Can the Airline Downgrade You From First/Business (even if you paid for it)?

I’ve been downgraded from First to coach before, but on a coach ticket that was upgraded to first.  This was back on US Airways, and I was in the front row.

When I boarded, there were two people already in that entire front row.  It was clear one of the people needed extra care and the other person was their caretaker.  My guess is they were rebooked from another flight.

I stood there awkwardly for a while because I wasn’t sure what this meant for me, or where I should sit.

Soon, I heard the bad news.  I don’t have a first-class seat anymore.  Sigh.  Though, since it was a free upgrade, I couldn’t complain too much.

On Quora, there’s some discussion going about whether airlines can downgrade your paid first class or business class ticket.

first business economy coach check in

Unfortunately, yes.

The plane type can change (resulting in fewer first class seats), and first class can be overbooked as well.

But it’s important to make sure you get adequately compensated in that moment rather than try to chase it down later.

In one case on the Quora thread, they were just going to boot someone out of business to accommodate someone booted out of first.  He stuck to his guns and they finally tried offering compensation.  Another person in business was interested in the compensation.  It allowed the man to keep his business class seat, and for someone who valued the compensation more than business to take the deal.

If he simply moved, he might have been able to fight it later, but probably would have only received what the airline deemed as the difference in fare between coach and first.  (And when do you determine the cost of coach?  As a walk up ticket?  At the time of booking?)

Keri from Heels First Travel was able to recoup the cost of her entire trip by making sure she got compensated for her downgrade on a LAN flight.

I wouldn’t cause a ruckus, but I would be firm in this case.  I would stress that I understand their side of the situation, but I also laid out a lot of money for my ticket, and want to make sure that gets addressed if I lose my seat.

Have you ever gotten downgraded?  What happened when you did?

About Jeanne Marie Hoffman

Former bartender, still a geek. One equal part each cookies, liberty, football, music, travel, libations. Stir vigorously. +Jeanne Marie Hoffman Jeanne on Twitter

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  1. Yup. Was recently downgraded on the short hop from CLT > DCA. They cited a malfunctioning seat and was placed in the bulkhead middle row. For a short hop I didn’t gripe much, but was compensated with 5000 AAdvantage miles and first class service. You should have seen the looks of fellow passengers as I was being offered goodies from the snack basket and complimentary cocktails.

  2. I was due to fly BA First (business with paid airport upgrade) London to Rio. Due to a plane malfunction they swapped a 773 for 772 without first (I was the only passenge apparently) and was given a seat in business. In turn some business were downgraded to premium economy,.
    I was offered the choice of £500 compensation and refund of the miles, or a hotel stay and flying the next day. I took the compensation as I needed to get there and the offer was good!

  3. My parents got downgraded from business to economy on Lufthansa while First Class was available. The agent basically said they didn’t want to upgrade instead of downgrade because the fare difference is 5000USD. My parents didn’t speak English well so I followed up with their customer service later but they referred me to United as it was booked through ua miles. Never offered any compensation from Lufthansa or even a formal apology. i think Lufthansa treats award tickets very badly because they don’t understand how much we have to fly to get those miles. Since then I stopped flying Lufthansa. It lost a lot of business class tickets from me in the past two years. But I am much happier now because I didn’t like their angled flat seats and even the new lie flats where you have to sit with someone else.

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