As stressful as flying is, the events leading up to flying can be just as bad. You’re packed into an airport with a bunch of people who have no idea of what they’re doing. TSA workers can be crabby and bossy. You have to be worried about your flight being delayed or canceled, and all that entails
Meanwhile, there are all sorts of travel-related land mines you can hit:
- Being selected by the TSA for a swab test (here’s why they swab you. And here’s how to avoid getting a false positive)
- Getting the dreaded SSSS code on your boarding pass
- Getting the boarding pass code that’s worse than SSSS
And, of course, there’s something else you may see on your boarding pass: “See Agent.” Most people think it means you’re at risk of being bumped from your flight. But it’s more than that.
According to Condé Nast Traveler, there’s more information than you think encoded on your airline boarding pass. (Note from Sharon: here’s a bunch of the codes and what they mean). “One of those codes—’ see agent’ or ‘seat assigned at gate’—can be especially disconcerting,” CNT continues. “Contrary to popular belief, those words (the verbiage varies by air carrier) do not necessarily mean you are about to be bumped from your flight. Provided you have a confirmed reservation, there can be several reasons why it’s on your ticket.”
Here are other reasons why you may have “See Agent” on your boarding pass:
Additional documents are needed
If you haven’t already selected a seat, some airlines can’t automatically issue you a boarding pass with a seat assignment until they have all the required documentation.
That could be a visa, proof of COVID vaccination/negative test, or when your passport expires (although there are some exceptions, the general rule when traveling internationally is that you need at least 6 months of validity on your passport to be allowed to enter a country.). Once you give these to the airline, they can give you a seat assignment.
Your ticket needs to be reissued
There are some times when tickets have to be reissued by the airline. Examples can be if you’ve changed a reservation or if there was a disruption to your travel plans. If that’s happened with your travel plans, you probably won’t be able to print a boarding pass at all; instead, when you try to check in online or at the airport kiosk, you may get a document that says to see an agent.
If this is the case, it usually just means the ticketing agent on the phone or at the airport has to do some additional keystrokes to fix any problems. Or if you voluntarily changed to a different flight, there may be a difference in the fare you owe the airline. But most of the time it’s just a simple computer glitch that needs to be worked out.
Your flight is a code share
In its most basic terms, airlines that are part of alliances allow you to make a reservation on one airline through another airline (here’s a beginner’s guide to airline alliances and code sharing. And then there are the alliances you rarely hear about). Although these airlines can sell tickets for one another, they may not be able to do everything for each other. Seat assignments may be an example.
If you’re flying on an airline that’s different from the one from which you bought your ticket, try calling that airline in advance of your flight to make a seat assignment.
The airline opened certain seats
Some seats tend to be reserved for certain passengers. Examples are bulkhead seats for travelers with an infant that requires a bassinet, or seats with armrests that can raise for people with reduced mobility or passengers requiring additional space. Other seats may be held for frequent fliers who have elite status or crew who need to rest during their shift.
However as the flight gets closer and these “special” seats become assigned, there may be some that still haven’t been claimed. If these seats are still unassigned, they may become available; at first when check-in begins and then when the gate opens for the flight.
If you weren’t able to get your seat assignment ahead of time, keep an eye on your flight’s seat map; If you see a note to see the agent on your boarding pass, you may be in luck. As these “preferred” seats get “unblocked,” you may be able to score one of them.
Last-minute aircraft changes
Sometimes your flight is supposed to be on one plane and has to be switched to another plane at the last minute.
Different planes have different seat maps. You may have had seat 35C on your original plane but the new plane only goes up to Row 30. Or seat 35C is now an exit row (or used to be and now isn’t). The airline may want you to see the gate agent to review your options.
You have a basic economy seat
Carriers like Delta and American, “do not assign a free seat for basic economy fares until the ticket counter or the gate,” says Condé Nast. “These ultra-restrictive fares are usually the cheapest and come with limitations.”
If this is the kind of fare you booked, then “see agent” probably means the airline will give you a seat assignment just before boarding.
Your flight is overbooked
We did say that’s not always the reason why your boarding pass says “See Agent,” but unfortunately sometimes it is. You may have been bumped. Sorry.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary