March 14, 2006

Northwest Airlines $15 Aisle Seat Fee

Category: Aviation

nwalogo.jpgNorthwest Airlines will now charge $15 to travelers who want to specifically reserve an aisle seat at check-in. Article here. This idea is so stupid it's gotten me to write something on my neglected blog (which takes a lot these days). The fee is likely to do nothing more than annoy NW's customers and further erode their status as a preferred airline. That's no way to treat the people who are keeping you in business. It essentially punishes people for daring to buy a low fare.

Northwest could do this invisibly anyway simply by reserving choice seats for higher fare classes and not telling anyone about it. A fee system just makes them look like jerks, and deeply abuses customer loyalty.

At any rate, I don't really care that much as long as the window remains free!

Posted by Nick at March 14, 2006 4:01 PM


Continental (a Northwest code-share partner, incidentally) does what you suggested. The first six rows or so in coach are called "premium coach" and they're only shown as available when you book the ticket if you're an elite member or if your fare class isn't the super-discount.

I fly pretty much exclusively on Continental because I live in their main domestic hub (Houston) but I think they're really much better than their competition. I saw a billboard of theirs saying "WE'RE adding new destinations. THEY'RE charging for food." or something like that.

And although I prefer the window anyway, being at the front of the plane is more important to me than sitting on the aisle.

Posted by: David at March 31, 2006 6:35 AM

NWA is totally into the bate a switch; something that I thought was totally illegal.

Posted by: roger at April 11, 2006 9:24 PM

But wait, if you think about it as a supply and demand thing, what's wrong with charging more for the more coveted seat? I say, if I really want the aisle, I'll pay for it. And allowing others to pay for small niceities might make the cheapest airfare cheaper. I've got no problem with that.

Posted by: kristina at April 24, 2006 1:57 PM

The traveling public has gotten what they wanted cheaper fares without frills. You all wanted Southwest Airlines, so now you have all no frills. I fail to know how any airlines survive, what with greedy CEO's and continually rising fuel prices, passengers wanting lower fares and lower fares its surprising there is any airlines left flying. So as a retired airline employee all I can say is YOU WANTED IT, YOU GOT IT, HAVE FUN PAYING FOR THAT AISLE SEAT. As consumers, you get what you pay for, soon you will get on an aircraft with even less flight attendants and coming soon only one pilot. You all know a pilot is nothing a bus driver.

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Posted by: airlines at July 4, 2006 10:50 PM

I ran into this last week when my wife and I took a 5 hour flight to Portland. I bought our tickets at the same time on Expedia, and was told that on the flight out, I would only get our seat assignments at the gate. We were amazed that the airline couldn't figure out who was sitting were until the flight took off. When we got to the gate from our connecting flight, we were told that all the seats were filled so we couldn't sit together. We were furious and glot no help from the agent. Our only relief was from a fellow passenger who understood our situation and agreed to switch seats.
It was only on the trip back that the $15 seat change charge was thrown at us.
Having lived through the "no seat assigned" problem on the way there, we decided to make sure we wouldn't have the same problem on the way home so we showed up 4 hours early for our flight. When we got there, we had 3 gate agents point us to the computer to do our own check in while they watched. I went through the process and it showed that once again our seats weren't together and the computer asked if I would like to change them. As I said "yes", one of the agents said, "you know that will cost you." I was shocked and in disbelief as I saw the next screen pop up and sure enough, the only seats it said were available for me to choose all had dollar signs on them. Needless to say I raised hell. Talk about a scam, you book two tickets at the same time, and they automatically separate you on the premise that you will pay extra to piut them back together.
Even the employees didn't agree with the policy and it showed in their "upbeat morale" for their "friendly" company.

Posted by: Mike Klein at July 26, 2006 6:22 PM

Isn't this a great industry where there is equal oportunity abuse! Turn loose the bean counters and multi-million dollar CEO's and nobody's immune from the fallout. It was no big deal when the airline employees took pay cuts and lost pensions but let it cost $15 more for a seat and I guess we should repeal the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978. Face it, safety and service no longer drive this industry, it's the money, stand by, it will get better!

Posted by: Larry at November 19, 2006 9:27 AM

I am a little nervous about the seat assignment situation....if they do not assign you a seat and you are unable to choose on-line and their excuse is that the "airport" only allows them to be able to book 60% of the seat assignments until the day of the flight and you have paid for tickets, are you at risk of not being on that flight? Or are you guaranteed, but just have to wait and see? I guess I do not care if we have to sit apart, as long as we can make it to our connecting flight that only leaves once every two days!!!! Has anyone every been denied a flight even though they have paid for tickets with no seat assignments?

Posted by: Marla at December 22, 2006 8:07 AM

Hi is that going to happen i n first class becuse we are going in a few weeks to new york is that going to be a troblesum ordeal ?

Posted by: Ben at April 8, 2007 3:17 AM

This is a scam designed to punish those who check in early. Obviously, the aisle seats (and now window seats) are available or else they couldn't be trying to sell them to you. Obviously the computer put you in a middle seat so that you'd have to pay to switch. The theory is that if you wait until about an hour before the flight; the middle seats will be full and you'll be given an aisle seat for free. In other words; they're trying to make you pay for something they could give you for free. Just refuse to pay it and use the Northwest Kiosk system to prove to them that there are aisle seats available. Then DEMAND that they either put EVERY subsequent check-in in a middle seat. Since they won't fit; they'll have to give you a ticket. That's what I did and it worked at PDX.

Posted by: Dana Paterson at December 2, 2007 4:09 PM

Actually, what you're paying for is a Coach Choice seat - which are seats that are reserved up until 24 hours before the flight leaves the gate because they have better legroom (most of them are on exit rows or further forward on the airplane where the seats are often spaced further apart.)

If you reserve your tickets through the airline's website, or even through sites like orbitz or priceline, you can pick your seats and you won't have this problem.

Posted by: Adam at December 14, 2007 11:45 PM

I wanted to share this correspondence with anyone that wanted to read. Here is my question and concern with NWA, their response telling me they will help me via telephone for a $15 fee and my final response to them... truly amazing....

>I think what I like most about this pre-crafted blurb to most likely any customer that choose "Seat Assignment" as the category of their feedback, is that after I've expressed concern, frustration and confusion I am allowed to contact NWA, but a $15 fee will apply.

With that I congratulate you on your customer service and this email is truly the icing on the cake. If I could cancel my flight with NWA on 3/30 I would. Unfortunetly I will be on that flight, however NWA is certifiably, in my book, THE poorest airline with customer concerns I've seen. Coming from someone who works for an organization that CHERISHES customer service, and from someone that is in a position within that company to see each and every piece of customer feedback that comes through and the correspondence given, I am ashamed for NWA and embarrassed.

I am not interested in paying to speak with someone for assistance in this matter and will not fly NWA again... You may also see my email, this response and some comments on a blog very soon.

Thank you.<

Dear Rob,

Thank you for contacting Customer Service.

While most seats are available to be pre-assigned, Northwest does reserve some seats on all flights for assignment only at the time of check-in. There are currently no seats left to be pre-assigned on your flight. You do have a secured space on our plane, but we cannot tell you which specific seat will be accommodating you.

While we do our best to seat passengers according to their preferences, it is not always possible on a full aircraft. We recommend checking in early in order to ensure flexibility in seating. With an E-ticket, you may check in and choose from available seats online. Access the "Check In for your Flight" box on our homepage at within 24 hours of departure.

We are unable to accommodate your request for seats via e-mail. You have confirmed reservations on our flight, but we cannot tell you which specific seat will be accommodating you. We recommend checking in early in order to ensure flexibility in seating. Please be aware that Northwest holds some seats from advance seat selection and releases them for the check-in process. These seats become available approximately
2-24 hrs prior to departure.

However, if you would like to review seat options further, please call Customer Service at 1-800-692-6955. Please be aware that if we are able to pre-assign seats for you, a $15 Call Center Assistance Fee will apply per passenger.

I hope this information answers your question.

Thank you for choosing Northwest Airlines. We value your patronage and consider it a privilege to serve your travel needs.


Sheikhnur Customer Service

Recently I'd heard from two different sources that booking flights on NWA was a hassle and that there was a process for seats that involved different preferred status options, purchase options (just to have a seat in coach) and a 24 hour before flight check in for seat assignment option. Both persons were quite beligerent and swore an oath never to fly NWA again. When booking this flight to MSP I chose NWA over other options because it was the least expensive option. I'd never flown NWA before and typically use AA, Alaska, Delta, Continental or Frontier because I am familiar with these airlines and even have preferred memberships or credit/debit cards with some. I chose NWA and then just recently noticed I did not have a confirmed seat... and panic took over, as this is the very situation I'd heard about. I later searched blogs online and found VOLUMES of angry customers as well.

I contacted customer service who confirmed I could not choose a seat until 24 hours before, but sometimes it releases early so I should check back weekly... I don't have time to remember to check back weekly to try to get a seat, and I'm not sure an airline should even really be suggesting that to their customers when all they want is the peice of mind that they will not be in the middle seat of the last row for a 3+ hour flight. I debated "purchasing" a "premium" seat, however preposterous that is, but that option is not currently available to me either. I understand it's a way to make money but I fear it's these sort of tactics that will ultimately put certain airlines under. You may have made $10 or $20 off another customer but you've certainly sacrificed the $481 you would have made off me the next time I traveled as I will not sure NWA again unless I have no other option. It's very sad that airlines are in such a tough spot but I have stuck to the fact that airlines that continue to offer me pleasent service and a seat will be the ones I continue to use. While AA does not have a seating situation, they have extremely rude flight attendents, almost consistantly. Fortunetly I've only had to interact with one or two but I've seen many a conversation to other travelers that literally left myself and passengers around me shocked. I've earned over 200,000 miles with them and have their credit card infact and have recently decided to no longer fly them (unless faced with no other option) and am in the process of closing the card and opening one with another airline. This is none of NWA's concern but I wanted to spotlight my correspondence with more emphasis that I am not a customer that writes long emails of "threats" with an ax to grind. I write them when I sympathize partly and don't want to discontinue use of their service without doing my part to let them know why, and they can then take that feedback as they wish, but at least I've spoken my mind and can move on with an open conscience.

So again, I feel your seating process is disarming and frustrating, and certainly a major customer turn off. I hope this process changes but until then I will not be using NWA again.
Thank you for your time.

Posted by: Rob at March 11, 2008 2:19 PM

Why shd a passenger pay a fee for a choice seat if
that choice seat is available, I thought it is a
first come first served basis. Or is there any much better explanation than additional income for
NWA. If my recollection is right, during the '80's
and '90's there was none such as this. Am I right?

Posted by: Guia at April 12, 2009 5:10 PM

Just booked my flight through priceline with northwest. Priceline offered a link to choose my seat assighment. That link brought me to northwest's $15.00 charge to do it! Thanks a lot priceline! You jerks! (I bet you already knew this $15.00 thing was going on!) Yeah, travelling by airplane is just another thing our dear elected officials in Washington have totally screwed-up with de-regulation!! Ain't life grand? Why don't we tar & feather of bunch of those bozo's in D.C.? Think the rest will get the message? O.K. I'm finished. Somehow I don't feel much better. At least I'm pretty old now so I won't have to suffer through a whole lot more of life under our elected officials, 'The best that money can buy!'.

Posted by: Dennis at June 30, 2009 3:25 PM

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