Seat 2A is my favorite seat across the United mainline fleet. Whether I’m on an A319, A320, 757, 767, 777, or 747, I know that I can count on 2A to provide a comfortable first class window seat.
Last night I flew from San Francisco to Philadelphia. My upgrade to first class cleared four days ago and as usual, I chose seat 2A. My original routing was Ontario-San Francisco-Philadelphia, but I did a co-terminal standby and flew from Burbank to San Francisco instead. When my boarding passes were printed at BUR, I found that I had been assigned to 3B on my SFO-PHL flight. Aisles aren’t bad in first class, but I generally stay away from row three (the last row of first class) on an A320 for two reasons. First, recline is often limited by the bulkhead and further restricted by the coats that are hung on a bulkhead rack directly behind the seats. Second and more importantly, United is notorious for swapping A320s for A319s (and vice versa). A319s have only two rows of first class. While a skilled gate agent would sort out seat assignments by status, lazy ones will simply re-assign the four passengers who were in row three to economy.
I asked the agent at BUR what the problem was and she tapped away on her screen for a few moments and shrugged. Once I got off the plane at SFO, I stopped by a customer service counter and asked what happened. After a few minutes of research, the agent told me, "Sir, I am not permitted to disclose why your seat was moved, but believe me when I say it was for a very good reason." I asked whether that meant an Air Marshall or a full-fare Global Service member was in my seat, but she (politely) declined to answer.
I was really curious now and once I got in the Red Carpet Club I asked an agent there what had happened. She took a look at the reservation for about a minute, then told me she had no idea. She said usually seats are re-assigned if there is an equipment swap, but there had been none on this flight.
Still curious, I left the club a few minutes early and proceeded to the departure gate. I again inquired about my seat. The agent pulled up my reservation and scratched his head, stating that the computer still showed me in 2A. He made a phone call, then asked me if I had changed my routing at all. I told him I had flown up to SFO from BUR instead of ONT and he said, "Ah. That makes sense." He then explained that when I did not check in for my original flight from Ontario (which departed an hour earlier than the flight from Burbank) the computer kicked me out of my seats. I asked why I was still left in first class, though, to which the agent did not have an answer.
Onboard, I waited patiently for 2A to board. Midway through the boarding process a leathery skinned man of about 50 walked onboard with a boarding pass designating his status as "Premier" and took a seat in 2A. I couldn’t help myself and leaned forward and asked him if he chose seat 2A. He replied, "Nope. The computer chose it for me I when checked in tonight."
I left it at that. Seat 3B was fine.
The man didn’t appear to be an Air Marshall (he promptly fell asleep after takeoff) and I thought FAMs always took aisle seats anyways. While he may have been a last minute full-fare, he certainly wasn’t a Global Service so my theory of preferred GS seat preference was invalid.
While I probably lost the seat because of my co-terminal standby, I can’t help but to think there may have been something more. That first agent I spoke with at SFO seemed to have the answer which she was careful not to disclose. Oddly, my reservation still shows me seated in 2A.
Can anyone shed some light on this? I am not about to lose any sleep over an issue as small as a seat assignment, but I am still curious.