The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - Travel

Why airlines play musical chairs with us



On the last three flights we have taken with Virgin Atlantic, my wife and I have been moved from the Upper Class seats we originally chose when making the flight reservatio­n.

On the first occasion we deliberate­ly chose seats on the left side of the cabin so that we could enjoy views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. But, on checking in, we found we had been moved to the other side of the cabin for “operationa­l reasons”.

In December we flew to Miami. Once again our pre-booked seats were changed from 5A/6A to 7A/8A. On boarding the aircraft we found other passengers discussing the nonsensica­l seating arrangemen­ts. The wife of the man occupying seat 5A was seated on the other side of the aircraft. The lady in 6A was similarly inconvenie­nced; her husband was several seats away towards the front of the cabin.

I emailed Virgin for an explanatio­n but received none. On Feb 12, we are due to fly to Barbados but, on checking the booking, our pre-booked seats (7A and 8A) have been changed to 10A and 10K, window seats on opposite sides of the cabin beside the stand-up bar and near the toilets. Please you can find out why this is happening?

– John Munroe

AI do understand your annoyance that seats carefully selected well in advance are changed by the airline close to the date of travel. Airlines will claim that this is because of an aircraft change and is beyond their control. Indeed, this was the excuse that Virgin Atlantic first gave me when I brought your experience­s to its attention.

In the case of your outbound flight to Barbados, however, this is not a valid reason. While the operating aircraft has been changed from an A330-300 to a Boeing 787-9, both Upper Class cabins have 31 seats similarly arranged in rows of three (A, G, K).

When I put this to Virgin Atlantic, its spokesman said that when an aircraft swap occurs, the computer system allocates the new seats based on “multiple attributes and values such as those travelling with special assistance requiremen­ts, families with young children and flying club members”.

This means that higher-tier frequent flyers who may have booked their seats later than yourself will be reassigned more favourable seats further forward in the cabin.

All in all, it is a badly designed algorithm that can’t even seat couples sharing a surname beside each other. Fortunatel­y, on checking the seat map again a few days ago, seats 7K and 8K showed availabili­ty and you were able to switch your reservatio­n to these.

Before making a seat reservatio­n it is always worth checking the website (part of the Tripadviso­r group) which publishes airline seat maps and flags up seats to avoid.

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