if trying to sleep.

Considering not paying on the return daytime flight and seeing what comes up for free at check in. Would prefer to not have a middle seat but don't really care about being seated with travel partners. Note that since I am connecting, I would be able to check in for the transatlantic flight more than 24 hours in advance so would get a bit of a jump on nabbing aisle/window seats, but maybe that is true for most flyers.

One point of view https://flytrippers.com/never-pay-select-seats/

Posted by
6460 posts

If you are willing to accept any seat on the plane, then it really doesn’t make sense to pay for seat selection. It does seem that there is a great deal of conflict reported in the news over people who did not want to pay for seat selection, who suddenly found they did care when they saw their seats.

I know I care about where I sit, so I always purchase.

Posted by
3666 posts

Somebody has to sit in the last row, by the bathrooms, with traffic passing by all thru the flight.

Posted by
338 posts

Someone has to take the middle seats left unfilled- it’ll be people who didn’t pay to select seats. If that’s ok, if you don’t care at all then don’t pay. If that would bother you, pay for your seat.

Posted by
1480 posts

I pay for seats some of the time. It depends on the flight length and whether I like the carrier. The times I haven’t, we have been assigned reasonable seats at the gate by a live agent, always together (except one time), never ever have we gotten the very back row. Usually we’re in the middle to front-of-the last third. Twice we were within the first 12 rows.

We did fly a domestic Delta flight to Raleigh just before the pandemic for a funeral and our flight was changed the day of— our selected seats were “lost” and we had to show the gate agent to avoid the back.

Posted by
4849 posts

I never pay for seats in coach. I just check-in online at the 24 or 48 hour point and get the seats I want for free. I honestly assumed that everyone else did the same thing because I always get the seat I want. And I fly A LOT.

Posted by
1663 posts

It's sometime ago now, but I seem to remember thinking that the price I paid for a coach seat limited the seat options available to me when checking in on-line - I had the lowest of the lowest fares and the only choices were middle seats and this was right on the 24-hour before flight time.
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Anyway, I no longer fly coach domestically or internationally and because legroom is important I will hand over the $15-$25 extra at booking.
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Travel is not meant to be tortuous so I'm not going to leave the vagaries of airline seating up to the airlines. The advance purchase of a seat is pittance.

Posted by
3528 posts

The most miserable I can remember being on a plane was in the very back row, fortunately an aisle seat, of a BA flight to Edinburgh. The AC wasn't working and they had run out of the water they usually sell in coach. I'm not usually claustrophobic, but was in this situation. I will avoid that airline in the future if at all possible.

Posted by
3941 posts

Pointing out transatlantic is over $30/ person for aisle/window in the back third, so it’s not peanuts. Also on a jumbo the toilets are in the middle of the plane; there’s a galley at the back although there may be a toilet or 2 also.

Emily: Good to know! The airlines are exploiting fear and uncertainty.

Mr E: I don’t have an answer to your question but there are times flying for work when at ticketing a week before travel there are only middle seats left to choose. Since there’s no advantage to intentionally selecting a middle seat for a solo traveler, I have not selected a seat and once got a comfort seat for free checking in at the airport,

Posted by
1993 posts

We flew Swiss Air earlier this year and even upgrading to regular economy did not give us seat selection (although I thought it would when I purchased it), since we bought through United. I went online to get a boarding pass as soon as it opened up and easily chose seats I liked.

The year before we flew Delta (2021). Economy got you ability to get credits for your seats which were probably extra popular given that Europe had just reopened. My son and his girl friend, however, stuck to economy lite to save money and ended up with comfort seats for the flight back! They got seats together in economy on way to Italy.

Delta lowest class seats domestically have always resulted in my husband and I being in separate rows in the middle. We have bought them for short flights.

Posted by
3941 posts

Delta lowest class seats domestically have always resulted in my husband and I being in separate rows in the middle.

I think this is bad luck. For basic economy domestic Delta flights we have always got an aisle seat at check in for one passenger, when flying as a group of 4 we were spread in the same area of the plane with 2 on aisles, 2 in the middle.

Noting that domestic is a different animal, since several passengers who had selected aisle seats will be upgraded to First just before check in freeing up some aisle seats for basic economy check in @ 24 hours.

Posted by
1366 posts

One of the perks of having achieved a higher status in the OneWorld system that I most highly value is the ability to select seats in advance for free—including 'extra legroom economy'.

Without that, the seat map for your flight can be a tool for informing decision-making here. If there are lots of seats open as the travel date nears, then more than likely there are lots of pax awaiting free seat selection. This would tell me that most assigments will happen from 24hrs before travel, and the chance to check in early could offer a decent chance for good seat options. But of course, it's all a gamble, and the best advice is to just pay for what you want if you'd be truly unhappy with the worst case outcome.

Posted by
1480 posts

(I should add that the one time we were not seated together, we just went to the gate agent and asked if there was any seats together and they quickly found us spots.)

Regarding being bumped, it has never happened to me yet, as I always check in as soon as the window is open. Often, I am able to select a seat for free at that point.

Posted by
13547 posts

If I can select my seat on-line for free, sometimes I do that but not always. I take my chances at being given a seat at check-in. If that's not preferable, then I ask if another more preferable location-wise is available. I always fly Economy both domestic and trans-Atlantic, taking the overnight flight non-stop from SFO or OAK to London LHR or Gatwick, Paris CDG or Frankfurt.

Paying extra for a seat is not an option. If offered an upgraded seat at check-in for an additional charge, I always reject that offer.

Ideally, I prefer the aisle seat, not the window, and to be avoided, the middle. If assigned the middle, (nothing else left), then I just put up with it for the next 11 hours. Not really comfortable but I know I'll sleep anyway.

Posted by
2277 posts

It’s funny that I see this post today. Because last night I flew home from Boston to Atlanta, and there was a woman in the gate area having a royal hissy fit because she was in the middle seat in the back. She actually wasn’t upset with the airline -she was letting her other half have it up one side and down the other because he had booked these cheap tickets and she had to sit in the middle seat in the back. I bet he never does that again.

Posted by
3941 posts

Noticing that Air France has periodic sales on seat selection pricing, about 15% off right on the seating chart, the normal price has a line though it and a lower price noted.