Airline Seating: A 3-way Optimization

Over the weekend I went to Florida for a family reunion. Overall, I had a wonderful time; the biggest inconvenience was travel. Airports and air transportation are awful. It baffles me that everyone I talk to agrees (surely this sentiment is mirrored by more than the tens of people I’ve spoken to), yet there are no improvements or innovations. I understand airplanes cost enormous amounts of money and there is a mountain of bureaucracy, but that does not placate me. On our most recent flight it occurred to me that airline seating is a 3-way optimization, yet no system mirrors the thought process. Seating is all about the location! There are three specific concerns:

  • Sitting with specific people (people)
  • Sitting in a specific location relative to the entire plane (location)
  • Sitting in a specific location relative to the row (seat)

A fair system would allow people to rank their priorities, then the system can simultaneously satisfy the highest number of people. This may seem a little abstract so allow me to illustrate with an example; here’s my ideal:

  • High Priority. People: I want to sit with Andrea Holloway
  • Medium Priority. Seat: I want to sit on the aisle
  • Low Priority. Location: I want to sit over the wing

Why doesn’t this simple system exist? Am I right about the three categories? How would you prioritize?