Dealing With a Business Class Downgrade

We always talk about how to get upgrades but how do we handle getting downgraded from that coveted first or business class seat? It may not be an easy thing to except for many of us. The first thing we should understand is why the downgrade happens. Nine times out of ten, a downgrade is handed down because of a last minute airplane swap. This means the airplane may have gone from being a 757 to a 737 where there is a significant size difference and fewer seats in first and business class. The reason this happens is usually caused by some sort of mechanical issue. Hey, safety first, right?


Another reason, which is likely the most infuriating to most, is that the airline oversold the premium seats. Airlines strategically do this due to the last minute, no show reservations. It’s a statistical thing.


One reason for a sudden downgrade which I found surprising was that the airlines will bump a paying first or business class passenger to accommodate a Federal Air Marshal, who usually show up at the gate at the last minute due in part to 9/11.


The last reason, which again is no fault of the paying passenger, is the mysterious double booking. This happens when two passengers are somehow assigned the same seat. The winner of the seat will usually go to whoever paid more for their ticket. If you upgraded from economy and your opponent purchased their fare at a first class price, they win.


Getting some sort of compensation for your humiliation won’t be an easy task, but it can be done in some cases. It’s important to keep in mind that you weren’t singled out on a personal level by the gate agent so there isn’t a real reason to cause a scene by cursing and swearing, as hard as it might be. That rarely solves anything. The route of being kind and understanding will go a lot further. Writing to the airline can get results if you feel you have been wronged. More often then not, most downgrade cases do get reimbursed the difference in cost (if any) and whatever miles where used are credited back, so there is no need to panic.


Unfortunately for some passengers, there are no specific rules that actually exist in the U.S in regards to getting downgraded in comparison to carriers in Europe, which have far more stricter regulations. In Europe the airlines have seven days to reimburse the passenger 30 to 75% of the ticket cost depending on the length of the flight. In the U.S, it’s really up to the airline on how they feel it should be handled.


All in all, there is no real simple answer on how to deal with a downgrade other than being understanding and polite, even though you may feel you have been wronged and in return you want to rip someone’s head off, don’t. The best plan of attack is to reach out to the higher ups at the airline by filling out a formal complaint if you can’t get a resolution from the gate agent. It may take some time, but nine times out of ten, the airline will resolve the issue.