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Qantas v Expert Flyer – The blocked/shadow seat mystery

Qantas v Expert Flyer – The blocked/shadow seat mystery

I have just been reading a discussion over at Australian Frequent Flyer about ‘shadow’ seats being granted to high ranking Qantas Frequent Flyers. Amongst the comments was an observation about the difference in seat maps on Qantas and Expert Flyer. Since I have access to both seat maps and a flight coming up next week, I thought I would take a peek at the difference.

Status has its privileges

I’m a Platinum FF with Qantas, and one of the first things I noticed when I achieve this status, was that I could get online booking access to seats on the first two rows (4 & 5) of domestic Economy. They seemed to be blocked out until a day or two before the flight, and then they became available. I would swoop down and claim seat 4C or 4D to get that extra legroom, and often a spare (also known as ‘shadow’ seat) beside me, with a Platinum One, or Chairman’s Lounge member at the window seat.

That seems to have changed recently – the seats in those first two rows seem to go pretty quickly, although I often still see a vacant middle seat when I am on the plane. I presume that the change is due to the reduction in flights to Adelaide (my regular destination from Sydney) and an increased number of higher status frequent flyers fighting for those front seats. Although I now suspect that the bar might have been lifted so that Platinum One’s and Chairman’s Lounge members can see these seats earlier than me.

Anyhoo, I might not be able to access rows 4 and 5 as easily, but at the risk of jinxing my next flight – I seem to be getting more ‘shadow’ seats in row 6 where I often find myself these days.

a screenshot of a flight map
Expert Flyer seat map on the left, Qantas on the right, Expert Flyer legend at the top

Expert Flyer v Qantas seating plans – blocked v booked

Have a look at those two, seat maps above. Now, remember that I am viewing the Qantas seat map as a Platinum FF. Everything I can’t access – whether booked or blocked, is marked with an ‘X’ on the Qantas seat map.

On the Expert Flyer seat map, I can see the difference between booked, blocked and vacant. Note that currently, rows 4 and 5 are blocked, not booked.

a person standing in an airplane

Reverse engineering from experience

Now it’s difficult to reverse engineer these seating plans, especially based on one flyer’s experience, but it seems consistent with the way Qantas respects premium FF’s that they would block off significant preferred sections of the plane. This may be done to make us premiums feel special, or it may be for operational reasons – to get relocating crew onboard etc. Here are my theories . . .

  • Shadow seats exist – and may or may not be attached to the frequent flyer – so they move with you
  • Shadow seats don’t exist – but are just blocked seats – and premium FF’s respect other FF’s space so tend not to book the middle seat if possible
  • Seats are blocked at a range of levels – and at a tipping point of capacity or frequent flyer status or a combination of both are released
  • Predetermined hierarchy with manual over-ride – shadow/blocked seats are allocated in line with FF status but can be over-ridden manually by authorised staff
  • Qantas uses AI or some complex and unfathomable algorythm to allocate such seating

Ok, what’s your theory?

2PAXfly Takeout

The higher your status the more likely you will have access to the best seats in Economy – usually at the front of the plane. Your status will also determine where you sit in the hierarchy for being allocated ‘shadow’ or blocked seats. However, its not a perfect system, so sometimes your ‘shadow’ seat may be lost to another high-status frequent flyer, or just because the flight is near full. That’s why you sometimes get an obviously infrequent flyer in those prime seats.

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