What Airlines Can Do If Your Seat Is Gross

Aug 25, 2017

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Imagine you board your flight and get to your seat only to realize that it’s got a urine stain on it — and the smell confirms it’s not water. That’s what happened to a 39-year-old British Airways passenger from London who was flying to South Africa, according to what he told a British newspaper.  And not only was the seat covered in urine, but the flight attendant reportedly made him clean it up himself and wouldn’t allow him to change seats.

Ultimately, the passenger was left in the urine-soaked seat for the duration of his 11-hour flight. And even though the flight attendant, he said, didn’t do anything to make his situation more comfortable, what exactly are airlines responsible for doing? Are you guaranteed a clean seat? Or, if you find yourself in a situation like the gross seat on British Airways, are you essentially just stuck?

Following the incident, BA issued the following statement: “We were very concerned to hear about this and have been in touch with our customer to apologise and make amends. The cleanliness of our aircraft is of the utmost importance to us and our planes are cleaned thoroughly after every flight. We also perform frequent spot checks to make sure our cleaners are maintaining our high standards.”

Well, like many rules and regulations you face when in the air, the exact terms don’t really detail what the airline is responsible for. Searches on American, Delta and United’s Contract of Carriage documents didn’t detail any specific rules about the cabin cleanliness; they are not required to provide any compensation if you’re stuck with a soiled seat. In addition, the US Department of Transportation doesn’t outline any regulations in its “Fly Rights,” the consumer guide to air travel. So, with little in the way of set-in-stone rules, the issue of cleanliness on an aircraft becomes pretty murky for passengers, when it comes to what you should expect and what you’re entitled to.

That being said, airlines know that cleanliness is a factor that can set them apart from their competitors. At AA, for example, aircraft are tidied up between flights, and overnight they go through a more thorough servicing. Then, every month, each one gets a “deep” cleaning.

If you do have the unfortunate experience of stumbling upon a dirty seat, there are a couple of ways to go about getting out of the sticky situation. First, remain calm and friendly toward the flight attendants — that will often get you the furthest. Let the FAs know about the situation and that the seat isn’t clean. If there isn’t a short-term solution, ask if there’s an alternative seat for you to occupy — even if it means upgrading someone else (or you) to a more premium class of service. If you’re not happy with how the situation was handled, consider filing a formal customer service claim with the airline, and interact with them on social media.

While bonus points or miles might not make up for an uncomfortable or gross situation, they can help to make it a bit better. While the passenger in the BA urine-soaked seat didn’t get his seat switched, he did get 5,000 Avios points — admittedly, a small amount, but you might get more. And there are indeed instances of crew members taking the passenger’s side and moving them to a different, more sanitary seat, or cleaning the original seat. After all, no one wants to be stuck in a dirty seat — you, as the passenger, or the airline that will have to deal with the repercussions.

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