Actually, you can’t. Sorry. There is no way to do that, according to the moderately nice woman I just asked at the United Airlines gate in Denver, when I once again saw that I was on the wait-and-see list. It would have improved my chances if I had paid extra for an “economy plus” seat, but even then there is no guarantee.

When I didn’t get a seat last week, on my US Airways flight, the woman at the gate (who became very nice after I didn’t get on the plane) said I didn’t get a seat because I was the last person to check in. My on-time-but-last check in, for complicated reasons, was their fault, and they were very, very sorry about all this. Would I accept a check for $127 for my inconvenience? Even better, would I rather have $200 toward my next US Airways flight? I took the money, hoping never to have to deal with this company again. Aside from the great sympathy after I didn’t get a seat, every interaction I’ve had with US Airways has been abysmal. My experience may just be a fluke–the guy I sat next to on the flight they (barely) got me on several hours later, who had had a much worse time on US Airways than I had that day, said he’d been flying US for years with never a hitch. Based on my experience, though, I’m surprised that US Airways is still a viable company.

So of course I tried to check in online last night–as soon as allowable–for my flight this evening. It didn’t work. After an hour of being on hold and talking to a couple people, the very nice United Airlines customer service representative fixed whatever the mistake was and I could print my boarding passes. I noticed I had no seat assignment for the third leg and told him I felt nervous about that. “I cannot give you a seat assignment right now, but I guarantee that you’ll get a seat,” he said, and even asked me if I preferred a window or aisle seat. I preferred an aisle seat.

Well, I’m writing this while sitting on the United Airlines flight (a window seat) that I was hassling over last night, but just barely. When I asked the moderately nice woman at the gate how it was that I had come to be on their wait-and-see list, she said it was because I was the last person to check in for coach class. Apparently, every one of the 60-or-so coach passengers sitting around me checked in during the hour and some I was hassling with the United Airlines website and then hassling with the United Airlines customer service. Incredible.

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