What to do when the airline gives someone else your seat

sky and lakeA few weeks ago I had a hellacious travel day. The flights were actually all on time, surprisingly. But everything around them went poorly. None of the credit cards in my wallet worked. The event I was planning got delayed so I was late leaving for the airport. Security took forever and I didn’t get to eat. The guy behind me yanked the heck out of my seat every he got up. Etc. Lots of little stuff that added up to a very frustrating day.

By the time I boarded my final flight of the night I was exhausted, and just wanted to close my  eyes for the  45 minute flight. I couldn’t wait to sit in my main cabin extra aisle seat and not have to think anymore. Except, when I got to my seat, there was someone else sitting there. I looked at my boarding pass to confirm I was in the right spot (I was) so I said, “Excuse me. I think that’s my seat.”

Now, typically when someone is in my seat when I get to it it’s because they have misread their boarding pass or sat down in D instead of C. I’ve certainly done that before. Not a big deal. But this time, the guy was like, “Uh, nope. This is my seat.” Then went back to his phone conversation. I checked my boarding pass again, just to be sure, and said, “Actually, it says on my boarding pass that this is my seat,” and showed him my pass. He paused, considering. Then pulled out his boarding pass and said, “It says it’s my seat too.” Sure enough, we had both been assigned 11D.

The flight attendant came up to us then to ask what the holdup was. We explained what was going on and she pulled  out some sort of mobile device (phone? tablet? who knows) and looked up his last  name. “Sir, it says you are in 27A.” Then he proceeded to get extremely angry. “I had them switch me to this seat at the gate! How incompetent are you people! How can they give me a seat that’s not empty? I don’t want to go back to the back of the airplane! That’s why I requested this seat!”

In the middle of his tirade, I said, “Look, I’m happy to go back there. Don’t worry about it.” I just wanted to sit! But he said, looking  angrily at the flight attendant, “No! I’m going to go back there because THAT IS MY ASSIGNED  SEAT.” Okay. Thanks dude.

I totally get being frustrated. He talked to an agent and changed his seat. But somehow it didn’t get recorded properly or something. The thing is, it was a 45 minute flight. And no matter what the screwup with the seats was, it wasn’t the flight attendant’s fault, and certainly not my fault. He wasn’t yelling at me, directly, but it sure felt that way.

If the airline gives someone else your seat, get the flight attendant involved. It is not up to you to figure out who is right, and they have tools at their disposal to help manage the situation. Try to stay calm, whatever the outcome. Best case, someone  gets moved up to first class. Worst case, someone goes to the back. Yes, it can be frustrating, but yelling doesn’t make it any better.

Readers, have you had someone in your seat before? How have you handled it?


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  1. This happened to me once on TK from IST to LHR in Business class. My assigned seat was taken by an Indian male passenger. I showed him my boarding pass and asked him to move. But he refused to so as he wanted to be closed to his friends. I would’ve given him my seat if he asked nicely but I was so offended by his demeanor. I asked the cabinet mangers to chime in and finally had my seat back. But there is just a strong curry smell and body odor from a bunch of Indian dudes..to cope with that severe situation, I sort of purposely spilled a cup of champagne and a glass of water… I sat up and choose a seat far from this group of nasty dudes. Felt a little bit guilty but also felt great.

  2. The only time I’ve been double booked is when the computers went down.
    Are you sure the boarding pass was real? Perhaps it was from a previous flight. When caught he made a whole story on how it was the gate agents fault.
    Here’s the thing that bothers me: how is it a boarding pass can be issued without changing the manifest first?

  3. It’s happened to me before – 2x in fact. Not sure why, but both times the other person was so upset that it made me uncomfortable for the rest of my flight, even though it wasn’t my fault.

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