Virgin Atlantic Charges $110 For Seat Upgrade, Gives Same Seat To Another Passenger For Free, Doesn't Care

UPDATE: Looks like we bungled this one. We asked travel expert Mark Ashley for clarification and he said:

$110 is steep for an exit row, by my accounting, but it **guaranteed** him the seat. You pay for that certainty. An upgrade to premium economy — wider seat, better recline, more legroom — would have probably cost him double, if it were available. An upgrade to business, even more. Some background here.

Bottom line: If you want the **guaranteed** upgrade, you gotta pay, either in miles, points, or cold, hard cash. Sure, you can take a chance and hope for a free upgrade. But to be ASSURED of that better seat? Pay up. I don’t see the problem with the charge. The chargeback is unwarranted.

Adam is pissed because he had to pay Virgin Atlantic $110 to get “upgraded” to a seat with extra legroom, but then a guy who just asked a flight attendant for a similar seat got the same for free. When he complained to customer service, he was told a supervisor would call him back (this of course, never happened). Another rep offered him $40 for his troubles. Adam found this offer “insulting.”

He wrote a complaint letter, posted inside for your edification. It’s pretty clear and to the point, and it threatens a chargeback, which is a good way to let a company know you’re informed and serious.

Adam sent this to the regular customer service email line. If he doesn’t get a good response, we advise kicking it up the ladder to the CEO or some other such high-ranking individual. CCing it to the DOT isn’t a bad idea either. See also 5 Tips For Complaining To Airlines.

(Photo: davitydave)

To Whom It May Concern,

I have been treated very badly by Virgin Atlantic, which surprises me, as I have flown with Virgin at least a dozen times in the last three years and never experienced such poor customer service in the past. You have been my transatlantic airline of choice for the last several years, but I will be switching to British Airways if I can not have this issue resolved.

I flew from Los Angeles to Heathrow on VS 8, on April 19, 2007. I paid $110 US at the gate to be “upgraded” to an exit row seat with extra leg room. When I got on the plane I found that the “upgraded” seat is in fact narrower than the rest of the coach seats on the plane. I was surprised that I would have to pay a premium for a less comfortable seat. Adding insult to injury, a flight attendant seated someone next to me who had not paid the “upgrade” fee. He had just asked the attendant if he could have a seat with more legroom. Why was I charged for the privilege an hour earlier if all I had to do was ask once I got on the plane? This is unfair and dishonest of the gate agents.

When I called Virgin Atlantic on Saturday, April 21, I spoke with Bianca (ext. 32144), who said she was unable to offer me any recourse for my inconvenience and expense. She promised a supervisor would call back within 24 hours, which did not happen. I told her that I have never been called back by a supervisor from any company when promised, but she said someone would absolutely call me. They did not. I called again on Tuesday April 24 and spoke with Malvika (ext. 32970), who again refused to help me. I was then transferred to Ashutosh (ext. 32927), who offered me a

25 voucher for my inconvenience. This is completely unacceptable. I was charged $110 for an “upgrade” that was rendered worthless when someone was given the same service for free. Why would you offer me a $40 voucher when I had been fleeced over $100 cash? That is insulting.

It is my sincere request that you give me a worth-while upgrade to make up for the poor treatment I have received from Virgin Atlantic to date. I insist that you upgrade my return ticket (Heathrow-JFK VS45, April 26, 2007, Confirmation C4MT2X) to Premium Economy. If this can not be done I will initiate a chargeback for the “upgrade” fee with my credit card company.

Please respond to this email within 24 hours so this issue can be resolved in advance of my flight.

Kindest regards,
Adam L




Edit Your Comment

  1. chargebacks : Consumerist :: lupus : House

  2. TechnoDestructo says:

    He didn’t pay 110 for the upgraded seat. He paid 110 for the assurance that it would be upgraded. The guy who paid nothing could have been told no and would have had no recourse.

  3. RumorsDaily says:

    You paid $110 so you’d be guaranteed the seat on the plane. You could have gambled that the seat would have been available and saved the $110.

    You asked for something, were offered that something at a price, agreed to the price, and received exactly what you asked for. What exactly are you upset about?

    What exactly is the logic behind your chargeback request going to be?

  4. not_seth_brundle says:

    Your headline is ambiguous. When I read it, I thought that Adam’s seat had been given away to someone else, forcing Adam to sit in an inferior seat while the freeloader enjoyed the seat Adam had paid for. It wasn’t the SAME seat, it was another seat next to Adam’s. Which means Adam wasn’t really fleeced out of anything (except for paying for a seat that is arguably not as comfortable as he thought it would be).

    Imagine if everyone who bought a first-class ticket later demanded a refund because someone else on the flight paid for coach but got a free upgrade to first class. Same idea.

  5. superlayne says:

    If I ever fly, I am so going to save up and shell out for first class. I’d rather be spoiled than beaten. Dx

  6. zolielo says:

    Did no paying assure s spot while the fellow who ask was rewarded for a risk that could have gone either way?

  7. bossco says:

    When I worked for Hertz Rent A Car, we were allowed to give free upgrades at our discretion, but if you wanted a guaranteed upgrade you needed to pay for it. Or take a chance and not get one. Such is life these days.

  8. snazz says:

    i agree with everyone. adam was not treated poorly here… or ripped off. this is the way upgrades work on planes, trains and automobiles. i think if someone was willing to give him $40, take it and run. he isnt entitled to anything else.

  9. iMike says:

    (1) For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard.
    (2) And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
    (3) And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
    (4) And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way.
    (5) Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise.
    (6) And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle?
    (7) They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive.
    (8) So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first.
    (9) And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny.
    (10) But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny.
    (11) And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house,
    (12) Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.
    (13) But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?
    (14) Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee.

  10. scoobydoo says:

    This happens all the time. People pay for an economy plus seat on United, THEY get that seat guaranteed, then by the time the seats start filling up, they put people in them for free to fill up the plane.

  11. oudemia says:

    I, too, agree with everyone. I don’t see how this is different from a situation such as agreeing to go stand-by. Hey, Continental, I’d like to go on the 4 pm flight rather than the 6! Well, Customer, the fare difference is $500. You can have a guaranteed seat on the flight if you pay up. Or, you can just show up at the airport and hope for the best. Would the person who paid the $500 for a guaranteed seat feel robbed by the person who winged it and went stand-by? Would the presence of the stand-by customers on the flight cause him to threaten a chargeback?

  12. bravo369 says:

    Isn’t this just basically paying to reserve the seat? that way you know you have it. If the plane was full then that guy would not have been able to sit there. This is sorta like how I buy tickets to New Jersey Nets. I buy the cheap seats knowing that I can move down once the game starts.

    If he wants, just don’t buy the upgrade next time…just don’t be upset if those seats are full.

  13. harleymcc says:

    WOW, if there was ever a non-starter as fair as complaints go….

  14. SugarRob says:

    More of a housekeeping question but does Consumerist ever apologize to companies that might get bad press here for no good reason? It seems like a casual reader would see the inflammatory headline here and think very bad thoughts about Virgin Atlantic but when you dig deeper it is clear that they really didn’t do anything wrong and were more than fair in their compensation offer. Your commentary does a good job of not taking side but the headline still seems alarmist.

  15. tvh2k says:

    Get this off The Consumerist! How can you even try to compare to stories of women getting charged extra for flying with a broken leg and deceased relatives having their life savings stolen from them? You paid for the seat upgrade, there were seats left, so they gave it away for free.

    Disclaimer: I am against different pricing for different seating positions in coach class, but that is not relevant here.

  16. cabinaero says:

    Of coruse exit row seats are narrower — the tray table has to be in the arm rest.

    The submittier got exactly what he paid for — a guarateed seat in VA’s Premium Economy section.

  17. cabinaero says:

    @tvh2k: On Virgin Atlantic, the premium economy section is a different seat with greater pitch and greater recline, plus different catering and drink options than their standard cabin. It’s clearly differentiated by more than “seating position”

  18. Little Mintz Sunshine says:

    After years of great service, I had a really crappy experience on Virgin at LAX the last time I flew to London. I went to check in and must have somehow offended the blonde cougar behind the counter by saying “hello”. She was totally rude and spent most of her time flirting with her young male co-worker. (Frankly, at her level of seniority she should have realized her young male co-worked had no interest in prop-jets.) I inquired if it was a full flight and after a curt “no” and a eyeroll, I asked if there was a window seat in a less crowded area. She wordlessly changed my seat, gave me a snide grin and slammed the boarding pass on the counter. After boarding, I was more than a bit pissed when I discovered that not only had she moved me to an aisle seat but said seat was right next to the galley. Next time I fly to London, it won’t be on Virgin.

  19. notallcompaniesarebad says:

    Many of the stories on this site appear to me to be blown out of proportion (especially since we only ever see one side of the story). It’s reassuring that a great number of consumerist readers are able to approach things in a rational manner. I just hope that the site issues an apology to those it has wronged — something I have not seen in the past.

  20. Boulder Guy says:

    “I was charged $110 for an ‘upgrade’ that was rendered worthless when someone was given the same service for free.”

    The logic of this statement boggles the mind.

  21. shdwsclan says:

    Yeah, you were guaranteed a seat for 110.
    Same thing when you reserve a game a toy’s r us, you can sue them if they sell a copy of the game to someone that did not reserve it and they ran out, since they are in breach of contract….

  22. TedSez says:

    It’s more annoying when airlines don’t do what this guy is complaining about. I’ve been on several flights recently in which the employees refused to move anyone to empty exit-row or bulkhead seats without paying extra, so those more comfortable seats just ended up being wasted.

  23. yahonza says:

    Appreciated the parable – people often forget that one.

    Have to agree – this doesn’t belong here, in fact, the airline deserves praise for offering the guy $40. Sounds like the guy is an elitist jerk.

  24. karmaghost says:

    That sucks for this guy, but I don’t think the chargeback would be justified, because he got what he paid for.

  25. RandomHookup says:


    I know little about the Bible, but that’s exactly the parable I was thinking about when I read this entry.

  26. bschaff1 says:

    This whole thing sounds like United Economy Plus in a way. The thing is with United Economy Plus i have free access to this because of my status with them and as a perk I am given this privilege. Now the only way that someone without status can gain access to this section of the plane is to pay an extra $29-99 fee or be bumped up if the standard economy section is filled. In the case that someone tries to snag one of these seats that hasn’t paid for it or has no status the flight attendant is required to stop them. If this is an economy plus seat in this case, then a refund should be issues, otherwise if it is an exit row, it was a mistake to upgrade. Also, the OP shouldn’t complain about the seat width, it’s not the airline’s fault that you can’t fit.

  27. unwritten07 says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, he wants two upgrades for the price of one?

  28. zolielo says:

    I still agree. P.S. Sorry about the typos in my last post. :)

  29. EtherealStrife says:

    Wow I’ve gotta hand it to virgin for offering the $40. A hell of a lot more than I would’ve done. I say Consumerist should write the airline and officially support their position (for what little it’s worth). You so often criticize companies on behalf of consumers, why not give em a thumbs up when the consumer is in the wrong?

    And as far as his logic, he should work for the MAFIAA. He’d fit right in.

  30. levenhopper says:

    Wait…what grounds would he have for a charge back?

  31. ThatDon'tFazeMeBro says:

    I am disappointed that this was posted because it gives support (albeit passively) to a meritless complaint. I’m also disappointed that it was recommended that “If he doesn’t get a good response, we advise kicking it up the ladder to the CEO or some other such high-ranking individual. CCing it to the DOT isn’t a bad idea either.” He needs to simmer down and realize that he RESERVED an upgrade seat.

    Adam clearly did (does?) not know that airlines will upgrade your seat or place you on an earlier, more expensive flight (i.e. stand-by) if you are polite and willing to risk not getting the perks.

    I hope that he reads these comments to see the error of his complaint and takes Virgin’s generous offer of $40. Not one comment has been supportive of his argument or his complaint, which is unsurprising. In the future, check with the gate desk to see how full the flight is and be willing to board the plane later to get a better seat if possible.

  32. erock0 says:

    what a baby

  33. smarty says:

    Cry some more. Consumerist, shame on you for posting this story. He asked for an upgrade and got it for a fee. It was his choice.

    For example, you can reserve a full size car at a rental agency, pay the going rate at the time, and GET A FULL SIZE CAR! Or you can rent a compact, pay the going rate at the time, and MAYBE GET A FULL SIZE CAR if they run out of compacts.

  34. ivieso says:


    yep cry some more

  35. Maulleigh says:

    You are like the jerk who sweated his ass off in the fields. The other guy who got the free seat was like the prodigal son who got the fatted calf slaughtered for him. Virgin Atlantic is like God: who are you to question his decisions?!!!

  36. Amy Alkon says:

    I’m with the guy who compared it to United’s Economy Plus. I pay extra for those seats because I haven’t been traveling as much the past few years (very frequent flyers get a free upgrade). But, to give a seat away next to me to just anybody when I had to pay for mine? Not cool, and probably not in line with airline policy. You want more leg room? Either pay for it in cash or by earning beaucoup frequent flyer miles.

  37. FlyRyan says:

    Wow…. and I thought my airline story got flamed (United Airways vs USPS video). I’m with the crowd though. I’ve paid the extra money to fly first class a bunch of times only to see someone get upgraded for free. I paid for the guaranteed seat and someone else took the risk of not getting it.

  38. coreyander says:

    This misguided complaint does highlight a great benefit of Consumerist to the blog reading public, so I don’t exactly think it should be deleted so much as put into proper context. Savvy consumers would already know that airline seat upgrades can be requested for free at the time of the flight and that such requests are often honored without additional charge. Those who might not have realized this can now read and learn from Adam’s experience and make a more informed decision about whether they would like to pay extra to guarantee themselves a nicer seat or try to request one for free.

  39. cabinaero says:

    @Amy Alkon: You’re right, it’s not inline with United’s policy. Flight attendents are supposed to boot self-upgraders from Economy Plus and aren’t supposed to be moving pax into E+ unless there is a valid operational or service reason (e.g., broken seat recline, overflow from E-), etc.

    If you see any deviations from this, write UAL.

  40. MentalDisconnect says:

    I can often get upgraded to a nicer seat for free because of my disability. I might make someone angry for doing this; I think that if the seats are open, why not give them to someone who really needs them like me? Of course, I see this as a kindness, and if I am really concerned about getting a better seat, like for a long flight, I will pay for the upgrade. I’m sure the guy feels like how I’ve felt when I’m standing in line, it’s a really long line, and then another line is formed and everyone behind me gets put into that new line. Perhaps a better example would be standing in line waiting for some item with limited supply, and after waiting for two hours you finally get to have one. But then after you get yours after standing in line someone just walks up and gets one. Yes, it feels unfair, but is it something to complain about? Maybe Adam will now not buy an upgrade and wait on chance to get one. But I bet as soon as he doesn’t get a free upgrade that he was really hoping for, he’ll regret his stance and buy next time. Happy flying!

  41. MentalDisconnect says:

    I just thought of another thing. Say 5 people got the premium seats, and one person was upgraded free. If all of the people who paid followed Adam’s thinking, then Virgin would end up paying 5 people to sit in those seats because of one free upgrade. Heck, those that bought seats can just keep buying seats and demanding refunds, getting their money back and a guaranteed seat. Bonus!

  42. Greeper says:

    Waaaaahhhh, what a little baby. Sounds like the kind of guy who wants his meal comped when his appetizer is a little too cold. Some people are willing to pay for something (before confirming that something is “better”), and some people are able to get it for free. Taking a risk and not having it pan out exactly the way you want doesn’t entitle you to compensation. Quit bitchin!

  43. Greeper says:

    Oh, and shame on Consumerist for their misleading Headline.

  44. Canadian Impostor says:

    @superlayne: Your comment makes it seem as if you’ve never flown before. First class is waaaaaaaaay more expensive than steerage, like five times more expensive.

    Flying first class is awesome, but when it’s my money I’ll just cram myself into a crappy seat and pass out with the aid of friendly chemicals.

  45. Bodrick says:

    I have a similar experience from a few years ago. Basically my Girlfriend had booked a flight from Detroit to Finland. I booked what I thought was the same flight, since I was flying in from a different location than she was. However I was booked on a flight that left an hour earlier. I only noticed this maybe a week before the flight, when my GF finally sent me her flight plans. I called up the airline to try and get on the same flight and they wanted an extra $1000 for the trouble.

    Now I was a little upset and had resigned myself to not being on the same flight and having to meet up at the airport in Finland. Luckily however my flight to Detroit got there early and I went over to the ticket agent and asked if I could be bumped to the later flight. She said that it was full and that she couldn’t, since it was already overbooked, but she bumped my GF onto my flight, since her flight would get in with plenty of time.

    The moral of the story, you pay for the guarantee, but sometimes its a lot lot cheaper to take the risk, and if you’re nice, the ticket agents usually are very helpful. My experience was a very positive one, I saved myself a $1000, and got my GF onto the same flight as me.

  46. notallcompaniesarebad says:

    @notallcompaniesarebad: Thank you consumerist for the mea culpa. I hope you continue to admit when you make mistakes (like all people, and yes, companies, do)

  47. bbbici says:

    the guy’s obviously fat too, as he complained about the seat being narrower.

  48. ccouvillion says:

    It would be interesting to find out the spectrum of prices paid for seats on a particular flight. I’m not talking about the difference between Economy and Economy Plus, but for equivalent seats.

    My wife and I recently booked tickets for a trip from Houston to Cincinnati. We checked prices and found round trip to be $280 or so. We checked with our respective workplaces the next day to get approval for the time off, then went back to book. The tickets had gone up $200 each (still four weeks out). It’s annoying, but them’s the breaks.

    Airlines seem to be able to charge whatever they can get for a seat. It’s quite likely that the person sitting next to you payed more or less than you did. Does that entitle either one of you to a refund? Nope.

    In Adam’s case, we have no idea what the total charge to either person was. The person who got the “free” upgrade to exit aisle may have paid twice what Adam did for his seat even with the upgrade charge… or half.

    As many others have said, Adam got what he paid for, a guaranteed seat in the exit aisle. Virgin Atlantic was being nice to offer him what they did, he should take it and run.