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Family claims Singapore airline seats were sold from underneath them

Thomas Bywater,
Publish Date
Thu, 22 Feb 2024, 4:26PM

Family claims Singapore airline seats were sold from underneath them

Thomas Bywater,
Publish Date
Thu, 22 Feb 2024, 4:26PM

Flying home to Auckland with his wife and 18-year-old son, passenger Anthony was surprised to discover someone else had been placed in their seats.

After a week-long family holiday to Singapore, they were checking in for their return flight on February 1 when they noticed a change to their booking. They found their new seats were now spread throughout the cabin.

These were definitely not the seats he had confirmed the week prior.

Going to the airline counter to ask what happened, Singapore Airlines ground crew told them it was because the seats’ new occupants had paid to select those seats.

“We had only booked a week beforehand so it was very short notice, but we had the email confirmation,” said Anthony.

“They couldn’t explain why I wasn’t getting the same seats, only that someone else had paid to select those seats.”

Eventually the cabin crew were able to accommodate the travellers closer together, asking single passengers if they wouldn’t mind swapping seats with the family.

Anthony said that the airline crew had been very helpful in getting the family seated closer together.

However it had baffled them how their reservation had been uncoupled.

The front of the Premium Economy cabin on Singapore Airlines.  Photo / Grant Bradley
The front of the Premium Economy cabin on Singapore Airlines. Photo / Grant Bradley

The trip had been booked through a travel agent which Anthony said he had done for peace of mind.

The flights had been booked through Air New Zealand with the return flight ticketed as flight NZ3281, but this had been operated by codeshare partner Singapore Airlines.

As Air New Zealand and Singapore operate different booking systems, seat reservations under the agreement can only be made in person to the operation team.

Anthony’s travel agent had done this and he had the email to prove it.

A message from the airlines’ sales operations team, dated January 23 said they were “pleased to inform you that we have successfully confirmed seat 32K/H and 33F for upcoming flight NZ3281 from Singapore to Auckland.”

As ticketing airline Air New Zealand could not comment but said it was a matter for the travel agent, as the booking had been made on the traveller’s behalf.

Normally it is the travel agent who must contact Singapore Airlines to assign seats for SQ-operated flights when ticketed through a codeshare partner. Which appeared to have happened.

Singapore Airlines allows advance seat selection by customers up to 48 hours before departure. Normally seat selection is free to passengers in premium economy, unless they wish to fly in an “extra legroom seat”, for which the airline charges $40 per passenger, or a “forward seat zone” for $25.

Anthony said that he would have happily paid for seat allocation but he had already been given his seat details and was shocked to see someone else had been able to choose from his seat allocation.

A spokesperson for the travel agency Flight Centre confirmed the correspondence but said that last-minute changes to seating was “not completely uncommon”.

“It’s worth noting airlines reserve the right to make amendments to seating for various reasons on the day of travel.”

A spokesperson for Singapore airlines said that they were looking into the matter and that passengers travelling as a family were given preference in seat allocation.

However, Singapore insisted it does not reallocate or sell on seating.

Due to customer privacy and the ongoing investigation into this matter, Singapore Airlines was unable to provide a statement.

What to do if an airline changes your seats

Airlines will often make last-minute changes to seating to accommodate operational changes, like making sure seat plans conform to rules on children flying with parents or caregivers. Most airlines will reserve the right to change seating, even if you have paid to choose your allocated seats.

Singapore and other airlines will normally look to do this up to 48 hours before departure, and passengers without a seat allocation will be placed by flight planners.

Normally group bookings and families will be placed together, but takes in factors such as seats that are left empty for operational reasons, weight displacement and trim. Singapore Airlines also takes frequent flyer status and customer loyalty into account when allocating seats.

If you’re seating is moved by an airline there is little you can do. However, you can always ask if there are alternate seating options available or ask if other passengers are willing to swap places, as Anthony and his family did.

Are you entitled to a refund if an airline changes your seats?

If you’ve paid for seat selection or a cabin class that the airline cannot deliver on, you’re entitled to a refund. This doesn’t mean you can get money back if you really wanted a window and ended up with a middle seat but if you’ve been offered a standard seat instead of a booked extra legroom seat or are placed in economy instead of premium economy, you’re within your rights to claim back the fare difference.

A spokesperson for the Flight Centre Travel Group said that refunds and seat allocation depends largely on whether the airline is able to relocate you to an equivalent seat.

“A passenger’s choices when an airline changes their seat will depend on what type of seat they had booked and what they had been moved to; as well as if they paid for the seat or not,” they said.

“Airlines can and do change prepaid seat selections but there is usually a reason for it - it could be a short notice aircraft change so the seat configuration is different, or it may be that they need the specific seat for another passenger e.g. due to disability or medical reasons.”

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