Give me back my seat!

Seat selection on a flight is important – no – let me say it is very important.  In fact for some people it might make the difference between getting on the flight and not getting on the flight.  Maybe you are a very tall person with long legs (not that I would know what that feels like! …. ps I am 5 ft) and you just have to have that aisle seat if you can’t afford to fly up front.

tall people flight

Some people have other issues – someone who is afraid of flying might want a particular seat – maybe nowhere near the window.  Or there might be those claustrophobic people who need to be up near the front.   They need to see a way out of this crazy flying tube!  If they don’t have that seat it could be trouble for everyone.

Can’t breathe – get me outta here

So you can see that seat selection is a very important issue.   Airlines have realised that too.  More and more are charging for seat selection.  And not just the “good” seats – some are charging for the privilege of pre-selecting your seat anywhere in the aircraft.  OK so you could wait until 24 hours prior when you can check in online and then select your seat BUT if you are too late then and are not able to select a seat BEWARE.  You could get bumped.  I know it’s not fair but it’s true.  (In fairness this doesn’t usually apply to charter flights or to Westjet).

So all well and good.  You take the trouble to select your seat, pay the extra money and then there is a schedule change.  You get a schedule change notification – maybe just 10 minutes – no big deal, right?  WRONG.  You could have lost your seats.  Even though you pre-paid for them.  I have seen a number of these instances over the last few weeks.

The website Flyer Talk deals with this issue in an interesting post –

  • We make every effort to ensure you get your chosen seat, but seat assignments are not guaranteed.
  • We reserve the right to change seats for operational, safety or security reasons.
  • You must check in at least 30 minutes before departure and be at the gate 15 minutes before departure or you may lose your seat.

“Seat held, changed or gone at booking: One member theorizes a held seat may be taken by a positive purchase by another passenger. But it could be due to another factor listed below.

Disability designated seat: Some seats are assigned preferentially to people with disabilities, and their companions, under the Air Carrier Access Act. Even some non-disability seats may be required for a person with a disability in some conditions.

American blocks a limited number of seats on each aircraft to accommodate customers who identify themselves as having a qualified disability. Adjacent seats are provided, under certain circumstances, for customers with disabilities who must travel with a companion for assistance.

Equipment change: AA Information Technology’s very inefficient at these. You may have selected a Main Cabin Extra as an elite, yet a change from one aircraft subtype with differently numbered seat rows to another and you may find yourself moved from your carefully selected MCE aisle seat to a middle seat in one of the last rows. Aircraft substitutions from one type to another (77W to 772 or v. v.) or even “downgauging” (767 to 757) may occur – this will generally result in unanticipated seat changes.

Equipment malfunction: A seat may not be available on a specific flight because it was reported as malfunctioning and has not been repaired yet.

Crew rest seat: Some seats are contractually required to be set aside for resting crew, on flights of specific lengths.

Federal Air Marshal (“FAM”): FAMs are generally accommodated in the highest class of service in seats that are often popular with passengers. These accommodations may occur at any time, and by law AA must both comply and not reveal to passengers the reason for their seat loss or change. That’s correct: AA is prohibited by law from telling you your seat was given to a FAM, so you will only hear implausible and made up reasons of how you lost your seat.

Other: AA might be required to seat a passenger with a small child together, displacing another passenger. There may be other reasons as well.

It is suggested you regularly check your itineraries to deal with route and flight changes (often unannounced) and seat changes (always unannounced).”

So if you were neurotic about selecting your seat in advance, you will be even more neurotic after having read this.

The site has numerous comments from travellers with stories of dropped seats –

“I’m flying business class on a KLM-operated NW codeshare, IAD-AMS-NBO and DAR-AMS-IAD on the return. When I first made my reservations, my agent confirmed window seats, and added my DL number. My DL profile notes a window seat preference.

When the tickets were issued, however, my itinerary showed aisle seating. Sure enough, my agent told me that NW “must have dropped your seating assignment” and given me aisles instead. NW claims it did no such thing, and that they have no record of my original seating assignment. No big problem; agent was able to get me window seats back on all legs but one.”

Now there are lots of airline passenger rights advocates out there but I don’t see anyone talking about seat selection.  I am sure that will come …. one day.  In the meantime, let’s just blame it all on the IT department.


By Lesley Keyter

Lesley Keyter is the face of travel in the fast growing city of Calgary. Every week since 1997 she has has featured live on the Morning News Global TV.

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