When Having An Infant Seated Next To You On A Plane Is A Good Thing

Filed Under: American, Travel

I was on an elite heavy domestic American route earlier this week with quite a long upgrade list. Surprisingly enough I cleared the upgrade last minute, though 23 people didn’t have the same fate.


As we boarded a rich-looking LA couple with an infant sat down behind me, and the wife said “why do we have three boarding passes?” The husband said “I bought three seats just in case.” As it turned out they had bought the two seats behind me and the seat next to me as well.

That’s the first time I can ever recall being happy about having an infant as a seatmate (at least on paper).

But here’s where it gets interesting. The flight attendant came around to take meal orders while we were still at the gate, and said “do you plan on using that seat during the flight?” The husband responded “no.” She said “like, not at all?” He said “probably not.”

She then responded “well do you mind if I put a flight attendant who might be deadheading there instead? Otherwise they might not make the flight and would have to wait on the next flight.” That was clearly not the case since there were empty seats in coach, but rather she just wanted to upgrade a flight attendant seated in economy (and there’s nothing wrong with that, in theory). He expressed he did mind, because maybe they’ll change their mind and want the seat later.

But that’s not the end. Many times savvy elite members on the upgrade list will keep an eye on empty seats in first class in hopes of having an onboard upgrade. After all, it happens that there are no shows.

The guy who was apparently at the top of the upgrade list rather authoritatively approached the flight attendant and told her that he should get that seat since it’s empty and he’s at the top of the upgrade list. The flight attendant responded “someone actually paid for that seat and wants it empty, sorry.” That shut him up pretty quickly.


So those were two firsts for me:

  • This was my first time being actively happy about (technically) having an infant seated next to me
  • This was my first time seeing a domestic first class seat (correctly) stay empty despite a long upgrade list

While this is of course extremely rare, it certainly gave me a new perspective the next time I’m in economy and assume I’m being “screwed” out of an upgrade when I see the door close with an empty seat in first class while I’m on the upgrade list.

  1. Why do Flight Attendants feel the need to lie? Rarely a flight goes by without me overhearing an FA making up a rule or blatantly lying to a pax.

    As far as this situation goes, presumably if you could see that coach wasn’t full then the couple with the extra seat could see that too. If I had been in their shoes I would have refused the FA’s request (even if I had absolutely no intention of using the seat) just because she lied.

  2. Why was she asking the guy to let a crew member upgrade instead of one of the dozen elites on the upgrade list to begin with? I see this often and don’t understand how they get away with it. For example, there is a long thread on FT about the challenges of getting upgraded on AA’s DFW-HKG route yet a couple months ago a friend who is an AA captain (on vacation) and had no trouble flying standby and getting an F seat both ways.

  3. “Professional courtesy “, that’s why. Same reason cops dont give each other tickets. Happens in every industry. We don’t have to like it, just grudgingly accept that it happens. Frankly, most people have sidestepped rules at one time or another when they are in a position to do so, for a friend or someone they know.

  4. last time I was seated next to an infant was in Y on EK for IAH-DXB. Said infant threw up on me before take off of this 15 hour flight. One flight attended refused to move me insisting the plane was full. Finally another came and said “hey come on” and led me to a completely empty middle row. (With an empty one behind it). All things considered, turned out ok.

  5. @Sami – That is when JRL’s advice comes into play; crush some nuts under your seat and say you’re allergic. Will get you moved in no time.

  6. In fact, you were not seated next to an infant, but rather either the mother or father who decided to take the seat assigned to the infant. No airline would knowingly assign a seat to an infant seated beside a stranger. In fact, it is also airline policy that unaccompanied minors cannot be seated next to an [unrelated] adult of the opposite sex.

  7. @DavidB. I was an unaccompanied minor at least 2 dozen times and almost always sat next to an adult of the opposite sex. The old ladies always wanted to talk when I just wanted to sleep. 🙂

  8. Listen cheapo’s. If you want that seat in First, buy it in cash, use miles to upgrade, or get a First class award ticket. Don’t whine and complain about that seat you didn’t buy.

  9. If the FA knew the couple had paid for the seat, and apparently she did, she shouldn’t have asked if they minded anyone else sit there – crew or otherwise – unless he was going to also offer to somehow coordinate a refund.

  10. As the seat was paid for by the passenger, upgrade list does not apply. Ultimately the decision of who (including in this case “no one”) the seat went to is up to the couple who bought the seat. They could have given it at random to anyone on the plane, so I don’t think it’s incumbent on the FA to abide the upgrade list when simply making suggestions to passengers.

    e.g. If I bought an extra seat in FC, an FA could suggest that I give it to the prettiest woman on the plane or a soldier returning home… ultimately the decision would be mine based on how flirtatious or patriotic I felt. And you can certainly bet I wouldn’t be basing my decision on status.

  11. I personally think it was a bit out of order for the FA to ask the paying passenger if they ‘minded’ if a deadhead sat in the ‘unoccupied’ seat. Clearly, they PURCHASED the extra seat in the case that it was needed for their own comfort and that of their child.

    Ultimately, the ticketed passenger was on the plane…regardless if he/she sat on their parents lap for a while or the whole flight, it was their seat.

  12. I’m with you Patrick.
    Tired of sitting in packed front cabin in AA with majority of passengers that upgraded.
    US airlines should get rid of comp upgrades and SWU.
    That is why I like foreign airlines that have empty premium cabins.

  13. @Sam
    If you don’t like the policy then fly on a private jet. No one’s forcing you.

    Which sector did this incident occur? Was it mentioned or did I miss it?

  14. I’ve bought the extra seat before. I would have had the same reaction if I were asked to give it to an FA (or anyone else). I paid for it, it stays empty on the occasion that I might use it.

    As far as assigning infants next to unrelated people, airlines don’t do shit about making sure children are seated adjacent to their families. Got two adults and a baby traveling and there’s only 3 middle seats left? Tough shit, get on board and figure it out, as far as the airline is concerned.

    I flew AS F (TCON) yesterday. The FA was taking orders front to back, A-F. We were in the last row and my daughter was seated in A. I was a little pissed off that she didn’t get her meal choice until they asked the guy in F what he wanted first, since they were running out of things. They wanted to give her one of those kids junk food boxes instead of the actual F meal. On principle, she paid, go in order. I didn’t make a big deal of it because my daughter didn’t care (she’s 3), but it seemed a little off to me that a child in a paid F seat would be treated as anything less than a paying pax.

  15. @Sam. Such a snobby attitude especially if you don’t pay for your own tickets. if you don’t like being associating with the poor people who don’t buy premium cabin tickets, feel free to buy the seat next to you as well.

  16. @Sam: I totally agree. U.S. carriers have significantly bastardized their first class products by filling cabins with all and sundry. I always choose a Euro or Asian carrier wherever possible. Last week on Austrian a gate agent came onboard and tried to upgrade a couple- the FA could be heard saying “why”? And then a firm “no”! Awesome.

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