I just want to make people aware of United Airlines Economy plus seating policy so others don't get burned as I did. The extra cost is worth it on a long flight. However, please be very aware that United Airlines does not guarantee its seat reservations. Both legs of a long flight to Rome the seat that I carefully selected by planning ahead 3 months in advance were taken away when I checked in and switched to a worse seat. In fact on one leg of the trip they moved me from the first row aisle seat in economy plus 9c to that last row 39c window seat. All United did was apologize and say I could get a refund, and refused to honor my booking. Needless to say, I was very upset since I had paid a lot extra for the seat and planned ahead and United had no consideration for that. This was not a great start to my trip of a lifetime to Italy. After this incident, on the return trip to Chicago I checked my seat 24 hours before and noticed that again my seats were changed. We spent two hours on the phone with customer service agent trying to resolved the issue instead of enjoying Rome, and again United would do nothing to resolve the issue. In my case I will not be traveling on United Airlines ever again since I have always had the seat I reserved on other carriers like American.
Sorry this happened to you.
United is not the only airline that does this - they all do and they can - it's pretty crappy. The only thing they have to do for you is refund what you paid for the Economy Plus seat.
I have had this exact same thing happen to me, but on Lufthansa and it was not for an economy plus seat but for a "back of the plane-two seat row." On a 747 with 3-4-3 seat configs, these are the seats towards the narrower/rear part of the plane where the 3-seat row become 2-seat rows and are perfect for a couple traveling together. These seats also cost extra to book because of that. Well, when we actually boarded the plane and arrived at our seat, an elderly couple was sitting in them and the flight attendants explained that the man had health issues that would require frequent trips to the toilet and that their originally assigned seat (which was a inside/window seat in a 3-seat row) would have made this difficult if not impossible, so they gave them our seat instead. Like you, they explained that we could get a refund and gave us some "gifts" in the form of chocolates and a business class flight accessories package (you know, the pouch that contains sleep mask, ear plugs, etc.,.....stuff you could get if you were to just ask for them anyway). Of course, we were very put off, although we did not show it.
The airline probably reasoned that they could either force this couple to sit in their originally assigned seats and suffer the consequences and also inconvenience the other passenger in their row, because they did not have the wherewithal to book in advance, knowing their health condition (or the person that helped them book this flight should have done it). Quite possibly, this situation would require much assistance from flight staff throughout the entire flight.... OR, seeing how this situation might play out, they instead randomly reassigned another couple (us) in hopes that we'd be understanding that by doing this, the net benefit to everyone (flight staff and other passengers sitting near this couple). I do wonder though, if we'd boarded the plane earlier, and were already seated, would they have selected another couple to switch out.
The end result, of course, is that weren't going to be sitting in our originally reserved seats no matter what happened, regardless of how much of a fit we threw or scene we made. So we sucked it up and just dealt with it. We ended up getting an aisle and middle seat in a 3-seat row. The bright side though (and this was quite incredible) was that the man at the window seat next to me NEVER got up once during the flight (this was a flight from Frankfurt to DC, so a good number of hours). He ate food and drank drinks just like the rest of us, but never went to the bathroom, fidgeted, snored, spilled over into my seat, or even spoke, except to ask the flight attendants for beers. Talk about the ideal seat mate.
The next year, when we flew again we booked literally 11 months in advance and paid extra for an exit row (endless leg room because it was the very first row of economy with NO bulkhead in front) and I'd have to admit, I had my fingers crossed up until we actually got on the plane in case we ran into more airline musical chairs shenanigans.
Long story short, I totally understand your frustration and at the time, I was really irritated as well. You'll get a lot of support on your experience here, but beware, you'll probably also get a lot of, "they don't guarantee you anything accept to get you from point A to point B!", "you got to where you needed to go, what more do you want!?"
Although you don't explicitly say it, I'll assume you are an American citizen and you were flying in and out of the USA. With much fanfare a few years ago, our wonderful congress passed into law what they optimistically called a "passengers' bill of rights." If ever there was a case for false advertising, this is it.
So, that being said... If you read this column, and others related to air travel, you'll notice a few trends. Running through all these trends is the fact that when you purchase airline tickets, you are merely getting the opportunity, but not the guarantee, of traveling - at the time, on the day, on the plane, on the route or even in the seat you have selected. (And I'm NOT referring to acts of mother nature.) It's really up to the airline whether or not they will provide the product they advertised to you at the time of purchase. And, today, you are POWERLESS to do anything about it. You see, they can change every aspect of your trip, months after you purchase the tickets, but if you change you mind 24+ hours after purchase, you are penalized at least $200 (except on SWA) plus the difference in fares. Do you think that's fair?
So, I respectfully recommend that you, and everyone else reading this who have been slighted (shafted) by the airlines, to redirect your writing energy and send your complaints to your elected officials. While I am a "free markets" kind of person, the airline industry is far from a "free market." The flying public deserves better than bait-and-switch advertising, substandard customer service, and 30 inch seat-pitch for 8+ hour flights.
EVERYONE - WRITE YOUR CONGRESSPERSON (often)!
Things happen. I carefully selected a 2-across row for my husband and myself SFO-CDG about 11 months in advance ... and in checking the reservation a few months before flight date noted that the seats were different. Flight equipment had changed, and the new plane only had 3-3-3 seating. We were able to revise our seat selection and opted for comfort (aisle seats in different rows) over togetherness for a 12-hour flight. Not much the airline could do, no matter if it was United or American.
In my case I am trying to understand why I was kicked out of my reserved seats. There was no plane change in this case. On the flight back from Rome there were plenty of entirely empty sections of 3 seats groups. Why this gentleman was given our seats, which by the way he had the whole 3 seat section to himself, seems highly unfair to me. There were plenty of other seats on the plane for him to sit in, yet he was deemed more important and must have wanted that seat for the extra leg room. That's why I chose it.
United Airlines charges an extra fee for these seats, so I feel there is an implied expectation of this being a reserved seat. On the other flight on this trip I can't understand why was I put in the non-economy plus seat and the worst seat on the plane while some person who obviously reserved after me kicked me out of my seat.
Normally, I fly American Airlines and this has never happened to me on that airline. I chose United for this long trip due to the economy plus seats. Air travel is very uncomfortable and trying, so I was trying to make my long flight as comfortable as possible and instead I was upset and treated poorly.
I will take the advice of writing my congressman and if someone opens a class action against United Airlines I will certainly join it.
We've got a flight this fall to Japan from San Francisco on ANA and again, I've "reserved" exit row seats. Although when I show up at the ticket counter that day I'm going to ask if they have any economy-plus seats available or any other upgrades. I figure, if things can always change at the last minute, it could change for the positive as well as the negative.
My guess is the people who got your premium economy seats may have been global superplatinum elite premier passengers and first and business were sold out. Yours were the next best seats.
Did they refund what you paid extra for the premium economy seats?
I have had seats changed by airlines as well--at least once that I can remember with United and at least once with Lufthansa, can't remember who it was with the other times. And, yes, it is annoying, but other than refunding whatever money you spent for E+ seating--assuming the seats you were moved to weren't E+--the airline owes you nothing. The contract of carriage that we all agree to when we purchase airline tickets allows them to do so. Not saying I agree with it, but that's the legality of it, and the only way it will change is if the laws are changed. So, yes, contact your representatives in congress and hope for the best.
I echo the comment "My guess is the people who got your premium economy seats may have been global superplatinum elite premier passengers and first and business were sold out. Yours were the next best seats." The airlines look at peoples' frequent flyer account status and balance when making the final decision of who gets shafted and how bad. More than likely, you experienced the "frequent-flyer" bump even though you purchased your tickets early (paying a premium doing so) and upgraded to the premium seats. I have seen people refused boarding because an uber-elite flyer walked up and wanted to change flights.
Watch the George Clooney movie Up In The Air - it's not too far off reality.
And, write your elected leaders and tell them enough is enough.
And BTW, I fly American 30K to 40K a year and since they were bought by US Air, their customer service gone into the dumps as well. I've recently experienced several last minute schedule and/or seat changes as well... And when a flight was recently cancelled, stranding me overseas for an extra day, I was treated more like a piece of cargo than a paying customer.
Once when flying with a sister, we had reserved Economy Plus seat on United, Newark to Berlin. both aisle seats, next to each other in separate rows. One of us got the upgrade and the other had to go back one row which put them out of the extra leg room section and back into regular economy. The reason, you might ask (as we certainly did) was because the entire row of that Economy Plus section was reserved for the pilot to sleep!!! No joke, the flight attendants somehow rigged some blankets around the three sets and he came back and slept for a couple of hours. I have to say, we were really angry. I couldn't help but wonder why he didn't sleep at home prior to the flight? When I worked, I went to work rested, not needing a nap. No apology give, no offer of refund. Crappy treatment.
Not sure I agree with folks who think the person got bumped due to someone with higher mileage status. I have seen those decisions made arbitrarily by flight attendants during the seating process when an issue comes up. I was say a man asked by a flight attendant to give up his aisle seat in the exit row for a aisle seat in the back of the plane because a passenger had a leg cast and needed room to keep leg straight. People who have issues should take care of themselves and make arrangements ahead of time instead of assuming everyone will accommodate them. So the guy looses his prime seat, goes to the back of the plane, while the casted person gets an upgraded seat for free.
I wonder what would happen if you were already seated and the flight staff came and asked you to change seats and you refused. Would they call security? Or would they keep asking until someone says yes, or? I get the feeling that someone's pushed these limits before...
"...and the way they got the lady out after probably 5 minutes of on the plane negotiation was by giving her an entire 3-seat economy plus row to herself ... which of course necessitated them moving probably at least three other parties around"
...and that's why when it happened to us we just sucked it up and dealt with it as best we can. I don't agree with the airlines' practices but do acknowledge that it's all legally there, in fine print, and accepted by us when we purchase that ticket, and most importantly, I'm not about to make a scene and cause problems for my fellow passengers.
Now that you mention it, on the first part of the trip when they moved me from row 9 to 39c in the back of the plane I panicked. I obligingly went back and sat in that newly assigned seat. I started to experience claustrophobia in the seat since it was so cramped and I panicked. I got out of the seat and saw the seat that the seat that was taken away was still open, so I went back and sat in it thinking ok let's see what happens. The person that was now assigned to me seat showed up a few minutes later and I said there was a mistake that this was the seat I purchased. I showed the attendant my documentation and debated whether to just get off the plane, but that would ruin my trip and put all the plans in jeopardy so I got out of the seat. They did move me to a seat a few rows up with a middle seat open and offered me a glass of wine but I was really shaken up and upset. I had the feeling if I would have fought it they would have called the TSA so I didn't want to go that far.
Now that's something to consider, what if the person they are kicking out turns out to have an even more severe health condition than the person they want to put there? And in fact, that's why the passenger that originally reserved that seat reserved it in the first place.