Sour Grapes: When Seat Assignments Go Away

Sour Grapes is a new idea I had for a periodic blog post about things that annoy me when it comes to travel.  Maybe I’m the only one bothered by these things.  I don’t think so, but I’ll be interested to hear your feedback. Please take these for what they are intended to be, light-hearted annoyances about travel.  This is not “full rant”.  We reserve those moments for truly “special” occasions.  😀

Does it bother you when the airlines take away your seating assignment?  

This happens to me more often than I expect.  Sometimes there’s really no rhyme or reason (such as an equipment change).

Our children are still at that age where they don’t love sitting beside a parent on airplanes.  This is more of an issue in economy class as opposed to business class, since most business class seats have some degree of separation.  In economy class, you’re generally sharing an armrest with your neighbor. 

When I’m not being forgetful, the very first thing I do as soon as I book airline tickets for a family trip is select seat assignments. On a recent trip, I had all 4 of us in one row on a regional jet in a 2-2 configuration on United Airlines.  I’m a 1K member with United Airlines which means seat assignments are free, including Economy Plus seats with extra legroom.  

This particular itinerary had a mix of Air Canada and United Airlines segments.  The first segment for our return trip was on Air Canada, followed by United.  Attempting to check-in via the United app failed with an error message that the first segment was on a partner airline.  Fair enough.  I didn’t have access to my laptop at that time, so we had to check-in at the airport.  At the Air Canada ticket counter, the agent told us that we would have to see a United gate agent at our connecting airport to get our seat assignments.  

We located a ticket counter at our connecting airport.  Sure enough, our seat assignments were gone.  When I asked for the agent to please place us back in our previously assigned seats, her answer was, “Sir, I can’t swap seats because the other passengers who are in those seats aren’t here to make that switch.”

The agent did confirm that we were all seated together previously and that new passengers were in those seats now.  She couldn’t explain why.  Which begs the question, why was it okay to give my seats to someone else when I wasn’t present but it’s not okay to give them back now?

The Final Two Pennies

Seating assignments are never confirmed, even when they are.  That’s why it’s incumbent upon us as travelers to make sure we feed and water our reservations periodically to make sure things happen the way we expect them to.  

Does this happen to you?

Does it bother you?

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  1. Stupid IT glitch. This seemed to happen when UA assign a specific aircraft to the flight, and potentially the seat assignment would go bonkers unless the same plane type was assigned. I had a case where my seat assignment in Economy Plus kept moving back by itself when it was within 48 hour of the flight. They did not assign a plane until 28 hours out. During interim, they dumped everyone out of the Premium Plus seats (this was a domestic transcon) and presumably assigned elsewhere in the economy cabin. I was able to grab one of the Premium Plus seats, but that also means there were 21 angry people who found themselves in E+ or E- instead of P+.

  2. United gave away our Business Class seats 20 minutes before scheduled departure, despite the fact we had told a different gate agent we would be at the gate with 15 minutes to go and that agent assuring me we’d be fine. When we got to the gate we were offered economy seating but they refused to move the people they had upgraded to our seats even though we were in time. I refused to go economy and elected to wait for the later flight. 40 minutes later the original plane was still there and the gate agent came over and again asked if we would take the economy seats – which we refused. In the end all they gave us after complaining was 2 x $75 vouchers for a future United flight which were useless to us. Left me with a very bad feeling towards the airline, 4 years later I am still annoyed and avoid them when I can.

  3. I “lived through” the Continental-United merger. I normally fly up front with upgrades. I learned to check my seat assignments monthly, weekly the month before, and daily the week before. Finding out about a change early allows me time online or the phone to straighten it out, rather than dealing with it at the airport … with many other passengers in the same boat.

  4. American has done this seat change twice in the last six trips and of course the gate agents act dumb to the fact that this happens more than you think. I suspect that upper management has indicated to them to to deal with! I guess that as paying customers, we are treated the same as the front agents that have to “deal with it”. I guess if you make billions of dollars in profit, you can push off anything you want to underlings. Based on the customer service that American is STILL GIVING, they should change their name to “I don’t care airlines”. Good customer service still exits since all of them have not retired or quit. They do a great job, but only point out how bad others are.

  5. Traveling with kiddos for their first flight recently and the same thing happened to us on Delta. I had paid extra so we could all sit together, one day before the flight they separated us. My youngest is 4, so I didn’t see that as a good idea. I called right away and was offered the last row, which I declined. At the airport I was fortunate the gate agent worked with us and ultimately put is all together, for which I am eternally grateful. But an equipment change shouldn’t cause more work and stress for everyone. Completely preventable issue, system could be coded to keep reserved seats together.

  6. I was flying on Govt. business. I had reserved an aisle seat through the govt.’s travel agency contractor because I had knee surgery & needed to be able to move around the aisle to prevent D.V.T. It was a ‘full price’ refundable ticket. When I got to DFW to check in I found American Airlines (AA) had moved me to a middle seat. I needed to take that flight (which of course was fully booked). The AA gate agent & her supervisor had no sympathy for my medical condition. They said “take the seat” or wait several hours for an alternate! Basically, they meant ‘so sad, too bad for you’. Even though fed’l. govt. agencies spend hundreds of millions of dollars per annum on airline travel, they still treat Fed’l. employees like ‘dirt’!

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