I didn’t get the specific seats I reserved, so what is my recourse?

When Rich Winer booked flights for himself and his wife on Lufthansa, he paid an extra $200 to reserve specific seats. Lufthansa confirmed in an email to Winer that he had reserved those seats.

But when he checked in for the outbound flight, he found that he and his wife had been assigned other seats. Lufthansa’s flight attendants told Winer that “there was nothing they could do.”

“I took the time to review my options on seatguru.com and specifically select seats. My time and effort was completely wasted due to Lufthansa’s error,” says Winer.

Our advocates have been seeing a large number of requests for help from air passengers like Winer, who pay extra to reserve airline seats, only to find themselves unable to sit in them.

Pat Sikatsky had a similar experience. She and her husband paid for specific seats together on an American Airlines flight, only to find at check-in that their seat assignments had been changed, to seats across the aisle from each other.

And Steven Steinberg lost the bulkhead seat he’d paid for on Norwegian Airlines when it changed the plane assigned to his flight to an aircraft with a different configuration, where his seat was no longer in a bulkhead row.

What everyone would like to know is: Are they entitled to the seats for which they have received confirmations? And what can they do if the airlines reseat them?

When Winer contacted Lufthansa to ask why his seats were changed, he was told that for some unknown reason, his seat reservation payment, made through Chase Travel Services, did not go through, and thus he had not reserved the seats. And he received no help from Lufthansa’s customer service:

When I returned home and called to complain about my experience, I was told that there was no one I could speak with in customer service and that I could only contact them by email or through their website. I sent them an email to complain about my experience and request a refund for our seat reservation, but I have not heard anything from them.

Winer might have escalated his complaint using our contact information for Lufthansa, but he asked our advocates for help instead.

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Winer wants to know: “Why did [Lufthansa] immediately send me a confirmation that my seats had been reserved? Why didn’t I receive any notification at the time or at any later date that my payment had not gone through?”

Those are valid questions, but we don’t have the answers. And, unfortunately, we can’t advocate with Lufthansa on Winer’s behalf.

Lufthansa’s terms and conditions hold that for advance seat reservations,

Advance Seat Reservation allows passengers to request a specific seat category (eg. window, aisle, middle, seat with more space) from a selection of available seats in their booked cabin class on domestic and international flights operated by Lufthansa. Advance Seat Reservation is subject to availability of requested seats. Depending on the seat category and for some booking classes charges apply for Advance Seat Reservation. There is no obligation for you to make an Advance Seat Reservation.

We reserve the right to assign or reassign seats at any time, even after boarding of the aircraft. This may be necessary for operational, safety or security reasons. If you purchased an Advance Seat Reservation and the flight is cancelled, or if seat changes are made by us for operational, safety, or security reasons we will refund the amount you paid for the seat reservation if your desired seat category is not available. If you cancel or rebook your ticket or purchase an upgrade or have made incorrect statements on your ability to sit on emergency exit seats the amount paid for the seat reservation will not be refunded.

According to the terms and conditions, although Lufthansa allows passengers to request specific seating, it doesn’t promise to fulfill such requests. Although Lufthansa promises to refund seat reservation fees to passengers whose seats are reassigned, it will only do so if it has received payment of those fees. And this is the case for every airline. Specific seating is never guaranteed.

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As our advocate told Winer, “We advocate cases for customers who have not received the service they have paid for. What we don’t do is seek compensation for inconvenience no matter how deserved. In your case, you did receive the service you paid for.”

Our forum advocates suggested to Sikatsky and Steinberg that they contact customer service executives at American Airlines and Norwegian Airlines, respectively, using our contact information, to request refunds of the price differentials between the seats they paid for and the seats they were assigned. We advised both of them to write polite, concise letters to the primary contact for each airline and allow those persons a week to respond before writing to the next-ranking contact person.

We also noted in all three cases that booking a flight reservation far in advance can often result in involuntary seat reassignments — so travelers who purchase their airfares months before flying should be prepared for the possibility that they won’t be sitting in the seats they reserved.

When it comes to advance airline seat selection, we can only warn our readers: Let the flyer beware.

Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org. Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

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