Blocked out seat on an airplane

Happy Thanksgiving! This isn’t a Thanksgiving post, but it might be useful if you’re traveling for the holidays, or any other time.

I recently flew an American Airlines 737, and paid a little extra to get a better seat. They have two levels of better seats, and I paid for the lesser of the two. Mostly I wanted an aisle seat, and one near the front so I could get out more quickly. And I figured I’d get a bit more legroom. I didn’t get any more legroom, but I got the other two things.

But here’s something else I got: the middle seat was blocked off. The airline left the seat in place, bolted the armrests down, and bolted a plastic tray between them. The plus was that I got both armests to myself, and didn’t have anyone else’s shoulders or feet bumping me. The minus was that I couldn’t raise my armrests to make more room. I fit in the seat OK, and it’s still a better seat than it would be with someone right at my elbow, but more room is always better.

Now the airline could have gotten more money by just selling the seat, rather than blocking it and getting a few more bucks (above the basic ticket price) from me and the window seat guy. So why do they do this? My understanding, from a half heard conversation a flight attendant had with someone behind me, is that they blocked it so that the plane would have only 150 seats and they therefore wouldn’t have to add another flight attendant to the flight. (A web search seems to confirm this hypothesis. Also, if you’re interested, the rows with blocked seats are rows 16 and 17 on Boeing 737s on American Airlines.)

But I still have to ask: why not just take out the seat? They could even leave the three seat frame, and just take off the middle cushions. Or, better yet, make the two remaining seats a bit wider. Providing more width (and not just more legroom or a better position in the plane) for a bit more money would help not just fat passengers, but would make everyone sitting in those seats happier. Hell, they could even make the upgrade fee half the cost of a seat so the change is revenue neutral. They’d sell every single one of those wider seats, thereby making back all the money they gave up by blocking the seat, and still saving on crew costs.

Why is it that American Airlines would rather the extra space go unused?

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2 thoughts on “Blocked out seat on an airplane

  1. It sounds like this was the simplest, cheapest, most reversible “fix” they could do to the plane, physically. If the flight attendant rules change they can just unbolt the tray and patch the armrests and sell more seats. I’m sure there’s very little concern for actual passenger comfort in the decision.

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