We have probably all been there…
Meticulous care is given to book a flight, selecting the best seats for your interests, and at the gate, you get reassigned. OR WORSE, the flight attendants have reassigned you to another seat while you are waiting in the aisle!
You are probably upset, or at the least, irritated. But wait – you paid for that seat right? You booked it, secured it, have the original tickets, so what is going on? What can you do about it?
Before addressing your options, lets review real scenarios that cause you to get bumped to another seat.
- A Federal Air Marshal has been assigned to your flight, and has chosen to be seated in the very seat you purchased. You are going to get reassigned.
- A family booked tickets online, but the seats were randomly assigned, and at the gate they presented their concern about having 3 young children scattered around the plane. The gate and flight attendants will group them if at all possible, and if its on your aisle, you are getting reassigned.
- A person with disabilities has specific needs, and the seat you booked is one of only 5 on the plane that can accomodate those needs. Even if they booked a different seat, you are getting reassigned
- A person with mobility limitations was booked online for a seat near the back of the plane, but for sake of expedient boarding, and safety, that passenger is placed in one of the front rows. If you booked there, you are getting reassigned.
- A Customer of Size (some might refer to as obese) booked a ticket, and paid for an adjacent seat, which didn’t correspond with their booked seat. The attendants will vacate the seat next to them, thus, you are getting reassigned.
- You board a plane that originated with passengers earlier in the day. Someone was assigned your seat on that flight, and is continuing on to the final destination – but you boarded at the second leg of the flight. The first passenger will be allowed to retain that seat for the duration of the flight, and you will be reassigned.
- The flight is full, and was overbooked. You are on the last boarding call. Lucky to even get on the aircraft, to accommodate all of the above scenarios, your were actually reassigned 4 times and didn’t know it. All you know is that the seat you have in your hand is not the seat the flight attendant is giving you.
- A different plane then normally assigned to this flight has to be used, due to scheduled maintainence, and its seating configuration is different – including which rows are emergency exit rows. You and many others are getting reassigned.
What do you do?
Frankly you have little option, and almost no legal protection. The airline ticket provides you carriage on the flight, but almost all airlines have fine print in the ticket contract that allows them to make seat changes without your consent, and with no compensation. But here are some things that you should be aware, and can do.
- The seat they offer you in the reassignment must be of the same category, or Like for Like. Meaning if you booked Business Class and they move you to Coach, they are obligated to pay the difference. They may attempt to offer a credit or air miles, but must pay in cash if you request it. I would choose cash.
- If they move you to a seat within your category, they are not obligated to assure its same – as in, you booked a window seat, but reassigned to a aisle. You have no recourse, and can either accept the reassignment, or leave the flight and forfeit your booking without refund.
- If the airline makes a fair re-assignment (under the law), you may not have any official options, but you certainly can tell them that you will comply, but that you do so under protest. Then at the newly assigned seat, ask very politely what accommodations the airline will make for your inconvenience. Flight attendants can make a report to the company about your request, the circumstances behind the changed seating (which you may not be aware) and that you didn’t give them grief, or create a scene, over the change. The better airlines tend to offer extra air miles on their frequent flier programs, a free upgrade, or free drinks on the plane. Remember that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.
- Some airlines make many more seating changes than others, and people who use those carriers often, can find themselves getting moved regularly. As a regular customer, you can write a letter explaining your frustration, documenting the number of flights you have paid on that airline, and how many times you or your party suffered reassigned seating. Money talks, and they don’t want to lose regular customers. You might be amazed how the letter can affect future flights. People who have done just this effort, have had it all end mysteriously! Gate attendants won’t admit it, but somewhere there is a tag or code that tells them to avoid doing this to certain customers.
- If you are a customer of size, and travel with a companion, your ticketing can be quite useful. Be sure to book 3 seats, and leave the aisle seat unused. Airlines sometimes make a RESERVED ticket to place on the seat, as a reminder to flight staff that the seat is paid, and serves a specific purpose. This way you and your companion can be seated together.
- Don’t sit in the first 3 rows or the last two rows. These are preferred location or Federal Air Marshals, and also the most likely seats to be reassigned for those with mobility concerns or need extra care. The Bulkhead seats are notorious for reassignment. if you have long legs and must sit in seats like bulkhead, go ahead and let the gate attendant know that you are a customer of size, and that you have booked your seat specifically to meet your medical needs.
- Take advantage of the services of a travel professional. Explain your concerns about being seated in the correct seat, especially if traveling with a companion. They can make the calls to the right people to help make it improbable that you will get reassigned. I say improbable, as its no guarantee.
Lastly, before heading out on your flight, bring along a few thank you cards, and some nice chocolate. If those who make an effort to accommodate you on the flight, know how much you care about the effort, it goes a long way. A thank you note and some chocolate does wonders. You do it to say thank you, and with no other expectation.