What to Do if the Airline Changes Your Seat?

What to Do if the Airline Changes Your Seat?


You booked your tickets months ago and selected your seat, only to double check closer to departure and find that the airline changed your seat to a middle seat or other bad seat you didn't choose . What can you do?

Before we get into our tips, it's important to note that, sadly, seat assignments aren't guaranteed by any commercial airline. The airline does have the right to change your seat. And there have been quite a few involuntary downgrades from a premium cabin to a lower cabin of service as flights have rebounded from the pandemic, due to aircraft swaps. We've heard from Delta flyers in particular, because Delta prides itself on on-time operations, even if it requires a different aircraft (with fewer premium seats) to operate the flight, resulting in passengers bumped down to Economy Plus or Economy.

When Originally Selecting Your Seat

1. Don't Select a Seat That May Be Needed for a Bassinet or Disabled Passenger

Passengers seated in seats that can have a bassinet attached in front of them or that may be needed for a disabled passenger are more likely to have their seat assignment changed should these be needed by passengers that book later but have these needs.


2. Always Take a Screenshot / Print Your Original Seat Selection

As a first measure, when you originally make your seat selection, make sure you keep a record of it, whether that's a screenshot or printed copy. You want to have proof of the seat you originally chose.


3. If You're a United Elite, Don't Redeem United PlusPoints to Select Your Seat

While we're hoping this snafu has been fixed, at least until recently many elites using United PlusPoints for their upgrade awards have subsequently had their seats changed on them.


Keeping Your Seat Assignment

4. Regularly Check That Your Seat Assignment Hasn't Changed

Sadly, airlines often don't tell you when your seat has been changed, so you may not be notified. Regularly check your PNR to see if you still have the same seat assignment. Keep in mind that airlines often swap in different aircraft and may do so multiple times between when you originally booked and when you fly. Even if your flight is ultimately swapped back to the same aircraft type, the seat assignments may have already changed.


5. Save or Print Out Your Boarding Pass as Soon as Possible

If you still have your chosen seat assignments when online check-in opens, check-in as early as possible and print out or save a screenshot of your boarding pass. Of course, if your seat has been changed to a worse seat, don't check-in online and instead get to airport check-in as early as it's staffed, to try to fix the issue there.


Trying to Get Your Seat Back (or a Similar Seat)

6. Seat ExpertFlyer Seat Alerts

Unfortunately, it's unlikely that the airline's Reservation agents will be able to get your seat back for you if someone else has already been seated there. Instead, take matters into your own hands and set ExpertFlyer seat alerts for your old seat and any comparable seats you'd also prefer to move to. Note that you'll need a subscription to ExpertFlyer to do this for specific seats, but you can subscribe for a few months then cancel.


7. Check In as Early as Possible and if Needed, See the Gate Agent

If all else fails, check in at the airport as early as possible and see if the check-in staff can help you secure a better seat. If not, check with the Gate Agent as soon as s/he appears, armed with your screenshots or printouts of your original seat assignment, and politely ask if you could please be given back your original seat. Particularly if you have multiple copies from different dates showing your confirmed seat selection, the Gate Agent may well help you get your original seat back or one similar to it, if there isn't a higher priority need for your seat (for example an air marshal or VIP of some kind, which can and does happen).


Have you recently had an airline change your seat, and if so, were you able to get it back or get a similarly good seat?

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10 months ago

It happened to me several months ago and the new seat was right behind the bulkhead- ugh! What was worse – and please indulge me – was when a flight attendant asked, standing by an elderly couple already occupying my awesome seat, if they could have my seat. I would’ve felt like a jerk if I said no. They thanked me but little did they know how bad I felt.

10 months ago

Saudia are doing it big-time out of TUN and not telling anyone