On an overnight flight from Boston to Chile 4 or 5 years ago, I ran into a situation I hadn't encountered previously. My seat wasn't great and the flight was perhaps half full, so I tried shifting to an empty seat in a block of 4 where there was only one other person. I was told by the flight attendant that I couldn't sit in that row because the person there had somehow "reserved"* those seats in addition to their paid seat. My wife encountered the same thing in another row. It was clearly a regular occurrence on that flight. We were told by another person on the flight that travel agents can do this for you. I never investigated further, but I am curious to know how to do this if an opportunity should arise in the future. Is there a name for this practice?

If memory serves, it was an American Airlines flight, but I'm not 100% certain of that.

*I don't recall the exact term the attendant used.

  • 4
    BA will sell you a second seat, for either yourself or for your bulky hand luggage (up to you!), but you have to ring to book as you can't do it online. It's pretty cheap, as they don't charges taxes / fees / surcharges, which on an economy ticket can be a large part of the cost!
    – Gagravarr
    Jul 30, 2014 at 19:44
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    Not quite the same thing, but my understanding is that on certain flights (particularly intra-Europe), "business class" gets you a window or aisle coach seat plus the guarantee that the seat next to you will be unoccupied. (So on planes with 3-3 seating, they can still sell 4 business class tickets per row.) Jul 31, 2014 at 5:44

1 Answer 1


Airlines often have seating blocks that are specifically for elite level frequent flyers (often marked on seat maps as "preferred" or simply shown as unavailable to non-elite flyers). If flights are not full, airlines may also choose not to seat anyone next to their highest level elite flyers, even giving them the whole row to themselves.

But short of buying multiple seats, there is no way for the average traveler to claim a whole row, other than just being extremely lucky.

  • These were coach seats, but getting a row to yourself would certainly be a nice reward for frequent flyers. As it was explained to me, this was something a travel agent could do for a passenger. My informant could, of course, be wrong.
    – Jagular
    Jul 30, 2014 at 19:53
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    The elite flyer seat blocks and empty seat options are in the economy section. Once you jump into business or first class, your elite status doesn't count as much (probably cause most everyone sitting there has elite status ;-).
    – user13044
    Jul 30, 2014 at 20:00

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