No “comfort” seat on TAM — and no refund

Chris Parypa Photography /
Chris Parypa Photography /
Nathan Pearson and his son are bumped into two uncomfortable airline seats on a 10-hour flight from Brazil back to the United States. And now the upgrade fee they paid is missing in action. Will they ever see that money again?

Question: I recently flew from Sao Paolo to New York on TAM with my son. We had purchased “comfort seats” for this flight, for $75 each, and were assigned seats 27C and 27A. When we boarded the flight, we found that these seats had been double booked, and other passengers were already in those seats, with valid tickets.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance. The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

There were no other comfort seats available, although both business and first class were mostly empty.

Following very long discussions with a flight attendant, we were informed that we were to accept “regular” coach seats far back in the plane, and that we would receive a refund for the $150 we paid for the comfort seats.

We were dismayed to hear this. One of the reasons I purchased the comfort seats was that we are both quite tall, and I suffer from persistent back issues. Normal coach seating on TAM is so tight that it often leads to back problems for me, which happened on this flight.

Also, in my many prior experiences it is typical for passengers in situations such as ours to be offered to be moved up to business or first class. Despite there being many empty seats in those classes, the flight attendant in charge refused to permit this.

The seats we received were uncomfortable. My seat back didn’t work, and it was very cramped.

I was told it would take between two and three days for a refund to appear in my bank account. But it’s been more than five months. I’ve been back and forth with TAM numerous times, have called and written to their executives, but there’s still no refund. I find this entire process discourteous and unprofessional on TAM’s part. Can you help? — Nathan Pearson, Rye, NY

Answer: The seats you were trying to avoid are truly uncomfortable by almost any standard. The pitch, or distance between seats, is about 31 inches, which means you’re wedged into a tiny enclosure for 10 hours. That shouldn’t be legal.

When TAM double-booked your “comfort” seat — which has about the same amount as the average economy class in the ‘70s in economy class — they should have offered you a courtesy upgrade into a vacant business class seat. If they couldn’t, then the least they should have done was to quickly refund the upgrade fee you paid. TAM didn’t do that, either.

Refunds on upgrade fees ought to be automatic, but as it turns out, they aren’t. When you didn’t get your premium economy class seats, a crewmember needed to fill out paperwork authorizing a refund. That also didn’t happen.

Airline passengers don’t deserve this. Every seat should have a minimum amount of legroom and width, no matter what they pay for it. Airlines shouldn’t be allowed to remove much-needed room and then demand more money just to treat you with a little dignity.

I find it absurd that TAM would string you along for five more months, promising you something it probably never intended to deliver. I mean, until I contacted it, TAMs unarticulated position was that because you didn’t have the refund paperwork, it would get to keep your $150. Come on.

I asked TAM to look into your claims and a representative told me it experienced “difficulty” in obtaining the data from all pertinent departments because your paperwork wasn’t filled out correctly after you were denied a “comfort” seat. TAM refunded your $150.

How fast should an airline refund an upgrade?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

101 thoughts on “No “comfort” seat on TAM — and no refund

  1. And that’s why all my trips except for one, both business and pleasure, in the last two years were by modes other than air transportation.

    What obviously happened here is that the airline gave the premium seat to their award customers, after these passengers checked in.

    1. Not sure that is quite so obvious. Mistakes/glitches do happen. As I noted above three of us had a valid boarding pass for a domestic economy seat. It is unusual but it does happen.
      And I’m not sure how the OP would get from point A to B via alternative methods.

  2. In the case of returning an item to a store I would have said immediately but in this case I think a week would have been reasonable. Of course, there was no reason not to bump these passengers up to business or first class if there was room. They should also receive a voucher of some amount as well as a refund.

  3. I’m normally lean “pro-business” but this highlights one of the things that really annoys me. If an airline takes my non-refundable money to provide a service and then fails to do so, they should not only owe me a refund but also interest on the money they took and held. I’d say double would be about the correct amount.

    Nice job Chris!

    1. Unfortunately your interest rate, if you mean to double the refund, would be considered usurious. However, I denfinitely agree that TAM should be charged a penalty fee for not paying back their upgrade fee in a timely manner.

      1. Sorry but in this case the airline sold something it could not provide (large seat it sold to someone else). That borders on fraud. In a number of cases, the airlines take the money months in advance and its non-refundable.

        Sorry but simply returning the money is not good enough. Oh, and since this would, in effect, be an unsecured loan, it qualifies for the Usury exclusion in my state making the amount perfectly legal and valid

          1. It is far from fraud. However it is not unreasonable to have them pay the average daily interest rate from the date of the flight to the date of the return of the funds.

          2. From the date of ticket issue, more like. If they can use ticket issue to mess with voucher dates, we should be able to use it when they take your money and then don’t provide the service.

        1. Sounds punitive. You know the law about punitive charges


          Perhaps on of the TAs can tell me. Suppose the next flight in your class isn’t for a week. If you elect not to be downgraded, do they have to feed and house you for that week. It seems like a reasonable requirement.

          1. Well, according to Brazilian’s Consumer’s Act, the customer charged wrongly is elected to received the double of the wrong amount.

            In this case, I don’t know if the OP is eligible for, because he wasn’t wrongly charged – he didn’t received what he paid for, which is a different case. A judge may rule for the double refund, but Brazilian justice is very, very slow…

            I never pursued the double refund in the few times I had this kind of problem, because I’ll need to spend a lot of time (and probably some money too) in usually low amounts, like errors in a phone or utilities bill.

    2. Wait a minute here. If the OP had booked a ‘last minute’ seat, then the price would probably have been 4x to 5x the price he paid in advance. Well, the airline did a last minute downgrade, so he should be paid 4x to 5x his upgrade fee.

      I mean, fair is fair, right?

  4. Christopher, what are the rules on forced downgrade? It was my understanding that a passenger can refuse the downgrade, but then the options are limited. They could try to be accommodated on the next TAM flight with the proper class. They could have the ticket refunded (on order to buy a walk up fare on another airline – probably not a good deal). If they insisted on flying in their ticketed class of service, what does the airline have to provide?

    Like John Baker, I often side with the business, the airline in this case.

    But this is a scenario where a customer often hears the advice, “If you’re unable to fly in, or aren’t comfortable in coach, you have the option of buying (premium, business, first).” So the passenger took it upon himself to book himself in an appropriate class of service. And the airline subjugated it.

    What if it was a passenger of size who booked business class as the only viable means of transport? Can the airline say: “Well sorry, we upgraded another passenger to your seat, so here’s coach. Take it or leave it at your expense”? All signs point to yes, and that is a very weak argument no matter if it’s enshrined in the CoC or not.

    This is the type of case I’d like to see airlines pressured on more often than cases dealing with e.g. wanting refunds on nonrefundable tickets. And not just for the refund delay, but for actually delivering to passengers what they paid for.

    1. Not exactly the same thing – he WAS ticketed for coach, and paid for a better seat, which he did not get (But that can happen in ANY case). He should have been refunded promptly, and that would have been one option – the next available flight option would have been another.

    2. You can’t always wait for the next flight to get the seat that you paid extra for.
      Not all airlines fly some routes 7 days per week.

      1. I realize that it may not be viable to wait. But it would be nice to hear what the options are, especially in a situation in which the passenger took it upon himself/herself to book an upgraded seat for comfort or medical reasons.

    3. In this particular case, this would not qualify as an involuntary downgrade. Economy premium and economy are both economy class. In order for it to be a change of class it would have to have been Business/First to a lower class.

      Economy premium is simply premium seats in economy class. I agree it is wrong, but it is also legal. The fee hour have been refused though.

      1. Interesting. I figured “Premium Economy” was marketed and meant to be a improvement over economy, as opposed to “Business Lite” (Christopher mediated a case a while back where a couple thought they were entitled to a more business-class experience). But I always thought that Premium Economy had a different fare code or something.

  5. Great save, Chris! Small airlines in other countries, even major ones, are notoriously difficult to reach when anything goes wrong. Just ask passengers about their problems with Mexicana. In the OP’s case, the double booking indicates a back-office mess that in most cases no foreigner could hope to penetrate.

    1. Not necessarily – they may have checked in online, but not have been at the gate area, and the airline made a mistake in re-issuing those seats. RARELY happens, but it can.

      1. Curious how exactly it happens, even rarely. They’d ask for people by announcement to see if they were around and then re-sell the seats if they didn’t respond? And if that did somehow happen, why would the last minute sale be the people who got the seat, which appears to be what happened in this case?

        And why wouldn’t the people have been sat in first or business class since those were mostly open? This sounds like a snafu from start to finish.

    2. TAM fleet is almost the same size of Jet Blue’s. The US legacy ones have huge fleets, but mainly because of their mergers.
      Even BA and Lufthansa has less than the double of TAM planes.

  6. A refund as well as something extra for the inconvenience would be appropriate here. But an immediate refund would be unlikely as even prompt credit card refunds often take up to 72 hours. So I voted for a week.

    1. Happened to me on a flight from PHL to PIT. Three of us had the seat. One was seated, the second got another open seat, I was called off the plane and then put in the last open first class seat. It was very late and I had long missed my actual connection from PHL to PIT and that was the last flight of the night, all others had been cancelled, it was packed at the gate and I was fortunate to get that seat. Frankly I assumed it was because I had flown into PHL from LON in first so they treated me better.

    2. Yes, one of the most basic design elements of a reservations system is that it prevent a double book from occuring. That’s what tells me that an error like this means chaos behind the scenes.

    3. I got zapped on a long haul from LHR back to the states. Two people were in our premium economy seats when we boarded. Gate agent gave us new seats but not in premium economy. And they tried to keep our original boarding passes which I said we needed for the refund. As the plan continued loading one of the two in “our” seats got up and inadvertently showed her airline id badge she had hidden. We requested the gate supervisor who immediately did 2 things: put us in business and them off the plane.

  7. Immediately is winning, but I am curious how that is possible? Most people pay by credit card, best case scenario, it won’t show up for a few days in your account. I voted for a week.

    I do agree, I think every seat should have enough room. The diminishing leg room in economy has been a sore point for me.

    If the OP was set on wanting more leg room, why not refuse the flight? Whenever I have been in the OPs position, I am given the choice of flying in the less legroom seat, or waiting for the next flight. I personally take the uncomfortable seat just to get where I am going, but if it was that important, the OP cold have waited. I still think a refund is in order.

    1. Here’s an interesting question. I have a short friend. 5’3 male. He’d rather take an airline with less legroom if it meant a cheaper fare. Should he be allowed to do that? Or do we mandate more legroom?

      Long live SeatGuru

      1. Always the devils advocate, but fair question. My answer is, it’s not possible to please 100% of the people 100% of the time.

        Personally, I think people wanting to pay less because they don’t need something, is what started the whole mess of everything being ala-carte. People wanted to pay less, because they didn’t want the included services, then when they get charged extra when they need the services, they complain about getting charged extra. There is no winning. If you look at the airliens financial records, even they aren’t winning.

        1. Perhaps a little devil’s advocate. 😉

          But here’s my fundamental dilemma. On one hand I appreciate more legroom. But on the other, I do have a problem with mandating “comfort”. Safety. Absolutely. Disclosures. Absolutely.

          But I’m very hesitant to take a I-know-best attitude by mandating things like comfort, which I see as a purely private matter.

          1. So how would an airline satisfy everyone comfort, while staying competitive, and begin able to accommodate these needs on a hard product that is extremely costly to modify?

            My first though, have a small amount of less-legroom seats, and give people a discount if they opt for less legroom. But after typing that, I think it will probably backfire as everyone will want to pay less, which is why the majority of seats have less leg room. I am at a loss.

          2. Sadly, the airlines’ job is to maximize revenue within the bounds of business ethics and law. Comfort isn’t a factor.

            They have done this by giving us exactly what we’ve asked for. In coach, we want the cheapest upfront cost pretty much regardless of the consequences, so that’s what we have. Little legroom, no drinks, no food, etc.

            In premium class, we want luxury and that’s what they’ve given us.

            IMHO, the only real question is do we trust the public to know what they want, as evidenced by their purchasing decisions, or does the heavy hand of big brother superimpose judgment (Lol. That wasn’t even remotely an unbiased question)

          3. In some ways, this is slowly working out. Despite the huge revenues that the airlines report from the fees, I see them losing money in some ways. When I flew on Jetblue about 2 years ago, I saw the economy plus section empty. Most people were content with the regular seats (and they are ok on Jetblue) and free blue potato chips and sodas and direct TV.

            I thought to myself: That’s a lot of money there burning away for nothing. Those empty seats cost money. Fill them up, and the profit margin for the flight probably doubles.

            With the baggage fees, a lot of people find ways to save. A whole family may consolidate into a single bag and make sure it weighs the maximum. I sure learned to travel light when I faced a bag fee on Delta a year ago! Another way is to do a carry on and become gate-lice. Fight for those overhead compartments which makes their crew miserable as the unwashed masses rush the gate. I volunteered to check my bag to the gate agent and then relax and enjoy a cup of coffee and read my book in peace. I think employees pick up on my good manners and reward my karma from time to time.

            I avoid the legacy airlines that nickle and dime me. I’d rather pay more upfront and have the employees and passengers treated with respect.

          4. I thought to myself: That’s a lot of money there burning away for
            nothing. Those empty seats cost money. Fill them up, and the profit
            margin for the flight probably doubles.

            True, but I suspect that overall its better to let that flight lose money then get people accustomed to not paying for premium seats and hope to get it free. I’m sure the beancounters have gotten it down to a science

          5. I know those beancounters and trust me, they’re idiots. For one thing, they don’t count the beans. Management tells them what they think and the yes men bob their heads. If someone beancounts and disagrees with him, he’s through!

            For starters, if the beancounters really were working they would reduce the number of economy plus seats to the point where they are utilized fully as much as possible. On both flights I went on, that wasn’t the case. I shouldn’t have seen that. It’s common knowledge among FF that Jetblue commonly sells out economy and to wait until the last minute to hope to score a free upgrade.

            In the case of British Airways, for example, they tried to nickle me to pay for a seat reservation. I said no way. I waited until 24 hours before departure and went online and, no surprise, most everyone did the same as me. Almost ALL of the seats were open for seat assignments. I put my in-laws into 11A/C.

          6. I’m a FF member as well. One of the limitations of the forum is because we travel often, we tend to think that out experiences are a representative sample. Alas, they do not. Also, the FF community is not representative of the flying public.

          7. This is true. I am well educated about how to hunt for the lowest fare, find the best perks, use seatguru, and use online check-in to the max.

            A lot of people I work with who are not exactly neophytes about flying (they fly regularly internationally) don’t take advantage of these basic concepts. I gave them some advice and they totally owe me lunch.

          8. One cool idea that is taking root is to auction off business class and economy plus seats. I saw this on Austrian last time I flew. I made a bid for business class and lost. But I didn’t “lose” anything by bidding. This ensured for Austria that all the seats got filled up one way or another.

            But it sure does annoy the elite flier blogs. They hate the idea of the great unwashed walking in, bidding a hundred bucks, and getting a business class seat that their slavish loyalty and mileage runs made them eligible for but now lost. Elliott has a point about the loyalty programs: Sometimes they can really sting the poor guys with a bait and switch.

          9. I am forced to agree. It seems to my that a fair number of so called “elte” flyers seem to have a great disdain for everyone else. Some of the behavior is truly abhorrent. I think its because I now travel less I’m no longer accustomed to their boorish behavior.

            I was recently surprised by a thread on Flyertalk regarding hotel lounges. I used to believe that the greatest sense of entitlement related to air travel. I am reevaluating that belief. They absolutely hated that regular folks were gaining entry into the hotel lounge.

          10. I saw a jerk dressed for business get on a Delta flight and stick his carry on in the front overhead bin and walk to the back. It really annoyed me. He decided he shouldn’t have to schlep his bag from the back.

            Next time I see that, I’m going to wait until he’s not looking and move it into the crew bin area marked off limits. The crew will pick up the bag and move to general baggage and he’ll have to wait and pray for it to come back…

          11. I saw a well dressed lady threaten to call the police because her rental car was reassigned to someone else. She claimed that it could facilitate identity theft.

            I saw another well dressed man demand $175 because a rental car snafu delayed him 45 minutes. His company billed him at $233. I should have charged him for making me wait behind him.

          12. I’m amused by that loss-of-use claim especially in the context of rental cars. As we’ve often read here on elliott, rental car ding scams typically include “loss of use” where they charge the victim for the maximum per day they could expect from the car (even though there are always spare cars sitting on the lot doing nothing!) So why shouldn’t their customers demand that their “loss of use” time be compensated? 🙂

            My former attorney girlfriend charged her clients for the time she spent solving their cases in her sleep. Her opinion was that if it was on her mind, it was billable….

          13. Here’s what I’m thinking that’s kind of funny: If a ding and charge by a rental company includes “loss of use” because a scratch on a door renders it unrentable for that time, (drum roll), then… Shouldn’t I be able to decline a car I don’t like that they offer if it has a scratch in the door? Shouldn’t these companies be fixing their cars if they are supposedly charging for repairs?

            I think it would be neat that if the guy knows someone who lives where he rented the car to go and scope out the car and see if they actually fixed it. If they charged for loss of use, report them for fraud.

          14. I’ve always wanted to do what you suggested, but fear retaliation if they see me do it. I can’t believe the nerve of these people. What irks me, is I usually book bulk head (Behind first class) and people do that all the time, then when the other bulk head passengers show up, they have no place to store their bags. I am not one of those late to show up people as I have lost my frequent flyer status as of this month. I still paid for bulkhead or exit row on my upcoming trips.

          15. I think many of us have witnessed this at the airport, but having worked corporate travel, I have experienced it in working with them, too. Most are not traveling on their dime and when they do, their attitude so much different when they don’t have the miles to upgrade or have to decide on a flight that they don’t have elite status with. Then of course they are also the ones who think first class is their private abode.

          16. I’ve had some rather rude business people blatantly accuse me of sneaking my family into hotel lounges. Usually it’s rude comments directed towards me, but one even went and got an employee and asked them to kick me out. I can not believe the behavior of these people. I don’t question them as to why they are there, and I have just as much right to be there as they do.

          17. lol. That’ll teach you. You must consult with those royal elite members first. Perhaps prayer and supplication?

          18. Except that, on price point and comfort, what they’re really offering us is a ragged out used Kia, a Lexus, or a Rolls Royce. Most people want a Toyota or similar, and because of the way the fee structure is working lately, most of us feel like we got a used Kia at a Toyota price.

          19. Feelings notwithstanding, we’re paying Kia prices and moaning that we don’t have a Toyota.

          20. I just find it fascinating that the airlines call them “comfort” seats. That automatically implies that if you don’t pay for the “comfort” then you are agreeing to be uncomfortable. Ridiculous!

          21. There’s a fine line between safety and comfort here. There comes a point where seat pitch becomes a physical health concern for people whose legs are beyond a certain length.

            Height is by in large an inborn trait (like race, gender, and eye color). And (IMO) common carriers should not be discriminating by inborn traits. At least not without an exceptionally compelling justification.

          22. Those folks could opt to purchase a seat with more legroom. Main Cabin Select, economy plus, etc.. There is no right to be able to purchase the smallest item. Another buddy is 6’7. He shops at the tall man’s store and pays a heft premium. It’s an inborne characteristic which costs him more.

          23. Fair point about tall man clothes. Some inequities to consumers are impractical to avoid without passing on inequities to other parties such as retailers and textile manufacturers.

            In the case of airline seats, I see nothing inequitable to the common carriers about a minimum standard that ensures at least safety (not necessarily comfort) for the vast majority of the population. The UK decided that this minimum standard should be 28″. AFAIK no airline that doesn’t serve the UK has tried to go below that, so we do effectively already have something that resembles a minimum industry standard.

            The problems with the “purchase a seat with more legroom” solution are:
            (a) Such a seat may not be available (not only do you pay more, but you may not be able to select otherwise available flights)
            (b) As we observe here, seat assignments are never guaranteed. And if you refuse to board and accept inferior economy seats than what you paid for — even for personal safety reasons — according to the letter of the carrier contracts I’ve seen that’s a voluntary ticket change and the airline could keep your non-refundable base fare (and charge change penalties on top of that if you still wish to resume your trip on a later flight).

          24. You’ve raised many issues. I’ll address the ones that I can

            I agree that safety is paramount. I believe I already stated in that my previous post. Safety is a perfect reason for legislation.

            With regards to (a). That’s just a red herring. Regardless of where the min is set, there will always be someone who needs more, such as my 6’7″ friend. So the problem persists. A seat with more pitch may or may not be available where he wants to go, or maybe he needs to pay more. Maybe he need alternative transportation. That’s just the breaks. If you’re tall you pay more for your clothes, you need a bigger car, etc. None of those justify legislation. Those can be handled via market forces.

            With regards to (b) according the the TAs that’s not correct. Your option is to fly on the next flight that has a seat in your booked class. I think though that its a difference whether you booked directly into the higher class or if you merely upgraded into that class.

          25. Regards to (b) — the catch is that the extra legroom fee is generally an add-on fee which doesn’t change your booking class. Which TA or comment are you referring to? Show me the contract language which says otherwise.

            With regards to (a), we started with your 5’3″ friend. Do we at least agree that it’s fair that he can’t buy — to save money — a seat that an average-sized person couldn’t safely fit in to?

          26. Not necessarily. On Virgin its called Main Cabin Select and its a different booking class with different rules. Of course, there is always business and first. I’m not searching through the archives. I invite the TAs to correct me if I’m incorrect.

            No, we don’t agree at all. Fairness is not an issue in this, its only a red herring. For this discussion its incapable of object analysis.

            This thread started with emanon discussing legislation. The question is whether we should legislate seat pitch. I opined, and am clearly stating now if anyone was confused, that legislating seat pitch is only appropriate to the extent necessarily for safety. Beyond that let the market dictate.

          27. I’m wasn’t familiar with Virgin, but with that carrier you are correct. When you go to their site to book an itinerary, Main Cabin Select is an up-front booking class option with it’s own fares (other options include “First Class”, “Main Cabin”, etc.)

            With every other major domestic carrier as of my last experience, as well as with TAM (I just checked), it’s an after-ticket-purchase add-on that doesn’t affect your booking code.

            legislating seat pitch is only appropriate to the extent necessarily for safety

            Problem is, what’s “safe” for someone who is 6’7″ or 5’9″ or 5’3″ or 4’0″ is a different answer in each case…

          28. In law, its called a bright line rule. You can’t make it work for everyone so you pick a spot and draw a line in the sand. You’d probably norm it around 5’10 as that’s the average height for an American male.

            I don’t know how the carriers interpret add-ons. I would say that’s part of the booked class,(my terminology is imprecise) as opposed to a space available upgrade, but anecdotally that seems incorrect.

          29. You’d probably norm it around 5’10 as that’s the average height for an American male.

            Wait, so we agree on something after all?! 🙂 I thought you disagreed me with me when I expressed that sentiment:

            we started with your 5’3″ friend. Do we at least agree that it’s fair that he can’t buy — to save money — a seat that an average-sized person couldn’t safely fit in to?

            See, for an example, Economy Plus terms & conditions here:

            I would certainly *expect* that carriers would let you opt for the next flight (And I would also have expected TAM to upgrade the OP here if business class was really wide open). But I see absolutely nothing in the terms that give passengers any such contractual rights. The CoC’s invariably state that seat assignments — even paid extra legroom — are not guaranteed and are subject to change at any time without notice. And all they owe you back is the add-on fee.

            And even when there’s a booking class downgrade (again, not generally applicable to this situation) airline refund math could still mean that you technically owe them money for the downgrade.

          30. And even when there’s a booking class downgrade (again, not generally applicable to this situation) airline refund math could still mean that you technically owe them money for the downgrade.

            A cursory review of American Airlines CoC revealed nothing about involuntary downgrading.

            The closest segment I found, again a cursory reading was

            I had a First Class (or Business Class) ticket but I actually flew in Coach Class. How do I obtain a refund?

            First Class and Business Class ticketholders are entitled to a refund in the amount of the difference between the fare paid and the price of a full-fare ticket in the cabin in which the passenger actually flew.

            Which is silent on the issue presented here.

          31. I thought I’d seen language that offered a right to re-accommodation when the cabin class is downgraded. On closer examination, maybe I stand corrected — and maybe things are worse (at least currently) than I thought.

            United has the following language which guarantees passengers downgraded to a lower class of service an option to be re-accommodated — but only when that downgrade stems from an “irregularity” like an equipment change:

            When a Passenger’s ticket is affected because of a Schedule Irregularity caused by UA, UA will take the following measures:
            (i) Transport the Passenger on its own flights, subject to availability, to the Destination, next Stopover point, or transfer point shown on its portion of the Ticket, without Stopover in the same class of service, at no additional cost to the Passenger; or
            (ii) At the Passenger’s request, provided that the tariff covering the original transportation permits routing via the carrier which will transport the Passenger, UA will re-accommodate the Passenger in the same class of service on the next available flight on another carrier, or combination of carriers, if the length of the delay to the Passenger’s destination exceeds two hours.

            Rule 1. Definitions:

            Schedule Irregularity – any of the following irregularities:

            c) Substitution of aircraft type that provides different classes of service;

            For AA, I can’t even find that sort of protection. They (may) owe you a partial refund, but I’m unable to find any contractual basis for refusing a downgrade and seeking re-accommodation.

            For Virgin, I see that cabin class downgrades are fully included in their definition of “Schedule Irregularities”. But I don’t see any language like United’s that offers any right to re-accommodation on a subsequent flight when there is an irregularity.

            I don’t doubt that in practice, if a passenger requests re-accommodation in lieu of a partial refund, they will usually get it. I just don’t see any language to suggest this there is any contractual requirement for airlines to comply with such a request.

            In Europe, passengers are protected by EC261 and airlines must refund downgraded passengers 30% to 75% of the fare (depending on the flight distance).

          32. Unfortunately, to give a proper legal analysis I’d have to read the entire CoC which I’m going to take a pass. Additionally, all contracts incorporate legal requirements and to the extent not expressly changed, industry standards.

            Personally, given that business/first tickets tend not be heavily discounted, I’d opt for a full refund and fly a different airline. Unlike coach tickets, the walkup price is probably comparable to what you paid in the first place.

          1. I replied with two articles, but the moderators didn’t approve. Whiel both Untied and AA have had large gross profits, mostly from their fees, they are actually declaring net losses overall.

      2. Some people would be happy to sneak into a large dog cage and get the pet fare in cargo. 🙂 There’s a fun film called “White” where a Polish guys sneaks back into Warsaw in his friend’s airplane bag.

    2. Just to address the credit card part — there is absolutely nothing preventing an immediate refund. My credit card’s online site shows “pending” charges. If I go to Target and buy something, I can check from the parking lot and see it — and refunds show up the same way, instantly. So there’s no technical limitation preventing an airline from processing justified refunds immediately.

      I get that the airline sometimes has to verify things (the refund may not be due if the passenger voluntarily changed seats or flights, for example), but the whole “7-10 days” or worse “2-3 months” (referring perhaps to when it might appear on a paper billing cycle statement) BS that agents say is just to get you off the phone.

      In a clear-cut case like this, it’s often best to first contact the merchant (airline), then immediately contact your credit card company to put the charge in dispute. They will usually take it off your account, and if the airline does what they need to quickly, the disputed charge will automatically cancel, if they don’t the credit card company helps manage the rest of the process.

  8. So their employee fails to properly do their job, probably because the customer here complained, and the customer suffers the delay. Then – all the airline does is offer up the money back still trying ot justify holding on to it for 5 months. . . . could they not verify from their own records what seats these folks actually had? Last time I checked DHS wants that information too on the manifest and they are required to hold on to the manifest for a year. Which is why flights attendants byotch, whine and moan when you want to change seats on an international flight. DHS wants to know where you are so they can send the troops to the exactly location . . . .

  9. Here’s my tip of the day: Don’t take the final word from the sky warden, stewardess, or FA. If they were boarding, then the door was probably still open. Get out of the plane and go back to the gate and talk to the gate attendant. Demand an IMMEDIATE refund of the difference in seat cost OR a complimentary business class upgrade. Since they lose effectively 0 in the upgrade (if the seats are available), there’s a high chance of getting it.

    Keep in mind, with the passengers off of the plane, it probably cannot take off without the ground grew coming up and getting the bags out of the bottom of the plane which would hold up takeoff by an hour. In other words, hold the plane hostage. With little time to argue, the gate attendant will probably make the upgrade.

    Most stewardesses are trained, or learn to think, of economy passengers as steerage and cattle and to not let them into business class. They have power when the passenger is on the plane and have learned to exercise it without a second thought. Get off the plane.

    1. Most stewardesses are trained, or learn to think, of economy passengers
      as steerage and cattle and to not let them into business class.

      My favorite (in a negative way) term they use is, “Self Loading Cargo.”

    2. But can’t they still close the jetway to deny you boarding? I would not get off the plane but start walking that way and happen to stop in the business/first section to finish the conversation….

      1. Of course they can. But then they probably would need to unload your bag from the plane and that means tearing the whole thing open to get to it. The most convenient thing to do would be to upgrade you at that point. Unless they’re total jerks of course. They could deny you boarding and then put you on the next flight. But then they’re stuck with a delay AND you’re going to take a seat on the next flight.

        Also, if the plane is delayed, ironically, it’s the FA’s who lose money (along with the pilots) since they ONLY get paid for the time the plane is in the air. This motivates them to avoid delays.

  10. United did not automatically refund when they switched planes and did not have economy plus, but when I filled out the online paperwork, they processed it within a reasonable amount of time.

  11. If I read deltas website correctly, it says that the economy comfort seats are non-refundable. Can someone tell me if that only men’s it is non refundable if you don’t take the flight? And, I couldn’t agree more with Chris that a decent size seat ought to be included in the price of the ticket. And, not only that it ought to be bigger than the ones on planes from the ’70’s because we are a much larger people now.

    1. I paid for these seats on Delta before (usually when I have a tight time for my connecting flight – I want to bolt off the plane asap) and it is non-refundable meaning if I don’t take that flight due to my changes, my money is gone. However when I’ve been moved off that flight by Delta (my departing flight was late so they moved me to another flight so I can make my connection) they automatically refunded my upgrade fee. I never thought about it and within a week or so a credit on my charge account was posted.

  12. While I think immediate should be the right answer. I can understand that it might take a day or two to put the seat change into the system and issue the refund to the credit card.

    1. I agree with your thought process, but I’d sure like them to have to hand out cash, right then and there. Having the people who created the problem be responsible for refunds might generate a little more creativity in problem-solving, like opening up one of those business class seats in this particular case.

  13. A similar situation happened to me, but on Virgin Atlantic, Heathrow to NYC. I was
    sitting in 36D when a woman come up to me an announced rather sternly that i was in her seat. she showed me her stub and a cabin attendant came up to us and she really laced into him, saying I must be removed from HER SEAT AND IMMEDIATELY!
    She was unpleasant in the extreme, and by then the door was closed and we were waiting to push back. The attendant went forward and spoke to the with the supervisor and returned telling me, “This is your lucky day.” I was escorted to VA’s grand first class which was a cubical, leather armchair and ottoman that made into a full single bed, sheets, pillows comforter. I had the best scotch of my life, champagne with my rack of lamb. To top it off, a lovely young attendant stopped by with a clipboard before dinner and said, “I can’t get to everyone, but would you like a massage?” It was a 747 and she had a table upstairs near the cockpit.

    I learned two things from that experience: 1) it pays to be the nice guy, and 2) always fly Virgin Atlantic when possible. I may apply for a seat on its trip into outer space!

      1. We both had 36D stubs. Double booking. And the steerage cabin was full. I later found out that one-way in first class was $7000. Economy I thought was high at $700. That was in summer 2004.

        1. I’ve had double bookings before. I was sitting in a seat when someone came up and yelled at me that I was in his seat. I showed him my stub that was clearly marked with that seat number and he huffed off. He eventually found a seat further back in the middle somewhere.

          I’m usually pretty nice and may have volunteered to move if he hadn’t been such a jerk at the outset….

    1. Funny story I read on A FF elite was sitting in business class and a cute girl approached him and asked if he could move so she could sit next to her boyfriend (next to him). He said sure, why not, and as he was getting up checked her seat assignment and it was the back of the plane.

      He said no deal and sat back down. She was SUPER mad and stomped her way to the back.

      He should have suggested the boyfriend could offer to exchange his business class seat with someone in the back and see if there were any takers…

  14. Another candidate for a DOT regulation. Passenger MUST be upgraded (if available) to a “better” seat OR given a voucher while still on the plane that is good for a refund of the price difference between his original seat and where he ended up (again assuming that no upgraded seats were available).

  15. Immediately? So, what, the flight attendants should have petty cash to pay these refunds? Please. A week is plenty reasonable.

  16. When my recent United flight from Honolulu to Houston was cancelled due to weather, they rebooked me on an Hawaiian air flight with 31 pitch seats. It was a miserable 6 hours for my tall frame and not an experience I’d care to repeat, but United did refund me not only the upgrade fee to economy plus I paid for that leg but also every other leg of my trip – they even upgraded me for free on legs I didn’t pay for. They did so in less than a week with no action from me.

    I was quite satisfied with their response and with their actions taken to reroute passengers and/or assist them with hotels as needed on the ground in Honolulu.

  17. I may have a bias in this case (I’m Brazilian). OK, TAM screwed up, but I didn’t remember Chris using so stronger language against a company in previous cases, in a problem that OP may have his share of gilt because he didn’t fill properly the paperwork.

    And a small correction – according to Seatguru, TAM seats have 32″ pitch, not 31″.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: