Q: My husband, 3-month-old and I flew from San Francisco to Zurich with Swiss International Air Lines. Swiss charges for seat assignments. The airline will give a bassinet seat for free, but charge for a companion.

I paid $99 for my husband to sit next to us, but requested that we have two end seats so that I could have a bit more privacy to breast-feed, and so that we didn’t have to step over strangers every time we needed to change the baby’s diaper.

The Swiss customer-service rep denied this, saying we could have only two middle seats because the bassinet attached only to the middle seat.

When we boarded, we found that not only was this untrue, but the bassinet could be affixed only to the end seats. So, not only were we squished in the middle and having to continually climb over the other passengers, but we also had to set our baby in front of strangers who were as unhappy about the situation as we were.

Because we were not given our requested seats, I want a refund of the $99 fee. Can you help?

A: Swiss shouldn’t have charged you anything for your seat assignments. This practice of charging extra for an assigned seat just seems like a money grab, especially when you’re just trying to sit next to your 3-month-old.

But if you agreed to pay the fee, and Swiss agreed that you would sit in an aisle seat, that’s where you should have been seated. Your husband ended up in a middle seat because of incorrect information given to you by a Swiss representative. I definitely think a refund is in order.

Here’s the problem: There’s no written record of the representative giving you the information about your bassinet. So it’s really your word against the word of a Swiss employee. And who do you think the airline is going to believe? That’s right, not you.

I was fascinated by your subsequent correspondence with Swiss. The airline defended its seating charges, noting that the fees offer all customers “the opportunity to reserve a preferred seat when they book their flight.” In the past, Swiss notes, this was not available to all customer segments when making a reservation. But in 2014, “these restrictions were removed.”

“Upon payment of a fee, customers booking a flight will then be able to determine their seat as far in advance as 11 months before departure,” the representative said. “Swiss is thus responding more directly to the individual needs of customers.”

Yeah, right.

I think you should have called Swiss’ bluff and showed up without a paid assignment. Would the airline have seated you apart? I don’t think so.

I contacted Swiss on your behalf. It re-evaluated your request and decided to reimburse you for your seat assignment.


Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org, or e-mail him at chris@elliott.org.