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Airlines can change seat assignments

Q: I just returned from a trip to France. Prior to my flight, I was confirmed on an aisle seat. When I arrived at the airport, I discovered my seat assignment had been changed to a middle seat. Can the airline randomly change seat assignments once they have confirmed them?

A: Unfortunately, yes it can, especially if there's a change of equipment or, in some cases, if the airline needs to rebalance the plane's weight. As you probably know, an airline can even take your seat away entirely (involuntary denied boarding), in which case it is required to provide cash compensation.


>Q: I recently checked into booking a mileage ticket on United. To my surprise, a $50 fee was added because one of the flights was booked fewer than 21 days out. When did this happen? It seems it's little to no advantage to spend my travel dollars with United, let alone any other airline, out of loyalty.

A: United added (well, reinstated) this close-in booking fee, which it had previously eliminated, on June 15. The reason given was to align United's policy with Continental's and provide consistency between the two airlines. On the plus side, United reduced the fee for changing your routing or destination on a free ticket from $150 to $75. A number of airlines charge this fee, including American, US Airways and Virgin America. Southwest does not."


>Q: I've never been able to find an airfare website that allows me to enter specific dates that I'm available to travel, such as leaving Nov. 12 and returning Nov. 18, and then shows me a list of the cheapest fares to anywhere leaving from an airport I specify. There are sites that show the lowest fares to various destinations from my local airport, but not according to the exact dates I specify. Why is that?

A: I've received many requests here at for just such a website. The only reason I can think of that one doesn't exist is that it would take a huge amount of computer processing power. If you've ever waited for an airfare result between specific cities on specific dates on sites like Orbitz, imagine how long it would be to sort out an up-to-the-minute list of fares between every possible city pair on every possible combination of dates.


>Q: I've noticed that if I fly to Europe using a "free" frequent flier ticket, the taxes and fees vary depending on the airport I connect through. For example, if I connect through London the taxes added to the "free" ticket are higher than if I connect through Madrid. What is going on here?

A: When you cash in miles for a frequent flier ticket it's not exactly free. The airlines sometimes add fuel surcharges, and they also tack on taxes. The largest fees, often called "passenger service charges," or simply "airport taxes" are charged by foreign airports. And there are sometimes as many as three different taxes. London has particularly high "duties" that must be paid, and they vary depending on the class (economy, first or business) that you're flying in. And that's each way, so it really adds up.

George Hobica is founder of the low-airfare listing site