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7 On Your Side: Do passengers ever get frustrated when changing seats on a flight?

Photo of a Frontier Airlines flight. The first five rows on the flight were taken leaving the next 20 vacant and the last 10 rows jammed with passengers who asked to switch to an empty seat after everyone was on board. Friday, April 20, 2018 (Scott Taylor/ABC7)

You ever try changing seats on an airline after you board?

The I-Team took photos on a Frontier Airlines flight. The first five rows on the flight were taken, leaving the next 20 vacant and the last 10 rows jammed with passengers who asked to switch to an empty seat after everyone was on board. All got a no from the flight attendant.

"No one paid for them. So no one can sit in them. Company policy," the flight attendant said.

This isn't a first for Frontier Airlines.

"We asked to move cause there was three in a row and it was just me and my wife," Erik Franzo from Hamilton, New Jersey, told the 7 On Your Side I-Team. "We were just going to move to the open one. They allowed us to do that."

Franzo witnessed the same thing on a Frontier flight from Newark, New Jersey, to New Orleans. The flight was 2/3 empty and he and his wife were able to move but others got a firm no.

"They were trying to move into the more expensive seats," Erik Frazo said. "The upgraded seats. The leg room seats and they were unable to do so.”

Frontier told the I-Team passengers can switch seats after takeoff if flight attendants allow it in the same price range. If it's an upgrade, then a passenger has to pay extra.

“The opportunity to select a seat is available to passengers up until the time of check-in," Frontier said. "At that time seats are assigned by the computer, these assignments are then used to build the load plan for that flight. In some cases, passengers may not be allowed to move due to the weight assigned to certain zones of the aircraft.”

Seven On Your Side did some checking and the same goes for Jet Blue, Spirit or Delta. You can switch seats after takeoff, but you have to pay extra if it's an upgrade.

“It’s important to make the distinction that seats can be changed if and only if in the same cabin and class of service and with the permission of the flight attendant," Delta said. "Of course customers can choose to change their seats ahead of time as well via the Fly Delta Mobile App, Delta.com, airport kiosks or by speaking with a customer service agent ahead of the flight."

Jet Blue says “We request customers refrain for moving seats themselves, but are welcome to speak to an in-flight crewmember if they’d like to change seats once on the plane. An in-flight crewmember can advise available options within the core cabin, or applicable fees, should the customer want to move into an Even More Space seat.”

Southwest, American Airlines and Allegiant allow passengers to switch with no extra charge.

“Passengers can reserve seats for a nominal fee when booking their reservation or by visiting the ‘Manage Travel’ section of our website after booking," Allegiant said. "If a passenger chooses not to reserve a specific seat, one will be assigned to him/her upon check-in. Once a passenger is checked in and has a seat assignment (within that 24-hour prior to travel check in window) it cannot be changed."

Once on board the aircraft, passengers must sit in their assigned seats. That's important for weight and balance calculations prior to takeoff and for checking to make sure all passengers are accounted for. Once at cruising altitude, and when the"‘fasten seatbelt" sign is off, passengers are free to move about the cabin. At that point, it is entirely left to the flight crew’s discretion if passengers may switch seats or not. There is not an extra charge, however; it may not always be allowed or even possible (our flights on average are quite full).

"We, of course, make exceptions for passengers with disabilities or medical issues, or anyone who feels as though they cannot comfortably sit in their assigned seat (maybe there’s a pet in the row, and they’re allergic to dogs, for example)."

Seth Kaplan, the managing partner of AirLineWeekly.com, said it all comes down to safety and then money.

"When there is not a lot of weight on the plane," Kaplan said. "It's really important where that weight is and sometimes the captain will have to leave a whole bunch of empty rows in the middle and have some people in the front and some people in the back and after you take off, it's no longer a safety issue. It just comes down to the airlines policies and who can sit where."

Passengers on the flight at the top of our story even offered to sit in the empty emergency exit rows citing safety. Frontier said no and as it turns out there is no FAA policy mandating that emergency exit rows need to be occupied during a flight.

"Everybody understands if there is a curtain and first class, you can't just move from economy up to there," Kaplan said. "But now one seat that looks a whole lot like another seat is off limits to you. You can understand how people find that a little more unsettling."

7 On Your Side Advice: Check if your airline allows switching seats after takeoff. Pick your seat online to avoid hassles. If you want to switch, ask with a smile because it goes a long way with any flight attendant.

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