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Okay, I might be an early bird, but I checked my long-haul flight Moscow to Vladivostok on Aug 1st 2013 at ExpertFlyer and the seat chart only shows 7 randomly chosen economy seats occupied.

Kind of suspicious on an Airbus 330-300 with 250+ economy seats.

As always, I didn't get to chose a seat upon buying the ticket. I expect Aeroflot offers this choice at check-in 24h pre-flight.

So what do I take from this?

  • Only 7 people bought an economy ticket yet?
  • 7 people bought an economy ticket directly from Aeroflot?
  • ExpertFlyer.com has no clue?
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2  
Many super-cheap long-in-advance tickets don't include seat selection, so people haven't chosen a seat yet. –  Kate Gregory Jul 8 '13 at 16:40
    
@KateGregory So you think those seven people have invested in a "more expensive economy ticket" on purpose when they could have gotten a cheap deal? –  arney Jul 8 '13 at 17:33
1  
Yes - for example they might want free changes later, or more status miles, or to be able to use an upgrade instrument (generally usable only from higher fares) etc. There are always a handful of people who don't just buy the cheapest ticket possible. –  Kate Gregory Jul 8 '13 at 18:10

4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

These seat plans are accurate in one sense, in that they normally reflect the current state of seat selection. However, there are a number of reasons why they might not be that useful to you:

  • As Kate says, often folks on cheap tickets or without frequent flyer status on the airline (normally most people) can't select seats till check-in. These will normally show up as an empty seat, even though that person will (ultimately) be sitting somewhere.

  • If you do have frequent flyer status, or a more expensive ticket class, you'll often have access to seats others don't (e.g. exit seats, or other priority seats). These sometimes show up as free seats on online seating maps, sometimes as "premium only", and sometimes they will appear to be occupied even when they are empty.

All of this also tends to vary from airline to airline. You should therefore only ever treat the seat maps as a rough guide.

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Aeroflot only allows advance seat selection under certain contains, such as when booking a higher fare ticket, and/or higher level members of their frequently flyer program, and only then when they specifically request a seat at time of booking.

Other people need to wait until check-in to be able to select a seat. Thus having only 7 seats occupied is most likely correct.

As a more general answer, Expertflyer's seat maps are generally very accurate, as they come from the same GDS (global distribution systems) that the airlines use for ticketing, seat management, etc.

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The ExpertFlyer.com FAQ clearly covers this:

Q: Does the amount of Available or Occupied seats on the Seat Map correspond to the amount of available or sold tickets?
A: No, the Seat Map just shows which seats have been assigned to ticketed passengers or not. There may be tickets sold to passengers who have not yet been assigned a seat. In addition, some airlines don't allow seat selection until 24 hours before departure which will result in many more Available seats then are available tickets.

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I have preferred seats when I travel - especially long haul. The main benefit to me of being able to view the ExpertFlyer seat map prior to travel is to see if my preferred seat is available.

If it is, then I can book the flight and select it. If it's not, then I might choose another flight (if my plans are flexible).

As mentioned a lot of seats aren't assigned until check-in, although the airline systems will often perform what's known as "theoretical seating", eg: allocate a forward aisle seat to someone with status, or seat a group together.

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