You know them — they board Southwest Airlines flights — the airline with no assigned seats. Then, they save seats for their friends who are coming on later because they have a lower number or a different boarding group. And, Southwest now has a $15 feature. You pay an extra $15 for early boarding so that you can get a good seat, but you don’t have many choices the seat-savers have scooped them up using coats, iPads, and other seat markers. Some families traveling together pay the $15 for one person. That person boards and then saves seats for spouse, children, grandparents, whomever.
Passengers call them seat cheats, seat hoarders, seat jerks, and cheapskates (because they do not pay the $15 extra). Southwest takes no official position on the seat-savers, but that Swiss neutrality in the battle for a little extra leg room may have to change because passengers are getting into tussles. Southwest is reluctant to create a policy on saving seats because flight attendants would then have to enforce the rule and they have other duties. Flight attendants long for a policy because they have to settle ugly disputes. For an airline that has no class of customers, the airline is creating several classes with early payment, seats-savers, and the regular customers who now are the steerage.
The venue is different, but the underlying issue is the same: Cuts in line. The seat-savers are engaging in the internationally irritating practice of giving those who come late to the party a primo position by letting them cut in line with them and ahead of others. The notion of fairness underlies our dismay over these practices. There are no laws or regulations on cuts in line (except perhaps in Seattle where there is a penalty for cutting in line when driving your car onto the ferry), but it remains one of the last bastions of self-control when it comes to cheating. Shame, arguments, staring — these are the tools we use to enforce the ethical norm of not cutting in line.
An online survey found that 56% of the respondents called seat-savers “the worst.” However, 9% of the respondents said that they do it themselves, and another 9% said that it does not bother them. And 26% said they want assigned seats on all flights. The 26% have given up on enforceable norms.