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Old Jan 20, 14, 6:06 pm
Join Date: Dec 2009
Posts: 83
F seat poached by disabled passenger

On a recent RPU-upgraded flight, I lost my F seat to a Y passenger who was unwilling to move out of her poached seat.

The boarding process started out normal enough, we boarded disabled passengers, GS, then it was my turn. At the steps to the aircraft, the gate-check cart wasn't ready yet, so we had to stand around in the cold for a bit while the gate-check cart was wheeled to a passenger accessible position.

I finally boarded the plane after getting the gate check taken care of. As soon as I entered the aircraft, I immediately noticed that all F seats were already taken. In my seat was a middle-aged woman of presumably Indian descent, her passport was clearly visible, seated comfortably and looking like she belonged.

"Excuse me, I believe that's my seat." I had already put away my boarding pass at this point, so I dig it out again to make sure I am indeed accusing the correct passenger of stealing my seat. I get no response. My boarding pass indeed shows that I am assigned to sit there. Meanwhile, the woman in my seat looks as comfortable and nonchalant as when I first entered the aircraft.

"Excuse me, I think you're sitting in my seat," I said again, more slowly and forcefully this time. She reacts. We make eye contact, and she opens her passport to where her boarding pass was inserted inside. I could clearly see her seat assignment, and it wasn't where she was sitting. She utters a few words. A non-native speaker, several of her words were unintelligible, but her meaning was unambagious. Can I sit here?

At this point, the flight attendant at the boarding door has caught on to what's happening. I step aside to allow other passengers to get past me, while the flight attendant patiently explained that her seat is towards the back of the aircraft. "Would you like any help moving to your seat?" he asks, while motioning for the other flight attendant to come forward to give her a hand.

The other flight attendant arrives and offers to help her with her bags. "Can I take your bags to your seat?" she asks. There is barely a response from the passenger. The first flight attendant tries the question again. This time, the passenger responds, "can we swap?" she asks.

I was caught off guard. "Eh... I'd rather not..." Who has ever heard of giving up a first class seat to a poacher simply because she got there before you, then asks you plainly when confronted?

"I can't move back, can I stay?", she countered, showing off some sort of a bracing mechanism around her lower back that was previously concealed beneath her clothing. She mentions something about not being able to move, then once again directs her gaze towards me. "Can we swap?"

At this point, I have decided to give up sitting in F on this flight. Between empathy for the other passenger and not wanting to cause any sort of a scene that might further delay the flight, I capitulated. I was already in danger of missing my tight connection with no good alternates if I misconnect, and besides, the first class seat and service on this Express aircraft is only marginally better than economy.

The rest of the flight was uneventful, if a bit bumpier and noisier than my usual seat selections towards the front of the aircraft. The flight attendants were thankful they didn't end up with a situation on their hands, and made sure I was well taken care of during the flight. We arrived at our destination 20 minutes late, where gate-check unloading priority was not given to yellow handle bags. Fortunately, I was able to make my connecting flight and was among the very last passengers to board. I was pleased to see my seat was, as expected, empty. I was even more pleasantly surprised to learn that despite already having a long line of overflow gate check bags, the mainline sUA crew was good enough to set aside overhead space for a late-arriving bulkhead passenger in first.

I'm wondering though, how did the disabled passenger end up in my seat in the first place? I assume she was helped aboard by the ground/gate crew at the origin airport. Did they know what seat she was assigned, or did they simply trusted the passenger when she mentioned she wanted to sit in my seat? Or perhaps someone decided it would be easier to unload this particular passenger up front and not tell anyone about it, rather than having to go through the motions to officially displace another passenger in F?

For the record, the aircraft in question was a Q400 operated by Republic. The ground and gate crew at the origin airport was outsourced to American Eagle, who replaced some rather excellent sUA and sCO folks last year.
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