If an Airline Changes Your Reserved Seat Can You Get It Back?

If an Airline Changes Your Reserved Seat Can You Get It Back?

If an Airline Changes Your Reserved Seat, Can You Get Your Seat Back? For some travelers, it's news that you are never guaranteed a particular airline seat, even when you have a reserved seat.

Why Airlines May Change Your Seat

Airlines reserve the right to change your seat for a number of reasons that can include:

  • A passenger with a medical condition needs your seat
  • A passenger traveling with an infant needs your seat, as it can accommodate a bassinet
  • A passenger traveling with a cello needs your seat
  • A “deadheading” crew member needs your seat, in order to get to a destination from which they'll be working on a flight
  • There's an equipment change, and the change in aircraft, resulting in a change in seats
If You Have a Medical Condition, Are Traveling With an Infant, Etc. Make Sure to Tell the Airline 
By the same token, if you have a need for a particular seat due to a medical condition or are traveling with an infant, be sure to tell the airline at the time you book the ticket–while it still doesn't mean your seat is guaranteed, the airline will be much less likely to move you if you do have a medical need or are with an infant and have been given a seat that accommodates you. 


If You Paid for Economy Plus And Are Reseated in Economy, You Should Be Refunded Your Seat Fee

While you're not guaranteed a particular seat, if you paid for a better seat, such as Economy Plus, but due to an equipment change are reseated in Economy, you should be able to get the fee back. This has happened to me on a United domestic flight, where the aircraft change meant there was no longer Economy Plus for the seat I was seated in. I submitted a request via United's Refund page and was refunded my Economy Plus fee.


Unfortunately Even If You're Seated in an Inoperational Seat You May Get Little or Nothing

It's especially disappointing if your seat is changed to a worse seat and/or it's an inoperational one, say it doesn't recline properly, doesn't have working IFE (in-flight entertainment) or has a tray table that doesn't work. This happened to me recently on a domestic American Airlines flight where I'd paid a “Preferred Seat” fee to select one closer to the front of the aircraft, but to date, AA has not refunded my “Preferred Seat” fee (see American Airlines: “Preferred” Seat Doesn't Work But No Refund of Fee). 

If you hold elite status with an airline, you're more likely to get a better offer in terms of vouchers or frequent flyer miles for an inoperational seat, although even elites may receive little or nothing for an involuntary seat change.


Some Airlines Are More Likely to Change Your Seat Than Others

Recently we flew Air Berlin Business Class both to and from Europe. While we had no issue with our seats to Europe, we found that our reserved a window seat and aisle seat one behind the other for our return were changed to 3E and 3F due to an aircraft change–seats which we definitely did not want.

Nor are we the only ones to encounter Air Berlin's seat roulette seat changes of reserved seats. Flyertalker Churnman writes:

Booked AB7451 business on July 30, 2015 and reserved 3A and 5A (window and aisle pods). Then, at some point in early 2015 they bumped us to the middle seats 3E and 3F which are the middle “honeymoon” seats, aka cramped in a claustrophobic booth which we hate. Called June 18 and AirBerlin couldn't give us back our seats (someone was in them… I say bump them I had them first), so they gave us 3H and 4K which was okay. Now, Sunday July 5 I find out they BUMPED US AGAIN back to 3E and 3F. This is the worst experience we've ever had with any airline when it comes to BUMPING RESERVED SEATS…Apparently, their computer defaults to placing couples in those pods (which might be harder to sell to single travelers) when any kind of equipment changes occur even if you reserved aisle or window. Finally got to talk to a manager who now has us in aisle seats and we received email confirmations (which we did other times too). Let's see if it tries to bump us again. What a pain. Seat reservations with Air Berlin mean little.”


It Can't Hurt to Ask…And Ask Again

Since of course by the time we realized our seats had been changed there were no other seats available–only 3E and 3F–I wasn't optimistic at getting our window and aisle seat back, but it's always worth a try. I tried on the phone–no dice. I tried while at Moscow DME Airport, in Russian, and while the agent understood our frustration, no dice–no other seats to move us to.

Once we arrive at Berlin TXL I went to the Air Berlin ticket counter and tried again, and that too seemed to be going nowhere. I asked the agent to speak with a Supervisor, however, and she put me on the phone with one, who was actually very sympathetic and great to deal with. I explained not only our disappointment, but the fact that I was traveling with a child who at the moment was suffering from allergies and a cold, which he was, and how a window seat, with its greater privacy, would not only afford him a better chance to get the rest he needed, but also be less disruptive to other passengers given the sneezing and coughing. She promised to do what she could to try to move us, and while I still wasn't that optimistic of the outcome, I have to say that she was by far the best Air Berlin person I've dealt with, if not the best airline supervisor I've dealt with this year in terms of her willingness to try to help and ability to empathize.


Our Seats Were Changed Back!

To my surprise, when we checked in at Tegel today (we had overnighted, to get some rest) we were in fact back in our window and aisle seat one behind the other–yay! I find these seats really make a difference in the quality of the flight experience in Air Berlin Business Class, and was glad that hopefully my son's sneezing/coughing were fairly contained and that he was better able to rest, as he was in a window seat, which is more private.


Bottom Line: While your “reserved” airline seat can be changed at any time, airlines will usually try to keep passengers with a medical or infant need for a given seat in a seat that can accommodate them. If you paid a seat selection fee and aren't even in the seat type you paid for (such as Economy Plus) that should likewise be refunded. And if you're changed to a significantly worse seat, it doesn't hurt to try to get a better seat. There are no guarantees you'll get your original seat back or even a better seat back, but stating why you reserved those seats in the first place and need those seats could help with your request.

Have you had an airline change your seat and been able to get your seat back, or one similar to it?

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