Why Airlines Hand Out Seat Assignments That Don’t Exist

Sep 28, 2018

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Air travel can come with myriad concerns: Will my bags get lost? Will I make my connection? But “Will my assigned seat exist?” is not usually high up on the list. While finding someone sitting in your seat may not be that uncommon, it’s pretty rare to board a plane only to find that your seat assignment literally does not exist on that flight.

But that’s exactly what happened to Satwika Ika, who was traveling from Palembang to Jakarta, Indonesia, when she boarded a Lion Air flight with a seat assignment of 35F. However, after walking by row and row, Ika realized that the seats cut off at 34, and the only seat behind said row was in the lavatory. And she wasn’t the only one out of luck: a family traveling with a young child also came up empty handed after being assigned ghost seats in row 35.

So how exactly does this happen?

In Ika’s case, her mistaken seat identity was due to the fact that a larger plane was originally supposed to be used for the route. Lion Air Corporate Communications Officer Danang Mandala Prihantoro said: “The flight should have been initially operated by a Boeing 737-900ER with a capacity of 215 seats spread over 39 rows,” according the Daily Mail. But that “Due to aircraft rotations that could have potentially caused a flight delay, Lion Air used a Boeing 737-800NG with 189 seats and 34 rows instead” — which makes sense. Ika had purchased the ticket prior to the aircraft being swapped.

The good news is that Ika did NOT have to spend the duration of the flight in the lav, but instead was reassigned a seat elsewhere on the plane. No word on how the family fared.

According to the Telegraph, Lion Air has 114 planes in circulation, with another 247 on order. The airline “placed a record order with Boeing, worth $22 billion, surpassing Emirates’ previous high, for some 29 737-900s and 201 737 MAXs. It also has orders placed with Airbus for A330-900neos.

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