This traveler gets exactly what she requested — and then rejects the resolution

Beverly Murphy wants American Airlines to honor her reservation and assign her the premium economy seat she paid for. Can our advocates persuade American to give Murphy her preferred seat?

Question: My husband and I booked a round-trip flight on American Airlines from Boston to Paris, including flight insurance. Because we’re both elderly with medical issues (my husband has had a total right knee replacement and I am claustrophobic), we reserved premium economy bulkhead aisle seats to accommodate our conditions.

But American notified me that my seat on our return flight, which was paid for with frequent flyer mileage points, was reassigned to another passenger because of “equipment changes” and can’t be changed back. My husband’s seat, paid for with cash, was unchanged. We were also told that we have to pay an additional amount because of the change.

My reassigned seat is a middle seat that provides no window and has a wall directly in front of it. It has no forward or side visuals and no open space at one side. This is an unbearably confining space for me, and I simply cannot sit in it.

It’s taken us more than 20 years to accumulate enough American Airlines’ mileage points to afford this trip. Given our departure in a few weeks, I have neither the adequate time nor expertise to effectively resolve this situation on my own.

With your assistance, I remain hopeful our long-awaited retirement trip can be prevented from being overshadowed by the fear generated as a result of American’s seemingly indiscriminate reassignment of my reserved seat.

Please help. — Beverly Murphy, Plymouth, Mass.

Answer: I’m sorry for the scare you received with that notification of the seat change. Reserving airline seats to accommodate medical needs, only to be told that they were reassigned and you can’t have them back, certainly dampens the anticipation of a pending vacation that you waited more than 20 years to take.

But when our advocates took a closer look at your paper trail — a long string of emails insisting that you needed those particular seats — we were confused. And you asked for a resolution that would have required you to sit in seats that didn’t accommodate your disabilities. When we brought this to your attention, you rejected the resolution we obtained for you.

American Airlines’ International General Rules Tariff indicates that the airline “does not guarantee allocation of any particular space in the aircraft.” You were never guaranteed the seats you reserved.

And when our advocates looked at your revised reservation, we saw that you and your husband were confirmed in a bulkhead exit row, the best in premium economy class, with only two seats in the front row behind business class, not in “middle seats” as you indicated in your help request.

We emailed you a screenshot of the seating assignments, showing the seats you were assigned and the remaining seats in premium class available. You responded that you and your husband would like to be reseated in another, non-bulkhead row in premium class, and when you tried to change your seats online, you were told that the change would cost you more money.

Although we wouldn’t normally advocate a reseating request, we agreed to contact American Airlines on your behalf to find out what had happened to your reservation. (Executive contact information for American Airlines is available on our website.)

Then we found out something even more strange. Your original seating assignment had never been changed, and you were still seated in the same seats you had reserved.

It isn’t clear why you were sent a notification that your seat had been changed when it wasn’t. But our contact at American Airlines, who is not a reservations agent, agreed to reseat you in the non-bulkhead row you requested at no cost as a gesture of goodwill.

But it turned out that the new seats were in an exit row. Passengers with medical or mobility issues are disqualified from sitting in them. And you indicated that you weren’t interested in the offer when you found out that those seats don’t recline.

Ultimately, after sending us and American a long string of emails complaining that your medical needs required you to sit in the seats you had reserved, you will be sitting in those seats.

The moral of your story is that when making a request for help, you need to be clear about the problem and the nature of the help you want before you ask for it. Otherwise, we may end up spending our time in ways that don’t benefit anyone — including you.

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