Airlines love to torture us. Even when you’re prepared and organised, there’s nothing you can do to escape their blood thirst for profit. If you’ve ever reserved a seat on a flight, you’ll notice entire sections of airlines blocked off so that you can’t claim them, even if you wanted to or are willing to pay extra.
Earlier this week, The Points Guy responded to one reader’s request about this same issue. Why exactly are seats blocked off and how can you nab one? It may not be easy, but here’s the scoop on airlines reserving seats and how to grab them:
They’re blocked for 'elite' passengers
Ever stumble across a flight’s seat map, only to find middle seats available? Sometimes, it’s because every aisle and window seat has already been reserved by other passengers (in which case, you may be out of luck).
Other times, it’s because the airline may be specifically reserving them for the selected few passengers with any elite status (and if you’ve booked your flight early, that’s a good sign it’s happened). No, they aren’t elite people, though it will feel like that when they brush past you to their spacious exit row with leg room.
There’s nothing more sobering than travelling with a friend for the first time. You very quickly learn their travel 'quirks' like they hate walking too much or their teeth grind when they sleep (I’m not saying I know someone who does this, but I’m also not not saying that).
As The Points Guy noted, elite members on some airlines can view an entire seat map with all available options, versus us normies who will likely see a map with fewer options if they’re being held for elite travellers.
This is how airlines trick you into buying those upgraded seats with extra legroom (when some of those are free all along).
They’re blocked for passengers with specific needs
Sometimes, entire blocks of seats on flights are reserved for gate agents to have the flexibility to accommodate passengers with particular needs, such as children and families (so they aren’t separated) or people with disabilities.
Airline crew has them reserved
Hey, flight attendants need a break, too. They’re the ones trying to comfort you while other passengers take off their pants. Some seats may be booked for pilots and crew to rest, in the event they don’t have a separate sleeping compartment.
Also, seats may be reserved early for off-duty crew members travelling from one destination to another because they’re heading to or from home or on their way to another flight for work (this is referred to as "deadheading", no relation to the Grateful Dead).
Check in for your flight ASAP
So what should you do if you’re caught in a dreaded game of middle seat selection? Or you don’t even have the option of selecting your seat anyway? While there’s no hard and fast rule across airlines, continue to check your seat map periodically, as passengers re-arrange themselves on the flight (or book another).
As TripAdvisor recommends, here’s a key tip: Check in as close as possible to the 24-hour mark before your flight and you might hit the goldmine. At this time, passengers with elite status often get upgraded, leaving some coveted coach window and aisle seats up for grabs.
Wait until you can speak to a gate agent
As The Points Guy noted, sometimes it’s worth it to wait until you can speak to a gate agent (especially if you’re still stuck with a middle seat — it can’t get worse from there, right?). When you’re at the airport, a gate agent is usually equipped to handle some degree of flexibility and may be able to accommodate some last-minute seat changes.
And if want to beat the crowds, use the airline’s app when you’re at the airport. You’ll be able to check out your flight’s seat map as it changes and grab a better seat. If your travelling with someone who has elite status, check your flight’s seat map on their account to find out if an airline’s holding out on you, too.