Web Informant #374, 8 June 2004:

I want my seat




We live in the era of instant gratification. We have instant messaging, instant soup and coffee, instant relationships and even instant lottery winners. And, of course, there’s no place better to get instant gratification than when you buy something online, and can get it NOW.


But what I like even better than the instant rush about online purchasing is the ability to see my choices from inventory in real-time, or as close to real-time as possible. I was reminded of that when I went to buy a rug at Pottery Barn this past weekend. The clerk at the store was looking up my choice of color and style in her computer system, which told her that the store had four rugs available in inventory. But then she went to a paper notebook and saw that they really only had one in stock, and proceeded to cross that off and initial it with the date. What a system! What happened to the "other" three rugs? They were being held for other customers, she said. Or maybe they were sold and no one updated the computer. Some great computerized system they have. It was probably just converted over from punch card decks a few years ago.


Luckily, the airlines have done a better job than Pottery Barn at keeping track of their seat inventories, and I for one am a happier flyer. The airlines have tried to entice me as a customer over the years with various reward systems: points for miles, free upgrades, spending an extra 50 cents on what they call food and the like. But all of that is just fluff. What I really like is being able to pick a particular seat on the planes that I fly. It isn't too much to ask. Most of the major U.S. carriers offer seat selection as part of their Web ticketing process. How they implement it, of course, differs.


I give Delta's Web site the top marks: You can view the seat map of the flights you want before parting with your treasured credit card number, thereby seeing whether any of the "good" seats are left in inventory on that particular flight. Of course, there is no guarantee in the time that it takes you to click through the site that all of these good seats are still available. Continental's system, however, is one of the worst. You have to commit to the flight and buy the ticket before you can choose your seats. American's site is somewhere in between.


I thought about that when I went to book my last cross-country business trip. I had plenty of options for my flight, being that I fly out of New York and have my choice of 5 airports (if I really want to drive about an hour). My choice was taking a connecting flight on a closer airport with American, or driving further and taking a non-stop flight. While it was a business trip, I wasn't all that sensitive to price, although the thought of giving the airlines any more money than was reasonable (say, more than $400) was certainly a factor.


I ended up going with the American connecting flight, mainly because I could pick the seats that I wanted on the flights that were the most convenient. I did this although I was breaking one of Strom's rules of travel: Never get off a plane in a city that I don't want to spend the night in. (Another rule is: Always stay in motion when your flights are cancelled, moving closer to your destination. I'll have to compile these for another column.)


So American got my business, because I could pick my seats. I think this is the beginning of a trend, and I hope more airlines improve their Web ticketing process to allow for more up-front seat selection such as Delta's.


If you fly a lot, you tend to get very particular about your seat, especially as the real estate that you can lay claim to in the skies is getting smaller and smaller. Some flyers like window seats if they want to sleep; others prefer an aisle if they get up frequently. The cherished bulkhead seats are well known for their extra legroom. But not all bulkheads are created equally, and some are actually tighter quarters because they are used as galley cart storage areas during the flights. But there are other criteria too, such as the proximity to bathrooms or galleys, where lots of people tend to congregate. Or parts of the plane that are narrower (such as at the tail) where the seat configuration changes. And then there are those planes that have powered outlets so you can work on your laptop on longer flights.


When I last wrote about power to the passenger (WI #246) back in 2001, things were a pretty sorry state of affairs. There was one crude list of which airlines had powered outlets, and you can read my remarks here from my archive:



Now there is a better site, and I thank one of my readers for pointing it out:



If it has your airline listed, it has plenty of details, including the seats that have powered outlets and the best seats on the plane that have the most legroom. Did you know that the back of the JetBlue planes have a couple of extra inches compared to the front seats? I didn't, and I have been flying them for years.


If you need a particular seat, check out this site. Maybe the airlines will figure this out and offer more information, rather than less, to Web-based passengers. Airlines providing me more information will get more of my business, and I don't think I am alone.


Entire contents copyright 2004 by David Strom, Inc.

David Strom, dstrom@cmp.com, +1 (516) 562-7151

Port Washington NY 11050

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