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We all know the drill: you settle into your carefully selected seat, then some jerk comes over, "Oh, hi can I switch seats with you, so I can sit next to my (fill in the blank: son/daughter/wife/mistress/secretary/partner/dachsund, etc)? So, you end up sitting in some random place which is always the most inconvenient possible place by Murphy's Law. At least they don't have smoking anymore. That was the worst, getting moved to the smoking section.

If there is anything worse than having some random guy ask to switch seats, it is getting forcibly reseated by the airline. Witness Ann Coulter's meltdown over losing her selected extra leg room seat because some dude wanted to sit with his 17-year-old daughter.

My question: how exactly does this play out? The guy books his travel with no assigned seats (seems unlikely), or possibility B, Coulter already has the aisle seat, so he books seats E and F (middle and window) for himself and his son, and some random seat for his daughter. Then he gets to the gate and before boarding starts, goes to the desk and says, "Hi, I am travelling with my daughter, but she is not seated next to me. Can she be moved next to me?" and the agent at the desk, says no problem and switches the daughter with Coulter. Is that typically what happens in situations like this?

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The best explanation I've seen is from Delta. That is, of course, only one side of the story, but good luck getting a more coherent explanation of events from Coulter:

The airline said that Coulter originally booked seat 15F, which is located by the window in an exit row, however; within 24 hours of the flight’s departure, the customer changed to seat 15D, which is by the aisle. At the time of boarding, Delta inadvertently moved Coulter to 15A, a window seat, when working to accommodate several passengers with seating requests.

When there was some confusion with seating assignments during boarding, a flight attendant stepped in and asked that all of the passengers move to the seats noted on their respective tickets. All customers complied and the flight departed without incident. Following the flight, crew members reported that there were no problems or concerns escalated.

In short, she booked an exit row window, changed to an exit row aisle, and someone from the airline switched her back to an exit row window. So yes, it appears that the airline moved her seat while trying to arrange seats for other passengers. The use of the word "inadvertently" is interesting in this statement, and it's unclear whether "inadvertently" is PR speak for:

  • The agent hit the wrong button on the computer and didn't mean to change her seat
  • The agent changed her seat assignment intentionally, but shouldn't have done so
  • We have no earthly idea why it happened and wish everyone would be quiet and go away

These situations can also happen if there is a change in aircraft to one with a different seating configuration or if people need to be moved to accommodate a passenger with disabilities. Airlines don't guarantee their seat assignments and view them as requests, much to the surprise and annoyance of passengers who have selected those seats carefully. In my experience, it is not typical for airlines to move passengers who have seat assignments simply so those traveling together can sit together.

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