What's a guy gotta do to get a seat assignment around here?

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I recently booked a flight on Northwest Airlines, and let me tell you, the carrier has really cut back on perks—even seat assignments, apparently.

After I purchased my flight, the carrier's website informed me that no seating assignment was available for one leg of the trip. All of the seats were either claimed by other passengers, or were being held for elite members or were otherwise unavailable. I checked back at the website a week later, and yet again I was unable to get a seat assignment.

Frustrated, I called the airline. The automated service told me (surprise) that I had no seat assignment. I requested one through the service, and was informed that there were technical problems, so I'd be transferred to a live person. A few minutes later, a customer service rep told me that (surprise) I had no seat assignment.

"Can I get one?" I asked. It was not possible, I was informed. I asked if the flight was overbooked. It was not. Plenty of seats available. "So not all of the seats are claimed, right?" Correct, I was told. But I still couldn't get a seat assignment. I asked if the rep could reserve for me a middle seat, a seat next to the bathroom, the worst seat on the plane, anything. Not possible, I was told. I asked if I could pay extra to get a seat assignment. Even that was not possible.

The agent told me that the only possibility for getting a seat reservation was when I checked in, within 24 hours of departure. I did just that online the night before my flight and was able to secure a window seat. If you're ever in a similar situation without a seat assignment, I suggest you likewise check in for your flight in advance and select your seat then. In this case, it worked for me. By the time I got to the airport, only middle seats were available.

I'm well-versed in airlines nickel-and-diming passengers with fees for food, baggage, premium seating, and such, but this seating situation is a glitch that's new to me. It wasn't even about trying to milk me out of more money, like I was anticipating—seemed more like poor planning and organization, if anything.

Have other travelers experienced frustrations with airlines when trying to get something as simple as a seat assignment?


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