Buying a Second Seat on the Plane

Saw this article about more elbow room, the premise being that is it is often cheaper to buy a second seat than it is to move to business or first class. Strangely, some airlines don’t let you do this, and almost all of them don’t make it obvious that you can do it. Which, being curious, makes me wonder why? They save some fuel, 3 peanuts, and half a soda, what is the downside?

But being a data guy, it was the airlines solution to tracking this that caught my attention. How would you design your database to handle the situation where someone buys two tickets for one person? It’s important to know the number of ‘souls on board’ in case of a crash at the very least. How did the big guys do it?

  • Southwest – makes the 2nd seat in the same name, but the middle name is “XS”, for extra seat
  • Continental – changes the first name on the 2nd seat to “Extra Seat”
  • American – just blocks the seat from being sold

It kinda feels like maybe they don’t like selling the extra seat because it’s hard to keep track of!

It’s one of those data modeling riddles that doesn’t have a perfect answer. I think I’d lean toward a ‘ExtraSeat’ column on the seat assignment record that pointed to the master/parent seat. Easy to identify which seats are vacant in flight, and now we avoid the weirdness of the person or two that enters their name as Extra Seat!

I might do it differently than they would, but their works, and it’s an edge case, so good enough is good enough!