Help Me Help A Reader: Downgraded On Trans-Pacific Flight

One of my friends reached out to me earlier this week after having a problem on a flight.  I wanted to give him good advice, but since I’ve never encountered his exact situation, I thought I might try to crowd-source a suggestion for him from you, my readers.  He flew United from Dulles to Narita.  He, well….rather than me tell you it, here’s the story in his own words:

I flew out of IAD to Narita on Friday.  I had been booked in coach, but
went ahead and upgraded to economy plus for ~200  from seat XX  to 33C.
When i walked up to my seat it had “out of order” sign sitting in it.
They quickly scrambled and found me the last seat on the plane (middle).
I was happy to have a seat at this point, but 33C was exit row econ plus
The flight attendants did what they could and took care of me with free
beverages which was nice, but not as nice as the better seat.
I was concerned about being refunded my money, the purser said she would
walk out and do it immediately(Have not see the credit hit my account
I don’t think I would have been happy in his situation.  Given the details he provided me in another e-mail, I believe he was in a middle seat in the E minus middle section of United’s flight to Tokyo.  14 hours in that seat versus the one he had selected would be a pretty big difference.
United having a broken seat isn’t overly surprising.  A passenger being able to board without the gate agents knowing is a little bit surprising, though not terribly so.  I guess United is lucky there was an empty seat in coach, though maybe unlucky for him that it was in coach as opposed to near the pointy end of the plane.
It’s been a few days and he still hasn’t seen a refund.  I’m not sure what would be appropriate compensation here.  There are a number of arguments to be made:
  1. Refund his $200 for E+, with no further compensation.  I’ll be honest, I don’t think that’s enough here.  He had an aisle seat previously, so just getting his money back doesn’t seem appropriate (though you could certainly argue that’s all he’s entitled to.
  2. Refund his $200 and award him some miles.
  3. Refund his miles and offer him a free upgrade on a future flight to E+
  4. Refund his $200 and give him United Chairmans Circle status.  If that’s too aggressive, I guess we can sign them up for Global Services.

Take a minute and tell me what you think what compensation would be appropriate for him to ask for.  I appreciate the help!



  1. UA’s obligation is just a refund of the E+ fee. And odds are the manifest doesn’t show the reseating so there may be challenges getting it. But start with the UA refunds page and go from there.

    Separately, I’d say fill out the “Contact Us” page for the inconvenience and hope for the best but expect nil. Typically comp in those situations is handled by elite status & flight length. I’d expect something around $75-150 or a comparable number of miles to be offered.

  2. Complain to customer service. He should state the facts and request a refund of the $200. A request for 5000 good will miles is appropriate. If he doesn’t get a full refund file a report with the credit card company.

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