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How Can I Get a Better Airplane Seat at the Last Minute?

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TPG reader Albertina tweeted me to ask:

@thepointsguy– “Is there a way to get a better seat last minute? I got stuck in the back in a middle row from Buenos Aires to Miami! Ugh!” 

Getting a bad seat on a long flight is no fun. Airlines typically block off a lot of window or aisle seats (especially in the front), labeling them as “premium” in order to sell them at a higher price. The bulkheads are often reserved for people with disabilities or families traveling with infants to use the bassinets. However, if you only see middle seats available, all is not lost. There are several last minute options.

Getting stuck in a middle seat on a long flight is not fun. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Getting stuck in a middle seat can make a long flight feel even longer. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

First, trying calling and asking. You might reach a friendly rep who will put you in a better seat. If you’ve got a friend with elite status, have him or her call and ask on your behalf if the airline can move you as a courtesy.

If you check in at the 24 hour mark, other seats may become available. Also, as passengers get upgraded you may be able to claim one of their vacated seats. For example, an elite flyer may be seated in an exit row, and they could be upgraded in the days leading up to the flight, leaving that exit row seat empty (and waiting for you).

You can set seat alerts on Expert Flyer, or just keep checking back, especially within a week of departure. Inevitably some folks are going to change or cancel flights, and keeping tabs on the available seating gives you an opportunity to jump on a good seat when it opens up.

Ask your gate agent about a seat change, but make sure to pick an opportune time (e.g., not during boarding).

At check-in, see if any other seats are available. Ask very nicely, or even offer the gate agent some chocolate or other kind gesture and see where that gets you. You can ask nicely at the gate if you still haven’t managed to get it changed. Just arrive early if you plan to ask about a seat change, because things get crazy and stressful for gate agents closer to departure, and their main priority is getting the plane out on time, not changing your seat.

Once you’re on the flight and the airplane door is closed, if you spot a better seat you can always try to move, though I would recommend letting a flight attendant know.

One last option is to ask on social media. Sometimes they can and will change your, seats especially if you’re flying on a partner airline. I had a situation on a KLM flight where I kept getting kicked out of a good seat, but their social media team was able to help me get that seat in the end.

Just make sure to be your own advocate; you can’t just assume that the airline is going to take care of you, even if you have elite status. Good luck, and I hope you find your way out of the middle seat to a better one!

If you have any other questions, please tweet me @thepointsguy, message me on Facebook, or send me an email at info@thepointsguy.com.

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