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How to secure your seats at U.S. airlines

Posted April. 13, 2017 07:21,   

Updated April. 13, 2017 07:27

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It was a happening I experienced a few years ago. The plane departing from Chicago's O'Hare International Airport to North Carolina's Raleigh-Durham International Airport was delayed due to unfavorable weather. The plane originally was scheduled to take off at 11 a.m., but finally flew at 10 p.m. Though other planes started to take off one by one as the afternoon rain started to wane down, my United Airlines (UA) flight did not even move an inch. The ground employee at the airliner brushed aside the passengers’ complaints, saying that it is the captain who makes the final decisions. Whenever I took domestic business travels in America during my correspondent years, I was almost always assigned to the end row after checking in at the airport. Not once or twice have I had to endure the painful flights sandwiched between oversized African Americans.

The airlines wield a “dictatorial” power inside their planes where safety matters the most. The U.S. Federal Law mandates that every passenger follow the orders of the flight attendants. They closely monitor disgruntled or picky passengers at the airport, and even remove them from the final list of passengers. Even if these passengers took their seats onboard, they have to follow the directions of crew members and get off when ordered. The flight ticket merely serves as a contract between the airline and passengers that the carrier will only transport passengers, but does not guarantee specific flights or seats.

Vietnamese American doctor David Dao was humiliated inside the overbooked UA flight at O’Hare Airport, and was forcefully removed by airport guards. Once mistaken as an overseas Chinese, the happening was ranked the hottest issue on the popular Chinese social network Weibo, recording 600 million views.

Then what can passengers do to prevent themselves from getting kicked out of the plane? The Wall Street Journal recommended that passengers reserve their seats online first. Once you check in at the airport, you are highly likely to become an “airport nomad.” Airlines even exclude passengers in the reverse order of boarding. Therefore, it would be wise to check in as early as possible. When booking seats separately for a family trip, you'd better call the airliner for a heads-up, as they rarely separate families with kids.