There’s more information than you think encoded on your airline boarding pass. One of those codes—”see agent” or “seat assigned at gate”—can be especially disconcerting.
Contrary to popular belief, those words (the verbiage varies by air carrier) do not necessarily mean that you are about to be bumped from your flight. Provided you have a confirmed reservation, there can be several reasons for why it’s on your ticket. Here are a few explanations.
You bought a basic economy fare
Some airlines—like American, Delta, and United—do not assign a free seat for basic economy fares until the ticket counter or the gate. These ultra-restrictive fares are usually the cheapest and come with limitations. If you bought one of these fares and you see a note asking you to see the agent, you’ll likely be assigned a seat before boarding. You won’t be able to choose where you sit, but you should have a confirmed seat on the plane. There is no need to even see the agent as many airports may display your seat assignment on the gate information screen allowing you to use the existing boarding pass to board.
If you change your mind, or didn’t mean to purchase this bargain-basement fare, most airlines let you “buy up,” paying either the fare difference or a small fee to upgrade to the next fare offering so that you can select a seat before getting to the airport.
You’re booked on a codeshare flight
Airlines sometimes partner with other carriers to allow them to sell seats on their own planes and vice versa. Airlines must disclose if your flight is operated by another carrier, and on occasion with a codeshare, it is not possible to assign a seat in advance. This could be because the airlines use different computer systems and don’t have access to each other’s seat maps. Or it could be because the airline didn’t receive advance information on the seat you selected. If you find yourself flying another airline than the one from which you bought your ticket, try calling that airline in advance of your flight to make a seat assignment. Typically, they assign one on their end to help you avoid the “luck of the draw” at the gate.
You need to show additional documents
Another reason that your boarding pass may say “see agent” is that certain travel documents need to be verified. If you had not previously selected a seat, some airlines cannot automatically issue a boarding pass with a seat assignment until the documents are checked. These can include everything from COVID vaccination checks to destination entry visas and passport expiration dates. If you have the right documentation, it shouldn’t be an issue to handle it at the gate and get a seat.
Your ticket needs to be re-issued
When you make a change to a reservation or there was a disruption to your travel plans, some tickets may need to be re-issued by the airline. If this is the case, you normally wouldn’t be able to print a boarding pass at all, but online check-in or an airport kiosk may print a document that says to see an agent. It may require some additional keystrokes by a ticketing agent on the phone or at the airport to correct any problems. If you changed voluntarily to a different flight, there may be a difference in fare you owe, but in most cases, it’s just a simple computer glitch that needs addressing.
The airline has blocked seats
Airlines often block seats to assign closer to departure. These are reserved for travelers that require infant bassinets (bulkhead seats), frequent fliers with elite status, are crew rest seats, or those with armrests that can raise for people with reduced mobility or passengers with requirements for additional space. On the day of departure, the airline begins to release these seats.
If you were not able to make an advance seat assignment, keep an eye on the seat map as these seats will begin to open up once check-in begins and then once the gate opens for the flight. 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. Be friendly (but not pestering) to the gate agent, and you could be at the top of their list.