While this does not happen all the time, it is possible that your seat booking is never guaranteed, especially if you are flying in a premium cabin. In rare instances, you could be bumped out of the flight, but it is not uncommon to find that the cabin you are flying is not available and you may be asked to fly in a lower cabin.
Here is our experience with Etihad Airways on our recent flight from Rome to Abu Dhabi. We have secured 5 award seats in business class, about 3 months before the travel date.
On the day of travel, when we were checking-in, the duty manager came by to greet us and informed us that there was an equipment change, which meant that the number of business class seats are less. Duty manager requested, if we can downgrade 2 seats to Economy and promised that he would have all the miles refunded for the 2 seats and would still honor the benefits for business class (Lounge access, baggage allowance etc..)
I informed that these tickets were booked using AAdvanatage miles, but the duty manager still said that, he could have the miles refunded for the 2 tickets.
The downgrade request is only for the first leg of the journey – Rome to Abu Dhabi, so it made sense to downgrade the 2 tickets to economy.
When we reached Abu Dhabi, we headed to the lounge before our next flight. One of the lounge attendant stopped by and gave us 2 vouchers worth $200 each. While I was happy that my downgrade is acknowledged, I was unhappy with the compensation. I informed that the Duty manager at Rome, promised a full refund of the miles used for the 2 tickets. Then the agent cancelled the vouchers and informed us to contact the AAdvantage (Then I realized that this will not be easy)
When I contacted AAdvanatage, I was informed that any requests should come through Etihad and AA can not help with request.
Then I sent an email to Etihad customer relations explaining the situation (with a copy to the duty manager at Rome). For a while, there was no communication, but after a few weeks I got a call from the Etihad customer relations and was informed that all the miles used for the 2 tickets would be refunded.
Well, Etihad honored the promise and refunded all the miles for the 2 tickets.
I was quite happy and excited that all the miles used were refunded, which essentially means a free ticket. Even though, my initial compensation is not in-line with the expectation, I made sure to stay patient and polite and persuaded for the outcome of my choice.
Were you ever downgraded from business class to economy class?
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