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United Changed my flight without asking

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My wife and I have a round trip reservation on a United flight which included a Cancun to Dulles flight. This morning I received a email from United telling me that they changed our flight from our scheduled afternoon flight to a morning flight and that our seats had also been changed so we were no longer sitting together and not even in the same row.
I checked on line, and my original flight was still open.
I called United about this and the agent did change our reservation back to what it was originally. I did explain to the agent that a similar thing happened to us last year but last year only our seats on a connecting flight had been changed and I did not catch the change until we were on our way to catch a connecting flight. I also told the agent that after I purchased our current tickets, I called United and explained to the agent that I did not want the same thing to happen again. The agent told me that she would make a note of that.
I can't come up with a reason for why United felt it could do this.
Can anyone explain why United can change one's flight reservation without asking for permission from the customer in a situation such as mine?

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