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On the Spot: Unlocking EVA's blocked-seat policy

Premium economy status apparently isn't elite enough to snare the best seats for these frequent fliers to Vietnam — a two-across that's not near the bathroom.

June 17, 2012|By Catharine Hamm
(Patrick Lin / AFP/Getty…)

Question: My husband and I travel to Vietnam two or three times a year to visit our family. We fly EVA Airways and book in premium economy for the extra legroom. We can book our seats 100 days in advance. But the only two-across seats that are available in Rows 21-27 are in that last row, which is near the toilet, and they don't recline; everything else is blocked. I've asked my travel agent for help — I even stood there while she called. No luck. Why does this happen? What should I do?

Nanette Phan

Burbank

Answer: When I asked EVA why, here's what a rep told me by email: "Air passengers can select seats 100 days before their dates of departure, either on the airline's website at http://www.evaair.com or by contacting an EVA reservations agent at (800) 695-1188."

Phan already knew that and in fact is such an old hand at booking that she calculates the day and even the hour for the "opening" of seat reservations on EVA, a Taiwanese company.

Here's what we didn't know: "A few seats on each flight are held for EVA Evergreen Club Diamond and Gold level frequent fliers and for parents traveling with infants," the rep said in an email. "But EVA would not block all of its Elite Class seats in Rows 20-26. There should be seats available for Elite Class passengers to pre-select unless others have already reserved those seats."

This is where the question gets trickier. If you look at the seating configuration on a 777-300ER, the plane that's being flown, you'll see that the configuration is two seats, four seats, two seats. What Phan wants is a two-across seat that's not in Row 27. (SeatGuru.com, an airline seating resource, labels all the seats in Row 27 a "poor" choice.)

EVA is telling the truth when it says it hasn't blocked all the seats for its most elite frequent fliers. Indeed, the EVA rep gave Phan a local agent to contact who did find her two seats together in the four-across section or another two-across option. But neither was to Phan's liking, the rep said. The agent promised to keep looking and working with the Phans to secure the seats they want.

What appears to be happening is that although the Phans are buying premium economy, they are not at the head of the class of EVA fliers.

"Most airlines 'tier' their benefits between the lowest-level loyalty status and their highest, so it seems reasonable that they'd hold back the best seats in the premium economy cabin for their 'super-elite travelers,'" said Jami Counter, senior director for SeatGuru.

Some smaller foreign carriers are rumored to hold back seats for family and friends of airline employees or even for government officials, but Counter doesn't see that here.

"EVA is a well-run airline, so I don't see them blocking space for VIP executives," he said in an email to me. "I could see them giving those types of travelers the best seat (and most likely in business class), but I don't think they'd just block that many seats for a few potential VIPs. So their explanation makes sense."

Counter doesn't think it's a cabal and frankly, given the speed with which EVA replied and tried to find a solution, I have to agree. (Besides, would an airline that has planes outfitted for fans of Hello Kitty be capable of duplicity? Wouldn't that be a little like Disney saying it hates kids?) But where both Counter and I find fault is in explaining the "why" of the situation to Phan.

My further objection is this — and I say this on behalf of all leisure travelers who are never going to achieve elite status, myself included: If this were a game of Texas Hold 'Em, we infrequent fliers would be getting the equivalent of an unsuited 2 and 7 and frequent fliers would be getting a pair of aces. Yes, it's possible to win with a 2 and a 7, but it takes a lot of luck and perseverance. Come to think of it, that is what distinguishes the leisure traveler, who gets the best of nothing but keeps on going.

Have a travel dilemma? Write to travel@latimes.com. We regret we cannot answer every inquiry.

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