Why empty seats on "completely full" plane

I saw something interesting when I flew to Germany last week. The flight was packed, to the point that when I arrived at the check-in line a Lufthansa employee offered me a whopping $800 to fly the next day. They also weren’t able to fit all the stand-by fliers on.

Once in the air, however, I noticed that the six seats at the very rear, very right of our A330 were unoccupied, and that they didn’t let anyone move into them (well, to be honest, I don’t know that anyone near them tried to move over, but I would have…and they did stay vacant the entire 7-hour flight).

So what was up with that?

Might be a @Richard_Pearse kinda question.

Some possibilities:

  1. There was something physically wrong with the seats, for example the recline mechanism was broken and they couldn’t be secured in the upright position.

  2. In a similar vein, perhaps the drop down oxygen masks above those rows were faulty (something common to all of them, such as the mechanism that drops the masks.)

  3. The amount of fuel required to complete the flight meant that some passenger seats had to be sacrificed. If this was the case, you would still have been able to use the seats in flight, but not for take-off and landing.

  4. They didn’t have enough cabin crew to meet the crew to passenger ratio (1:50 around here).

That’s a few off the top of my head.

They might have been seats reserved for flight attendants when on break. I know on long flights that does occur.

Yes! Good point. I’ve never flown long haul so I forget about the whole “having a rest” thing they do :smiley: .

Ah, that’s interesting, that might be it…it was by the back galley, so that would make sense (I was about 13 rows up, so it would have been easy for me to miss them taking breaks). Thanks to you and Richard for responding!

Or if the plane is about to encounter severe turbulence or other emergency that requires everyone to be seated and belted in.

Is it possible a group of people bought and reserved those seats, even checked in on-line, but didn’t show up and board the plane?

Might a couple of seats be saved in case there are deadheading crew members showing up at the last minute?

I vote for seats reserved for use by the flight crew. Last year we were on the last car on Amtrak’s Empire Builder, and the last rows were marked as such. (Yes I know Amtrak is not an international flight, but the crews on both are there for a long ride.)

Those seats were made from a factory build on ancient Indian burial grounds and were haunted.

Seat location implies they are almost certainly the seats reserved for staff.
Remembering on long hauls with crew sharing jobs there might not be enough jump seats in the galley and cockpit where the crew typically sit for take off, landing and turbulence.
If you added all the bums on the plane including staff and the number of total seats, I bet it’d come out basically equal.

So if this was a long haul flight (not sure where the originating airport was), wouldn’t the crew have a dedicated rest area?

Like this (A330):
Combined lower deck mobile crew rest

And if so, would they still need passenger seats in the cabin?

I could be wrong, but I don’t think they can use the crew rest during take-off and landing. I don’t know that seats in the rear of the cabin would be for crew rest per se, as I would expect them to have more comfortable facilities for official rest, but they could be for crew seating in other circumstances.

As a point of reference, the B787 does not have enough crew rest for 4 pilot flights (only two bunks and one seat), so my old company had a requirement for a spare passenger seat to be available for a resting pilot if they wanted to sit rather than sleep. The OP’s situation is a different airline, and cabin crew rather than pilots, but it is conceivable that even with bunks for the crew, they also must have seats available.

Newer planes have hidden crew rest cabins, but I seem to remember flying trans-Atlantic on Lufthansa planes (767s, maybe) which did not. A couple of rows in the back with curtains to shut them off from the rest of the cabin.

It’s funny, I kind of wish I’d paid closer attention now as to whether crew ever sat in them. It was an overnight & I couldn’t sleep, I certainly didn’t have much else going on.

Is it possible they did it for weight and balance considerations?

Another point - sold out, no empty seats does not really mean that. Not sure how it works now, but it used to be those passengers who bought the premium ticket classes were guaranteed seats.

I remember one meeting I was at where the boss droned on and on. some attendees went and changed their noon flight to 3PM and then to the 6PM flight. They had the class of ticket that they could reschedule with no fee even though it was not first class, back then before the company got really cheap.

When they are calling out names and saying “OK, you got a seat” I assume this is when someone with one of those tickets reschedules to a different flight last minute and the seat becomes open.

OP says the stand-by flyers couldn’t all get on, which means it was as full as it can get.

Indeed. The OP was not only offered a lot of money for his seat, but after the stand-bys were called he watched a man yelling at the poor desk team because the man thought he’d gotten there before some of them and he wanted a seat.

Which brings up a question that someone who deals with airline tickets can answer about fare classes - how late can you get there if you are booked with an advanced class ticket and have no luggage?

Another point to remember - there are only so many “rewards flight” seats on an airline. Perhaps someone got standby with a rewards ticket, but if the seat opened up (i.e. the customer failing to check in) is not a rewards seat I assume sorry, no boarding.

A year before Covid, we were on vacation and on one leg due to fly from western Canada to NYC. They announced incentives for anyone who would give up their seats on the first leg at 7AM. There were plenty of flights to somewhere in the USA leaving that day. We told the gate - “we’ll do it if you can find us a replacement flight that gets us in sometime this evening to any New York airport.” (Instead of 1PM)

They couldn’t. that’s how full airlines were running some days.