Nov. 15, 2011 at 11:34 AM ET
HOLLYWOOD, Fla. -- Chris Lopinto wants air travelers to never get stuck in a middle seat again.
"Being in the middle seat is kind of like gambling," said Lopinto, co-founder and president for ExpertFlyer.com. “It’s next to impossible to get out of them on your own without some help."
Airlines today are averaging an 85 percent load factor, Lopinto said, which means roughly 66 percent of passengers get an aisle or window and 19 percent (since middle seats are the last to be filled) are stuck in the middle. “There are way too many unhappy travelers.”
To solve the problem, ExpertFlyer.com has created seat alerts. On its website, travelers can see a seat map for their flight and request the seat they want, whether an aisle, window or two seats together. “If you actually want to sit next to the person you’re traveling with,” Lopinto said.
Travelers can create one seat alert at a time for free. If the seat requested becomes available, travelers are notified via e-mail. Additional alerts are 99 cents.
ExpertFlyer also incorporates maps and seat reviews from TripAdvisor's SeatGuru.
Lopinto presented his product Tuesday before a critics circle, a panel of judges and an audience of his peers during the Travel Innovation Summit at this year's PhoCusWright conference, an annual meeting of travel industry professionals. Lopinto saiid ExpertFlyer has a 72 percent success rate in getting people to the seat they want.
But Jim Hornthal, chairman of trip-planning company Triporati and one this year's critics, noted that many airlines are now charging premiums for the best seat assignments. And there's no guarantee that you will get the seat you want. “I’m paying you a dollar for the hope that I get moved,” Hornthal said.
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Joy Jernigan is a senior travel editor for msnbc.com and is reporting from The PhoCusWright Conference 2011. Follow her on Twitter.