Why Can’t I Select Certain Seats for My Flight?

Feb 21, 2019

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

“Reader Questions” are answered twice a week by TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Ethan Steinberg.

It doesn’t matter if you pay for your ticket with miles or cash or whether you choose to travel in economy, business or first class; the fact is that not every seat in the cabin is created equal. TPG reader Kathy wants to know why she’s unable to select certain seats for an upcoming United flight …

Why does United block certain rows when I go to select my seats?


When looking at a seat map to select your seats, it can often be hard to tell the difference between seats that are blocked (i.e. you can’t select them) and seats that have already been reserved by someone else. Still, there are several different reasons an airline might block seats, so let’s take a look at a few of the more common ones.

While showing off a first class boarding pass is sure to make your friends jealous, flashing a picture of you in Seat 1A on a 15-hour flight may be even better. However, this isn’t always possible, as a number of airlines have been known to reserve Seat 1A in first class for elite members of their respective loyalty programs. A good example of this would be Japan Airlines, which blocks the window seats 1A and 1K on its 777-300ERs until the day of departure. If you can’t select them, don’t worry; seats 2A and 2K will give you just as good of a flight experience.

Thankfully Korean Air was willing to let me select seat 1A in the nose of its 747-8.

Outside of seats in row 1 that sound prestigious (even if they’re identical to the seats in row 2 behind them), airlines might also reserve specially configured seats. Qatar’s Qsuite business class has absolutely set the gold standard for the industry, with incredibly well-designed suites with closing doors. If you’re traveling in a group, you can even convert the center four seats into a quad layout and talk or work with your group. TPG got to try this out firsthand when he flew back from South Africa with his parents and TPG Reviews Editor Nick Ellis. While you can select some seats in the Qsuite cabin online, Qatar will only let you select a middle pair or quad if you’re traveling with someone else. This means you’ll have to call in to make the selection, but don’t be dissuaded if you see all the middle seats “blocked” on ExpertFlyer.

Another reason you might see seats blocked off is that the airline needs them for a very important purpose — including rest spaces for pilots or other crew members. Larger jets like the 777, 747 and A380 have dedicated crew rest spaces tucked away in areas you’d likely never notice, but on medium-sized planes like the 757 and 767, airlines will often block off certain seats for crew rest during long-haul flights.

Finally, once the departure time of a flight approaches, most airlines will turn the seat assignment process over to the gate agent(s) in charge of the flight. You should be able to select seats during the online check-in process, but once you’re within an hour or two of your flight, you may need to visit the gate if you’re wanting to switch seats. This “gate control” allows agents to more easily accommodate confirmed passengers without a seat assignment, and it also enables them to clear standby passengers. However, if you ask nicely during a lull in the agent’s pre-flight procedures, you may be able to score a better seat.

Bottom Line

There are a bunch of different reasons airlines might block seats, but in most cases you can simply pick the next available row and it won’t matter all that much. If you truly have your eyes set on seat 1A, you can try calling the airline directly or checking in for your flight exactly 24 hours in advance when the hold might expire. If you’re flying Qatar Qsuites with a friend (or three), make sure to call in and reserve your double bed or Quad office in the sky.

And when all else fails, check-in with the gate agent an hour or so before your flight. You never know when a polite request might improve your ride.

Thanks for the question, Kathy, and if you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at info@thepointsguy.com.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs up to two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide including takeout and delivery in the U.S., and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $80 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® after you apply through any Authorized Enrollment Provider. If approved for Global Entry, at no additional charge, you will receive access to TSA PreCheck.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
17.24%-26.24% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Recommended Credit
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.