American Airlines Is Cracking Down on Self-Upgrades to Better Seats
Earlier this week American Airlines announced it would be introducing enhanced features to its Main Cabin Extra seats, including reserved overhead bins and complimentary alcoholic drinks. In a surprising twist, the airline sent a memo to employees stating that passengers would be allowed to move to empty MCE seats after the cabin door was closed for departure, even if they had not paid the extra fee for them.
But it appears this policy has been changed in the last 24 hours. A TPG reader who is also a member of AA's cabin crew out of Phoenix (PHX) reports that crews are now "being informed that self upgrades will not be allowed onboard. Purchase must be made at the gate or during booking."
In addition, One Mile at a Time is reporting that on Friday a new memo was sent by American's VP of Flight Services, which changed the policy in response to crew feedback:
"Earlier this week, we announced an enhanced Main Cabin Extra (MCE) offering which is scheduled to begin this Spring. The enhanced MCE includes complimentary beer, wine and spirits and provides easier access to overhead bin space for customers seated in MCE seats. While most of the feedback was positive, many of you also shared with me concerns about customers who did not pay for the seat moving into MCE.
I honestly appreciate your feedback; this is part of the reason why we choose to share with you, first, before rolling it out to the rest of the company and our customers. Our number one priority from the start was to ensure the enhanced MCE did not add responsibilities for flight attendants to police the cabin. But we agree with many of you, if a customer did not pay for the seat, they should not be able to move into it. If a customer asks to move into a MCE seat after boarding, you should use your best judgment in politely declining their request to prevent a negative or escalated situation."
Clearly American wants to prevent a self-upgrade situation from escalating into a more serious passenger confrontation, such as those we've seen across many airlines over the last year. However, at least in the context of this memo, the airline is framing the change as a response to the initial reactions of its crews to its original policy.
We've reached out to AA's team for clarification on the airline's new policy on self-upgraders. However, in response to previous requests for comment, an airline spokeswoman told TPG that "Flight attendants have flexibility when it comes to solving seating issues within the Main Cabin. Main Cabin Extra generally has relatively few empty seats after our team completes the boarding process, so we don’t expect any issues."