When Should You Switch Seats On A Plane?

Reader Abe emailed me an interesting question:

Would you change seats if a husband wife duo requested you do so even if it inconvenienced you either by meal choice, or took away your aisle seat, and turned it into a widow in the back?

I figured I’d answer it here, since I’m curious what you guys think.

With airlines holding back upgrade seats until the last minute nowadays, you see people trying to change seats all the time to sit with colleagues, loved ones, etc. So under what circumstances should you switch seats?

Typical domestic first class cabin. Nicer than the back, and free Bloody Marys, but... worth your miles?

You should never feel like you have to change seats

If you reserved a specific seat — for whatever reason — you have more of a right to it than anyone else. Now seat assignments are subject to change, but you should never feel pressured into changing seats, in my opinion. The fact that someone else didn’t plan in advance ultimately isn’t your problem.

Under what circumstances would I switch seats?

While I don’t think you should feel like you have to switch seats, I still will in a vast majority of cases.

My philosophy is quite simple:

  • I’ll honor a seat change request if it’s a similar type of seat (ie, non-bulkhead aisle for non-bulkhead aisle, bulkhead window on one side for bulkhead window on another side, etc.).
  • If I don’t have a strong preference otherwise, I’ll gladly swap non-bulkhead for bulkhead, aisle for window, etc. Nowadays I don’t care as much as I used to about where I sit. I’m usually an aisle guy, though I have no issues with a window. Unless it’s a transatlantic flight where I wouldn’t otherwise have direct aisle access, I’d gladly swap seats.
  • I’d be willing to go beyond that if the person is nice. If the person is presumptuous (like they’re already sitting in “my” seat when I get there, or they assume I’m fine with switching seats even though it’s quite a “downgrade”), then I’m less likely to go above and beyond.

Bottom line

Life is short, and I want to do what I can to help people spend as much time as possible with their friends and loved ones, even if it’s just a few hours on a plane. Personally I don’t really care about the order in which meals are taken, since for the most part I don’t eat domestic airplane food anyway.

First-Class-Food

That being said, I don’t count on the same courtesy in return. If I’m traveling with a friend or loved one and it’s a “reasonable” swap I’ll certainly ask nicely, but there are no hard feelings if they don’t honor it.

To sum up my thoughts into three bullet points:

  • You shouldn’t feel pressured to switch seats if you don’t want to, perhaps aside from extreme circumstances (like a young child being separated from a parent)
  • It’s always reasonable to ask for someone to trade for a “similar” seat
  • It can’t hurt to even ask for a non-even trade, as long as you’re polite about it and not presumptuous

What’s your philosophy on switching seats on planes? And does it differ whether you’re asking for the swap or being asked to swap?

Comments

  1. When I am traveling with my wife, sometimes her upgrades do not clear as early as mine and that often places us in a separated seats situation. Our first attempt (once her upgrade clears) is to first see if we can make a switch using the airline’s own seat mapping tool / app.

    If that does not work, then we try to look at what options would be left for us; ask someone in her row to switch, or someone in mine. It is rare that someone has not cooperated; only when they are also traveling with a companion – and that is clearly understandable.

    When the shoe is on the other foot; when someone asks me to move – whenever I am traveling alone (90% of my flights) I am more than willing to accommodate. However, Ben, I agree – it does matter how they go about it, or ask. But 99% of the time I am willing to move as long as I am not positioning myself into the last row against a bulkhead to my rear (or a similar seat with limited recline.)

    As long as I can recline and get some work done on the flight and still enjoy the same amenities I feel like it is paying it forward and I am happy to make someone else’s (especially a couple’s) trip all that more special for them. Flying etiquette is very important to me.

  2. Years and years ago, after I had got an emergency aisle seat in a three seat row in economy, I found that I was next to a couple and their 18 month / 2 year old. The mother actually said to me that she strongly recommended that I change seats, as the kid can screech from time to time. Bemusedly, I told her that I booked this seat for a reason, and I intended to stay where I was. It was obviously a ploy on her part to get a seat for the kid without paying for it. It was long haul – Paris to Bangkok.

  3. Yes I agree, but it’s the guilt factor or being shamed into forcing you to change, ironically this is happened to me on my two previous flights. I was paged at lounge level so I approached the associate at the desk and was told that here is my new boarding pass and that two work colleagues wanted to sit together on the flight
    Initially I thought What the ?!? The flight was ok, but not even an acknowledgment of thanks from the guys , and I didn’t really have a say in my seat change…
    Welcome to the era of self-entitlement my friends ! … It only gets worse from here

  4. Unless it’s a dead even trade or an improvement, my answer is always hell no.

    I especially hate it when a couple with two middle seats asks me to forfeit a middle/window seat and then pouts about it when I give them the predictable answer of no.

  5. Agree with points, sometimes I will, sometimes I won’t. But if someone is already in my seat with luggage stowed, I’ll almost guarantee I won’t switch (happened three times at least). And in one case they displayed a ever disappearing use of english until I got the F.A. to help.

  6. One time, I was flying United first from DEN-LAX. The man sitting next to me asked if his wife could trade seats with me so they could sit together. I said ok assuming that she was seated in first class and also because all domestic first seats are more or less the same. He texted her and she came to my seat to make the switch. Once I stood up I looked for an empty seat in first but there wasn’t one. When I asked her which seat she was in she said “oh, 25C.” I smiled and nicely said “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you were in coach when I agreed to this. Apparently, the husband did say it to me, but very quietly and without me realizing it. So they thought I legally agreed to moving to coach. I quickly hailed the FA and she made both of them move to coach!

  7. I remember when I was flying back from South Africa in college and a couple asked for my window seat so they could sit together — even though both of them were aisle. I said No, because it was an 18 hour flight and I reserved the seat to sleep over 4 months before. I have also asked other people to switch my window for their middle seat to sit next to my fiance. Most of the time, people are ok with switching there.

  8. I have learned from a few experiences, and finally by asking and being told it’s policy, that Alaska will take your seat to accomdate change requests from elites – This has happend quite a few times on Hawaii flights. I can’t say I’m crazy about the policy, but once it was made clear it’s transparent enough and if I wish to reevaluate my business relationship with them based on that, I can (I won’t, it’s not that big a deal – we’re talking about an F seat and they’re all acceptable).

    In cases where someone asks me, except when it’s an awful seat I’m being asked to move to, the most important thing is that it is a friendly request – free of entitlement or guilt tripping. If I get to my seat and someone else is already in it, that’s easy – the answer is no.

  9. I got asked if I would swap with a guys wife so they could sit next to each other. the problem being Id paid extra for the seat for the leg room and the other had none and I was on the London-Rio route so quite a long time. I politely explained that I had paid extra for the seat at which point he looked hurt and said he had been looking forward to sitting with his wife. When I pointed out that the lady sitting next to his wife would probably swap he went quiet and looked at the ground….. Queue noise canceling headphones!

  10. I had a CX flight from JFK to HKG stopping in Vancover and had one of the middle seats. A husband and wife were in the cabin and both were located in first class, but not next to each other. They asked me to give up the middle seat and switch to 1A which I was more than happy to do, because I wanted the window anyway but could not get it when booking with miles.

  11. I choose my seats months in advance & don’t relinquish them for anyone, except the elderly. If someone asks for my seat, he/she has:
    1. not planned in advance
    2. just received a boarding pass from standby or misconnect, therefore should be grateful for any seat
    3. just received an upgrade and should be grateful for any non-coach seat
    I witnessed a mother in coach bulkhead flying with her 5-year old in business, seated just in front of her. She was so transparent, obviously angling for an upgrade herself from the airline or a business passenger. She spent the entire flight leaning forward into the biz section to keep the child occupied. Shameless.

  12. Remember it isn’t always the passenger’s fault regarding seat assignments. On a recent trip back from Europe in business/first we noticed American Airlines changed our seats even though we had picked our seats together months earlier when booking. This isn’t the first time this has happened, another passenger traveling alone was kind enough to switch seats, same seat just next row up.

  13. Hmm…complicated issue. As a single flyer the majority of the time, I get pressured for the seat swap quite a bit on AA…oddly, despite being a long-time elite on UA (until the SMI/J era), I can’t recall ever being asked to swap seats on UA. I find this happens quite a bit on Latin America flights.

    More often than not, I don’t mind switching, especially if it means moving away from a crying infant. But, being tall, I do whatever I can to avoid sitting in the bulkhead in Domestic F. That is one where I flat out refuse. As we used to say in the fire service jokingly., failure to plan on your part, does not constitute an emergency on my part 😉

    I had one particularly memorable experience on AA ex-SJU. The guy behind me virtually demanded that I sit in 1A on a 757, and switch seats with him. I told him no. He proceeded to ridicule me under his breath for the remainder of the flight. It didn’t work. I often pay to sit in F, so I’m sorry…yes, I do feel entitled to sitting in the seat that I paid for!

  14. I had a windows seat and obnoxious guy was already sitting in my seat. He was traveling alone and just wanted a window seat. I had to threaten to call a flight attendant for him to move from the seat with him implying that the seat was his. All you had to do was look at the boarding pass and the seat letter to confirm the right seats. Later he had an argument with an Avianca flight attendant because he didn’t speak Spanish. I had to sit next to this jerk for the whole flight. If someone asks politely & has a need, ie
    wants to sit next to someone they know or wants an aisle over a middle seat for restroom access, etc., no problem.

  15. What is the best way to ask for a switch? As long as it’s reasonable (maybe a similar row change, but still window or aisle) it still feels awkward to ask, and embarrassing to be turned down. Any pointers would be helpful.

  16. My answer is no I wont,people are too deceptive today. I don’t fly a lot but I plan as far out as I can and I gernerally pay for upgrades so no I won’t swap and I don’t feel guilty. Flying has changed today and not for the good. I feel sorry for those of you that have to fly for business and put up with these experiences

  17. I agree with your criteria. Personally, if it’s a parent with a minor child I will of course move. Other than that, I will if it’s not a worse seat. Honestly, I don’t understand why spouses, sweethearts, etc., want to sit together. Presumably they will be together all their lives so what difference does it make? I’ve been in a great relationship for years, and I couldn’t care less whether we sit together on a plane or not. The exception is of course an overnight flight, because it’s a little disconcerting to think you’re with your loved one and you see someone else when you wake up. Are people that insecure that they can’t be apart for a few hours? I don’t get it.

  18. As the person who asked the question, I thought I should chime in. A couple who got a (assuming) last minute upgrade on a transcon AS flight. The wife was actually very polite in asking, and she asked if I would move from 1D to a dreadful 3F. I first asked her to ask the guy in 3D, who said no which was odd. Why wouldn’t you want to move up? When he said no, I said I would do it under one condition: she would allow me to order the chicken (which they always run out of) because I cannot eat pork on my diet. She said she would, and by that I inconvenienced myself and moved to a window without access to the aisle which is important on a 6.5hr flight. But as Ben said, life is too short to not allow others to spend it with family and friends, and just being a good person. Especially when the one making the request is nice about it. I have had experiences where real jerks wouldn’t switch for me, so I could sit next to a family member, to the same, if not better seat (one time was an exit row) just because they didn’t wanna move their laptop or something stupid.

  19. It can be a pain to switch even when the trade is for identical seats. Especially if bags are stowed and personal items are placed in the seating area. For those looking to trade seats, get there first and ask for a switch before the tradee sits down. That way, you are more likely to get a positive response.

    I almost turned down a battlefield upgrade for that reason. Almost.

  20. I tend to agree with the “no” responses. Generally, I have PAID to choose my seat (I’m a DL hub captive ), and I care very much about having an aisle seat. If it’s really comparable, or better, no problem, but my experience is that they want my aisle seat.
    But, what I always wonder (with spouses) is “you LIVE with this person and will presumably be with them 24/7. You can’t sit in separate seats for a few hours?” I was married 24 years, and it would never have occurred to me to ask someone to give up his or her seat.

  21. I have softened my rule because I’ve been experiencing more kindness when I need to get together with my wife than I have encountered rudeness or entitlement when being asked.

    I used to be strictly non-bulhead aisle for non-bulkhead aisle only, but three times in a row, folks have swapped aisle for window so we could sit together. (These are always transcons).

    So now, I”m open to swithcing to a window for couples or families (not for co-workers who want to sit next to each other). Still won’t take a bulkhead.

  22. Do unto others as you would wish them to do unto you.
    I always give up my seat when asked and will proactively offer if it looks like it’d be helpful. Never been asked to downgrade to coach from biz though.

  23. I was asked a few weeks ago to switch my window for the aisle and i told the lady no. She then said its her first time flying and gets motion sickness and would prefer to be by a window, so i switched. I am going to use that excuse from now on…
    I am low tier elite on several airlines and sometimes my wife comes on my work trips and we have different bookings. I usually book the best seat that i can for myself, knowing i am going to ask to switch to a seat in the back of the plane next to my wife.

  24. On an AA 777-300 DFW to HKG, I was in an aisle MCE seat in the middle section. The lady next to me asked if I would trade seats… to what was a restricted-legroom bulkhead in regular economy. I didn’t say anything. I just looked at her like she had to be kidding me. She asked the next guy who walked up and he said yes. I couldn’t believe it. On the 777-300, the difference between 10-across regular economy and nine-across plus extra legroom MCE, is almost as great as the difference between MCE and business class. It is not that MCE is that great, its that the regular economy on the 777-300 is so bad. The guy who traded his aisle MCE for a middle restricted-legroom bulkhead must have had no clue.

  25. A few years ago, before I knew better, I was asked by a GA to change seats. I agreed. I’m never making that mistake again. Of course, a GA/FA could force me to move, and in that case, I suppose I’d have no choice, but I’d put up much more of an argument than I did that time (which really wasn’t much of an argument at all). If someone’s to cheap to spend the $$ for their preferred seat, or not knowledgeable enough to plan ahead, that’s their problem, not mine.

  26. I’ve seen an airline move a minor away from his family on a long (14 hour) transatlantic flight because they assigned a seat for another passenger, a mother away from the bassinet (which was the size of a small playpen) attached to the bulkhead.
    The flight attendant had to obviously had to move the baby’s mother next to the bassinet. I wished the airline thought it through when they allowed the baby’s mother to purchase the ticket.
    The minor’s mother could not have moved because she had other younger children to look after.

  27. Happened to me on a LCC flight Stockholm-JFK a few weeks ago. Firstly, I chose (paid for) my seat allocation many months before. Chose seat 7D being the second row in Y, and an aisle seat in a 3-3-3 config. When I boarded my seat was ‘occupied’. I showed my BP to the guy, and told him he was in the wrong seat, and he needed to vacate. He said he wanted to sit next to his son, in 7E, and would I swap with him. Turns out his seat was 29E, a middle seat down the back, so I politely declined. By then the FA had appeared, and told him to return to his allocated seat. Now here’s the thing: sitting in my seat was pretty much the dealbreaker; I had selected my seat and paid for the privilege months beforehand; and the son was about 18-20 years old and didn’t need parental hand-holding. Their late booking (no awards here) resulted in 2 middle seats far apart; not my problem!

  28. You know, life is short and I like to take the opportunity to be kind at every turn. Today I changed my much loved aisle seat for a window seat. It was not like someone asked me for a kidney. It is just a seat. And yes, I payed full freight for my ticket. What frosts my flakes is when a couple takes my seat and when I board, they ask if it is okay if I take another seat. Then my answer is, “Freaking no.”

  29. Happened to me a week ago. The gate agent changed my seat without telling me anything. She gave me no choice. I asked the reason and she said the family wanted to sit down together. It was just a 40 min flight between SEA and YVR. No problem for me, but there might be a better way to ask someone’s favor.

  30. “But, what I always wonder (with spouses) is “you LIVE with this person and will presumably be with them 24/7. You can’t sit in separate seats for a few hours?” I was married 24 years, and it would never have occurred to me to ask someone to give up his or her seat.”

    Yes, If my husband and I get seated accidentally apart which seems to happen on the occasional flight due to unforeseen circumstances, I do want to sit next to him. My brother was in the Twin Towers…..I fly…..a fair amount, but I am still relive that moment every time I step aboard a plane….Outwardly, no one can see….thanks to ETOH and Zanex, I get through it…..but most of all, thanks to my loving and understanding husband….Sometimes, you just never know……

  31. My husband lived in MKE & I in LAS as our son didn’t want to go to his last few yrs in a WI high school without all his friends. Every time we took vacation we went overseas, flew 1st thru PHL or CLT via paid upgrades – never seats together (since upgrades done @ airport). Always asked nicely & politely for people to change aisle for aisle or win to win so we could sit together; got strange looks & usu a no. People skeptical but I showed em our drivers licenses & explained our unique situation in order to more likely elicit a yes. Most flyers are extremely jaded but in our case it wasn’t a lack of preparation. We would get to the airport 4-5 hrs ahead of the flt to try to get seats together which was the earliest possible depending on the airline. I probably saw husband ~3-4 times a year but he finally moved back to LAS after 3 tough yrs.

  32. Years ago I was on a United flight – 3-4-3 configuration and I had an aisle seat on the 3 side. A mother had the middle seat next to me and her 6 year old was 1 row ahead and then in the 1st middle in the 4 seat. She came at me with this demanding tone that I switch with her kid which I politely declined. She got mad and asked the older lady in the aisle seat next to her kid who also declined. She proceeded to be unpleasant to me during the flight. When we got up to leave I grabbed my stuff and turned away from her. She starts tapping me on the arm – at which point I whirled around and barked at her not to touch me and to leave me alone.

    Look I get it – you want to sit with your kid, but that isn’t my fault or emergency. Coming off as entitled isn’t going to get you anywhere with most people. Suggestion – if the kid had come up to me and said something like – my Mommy said to ask the nice lady if we can sit together – believe me I (along with most others) would have a much harder time turning that request down.

  33. I always fly with my husband and we pay (when necessary) to select seats at the time of booking. Additionally, I’m disabled and require his assistance with some things. So for us, switching seats would be an emphatic no, not ever. If I were not disabled, I would consider switching seats for a limited number of reasons, such as a parent needing to sit beside their young child.

  34. I’m willing to trade for an equal seat, but not a downgrade, which for me is a middle or window seat. I’m a restless flyer and get up often to go to the loo, so trust me, everyone in my row is happier if I’m on the aisle.
    One flight I was stuck in a window seat, and I politely asked the woman on the aisle if she would like to trade. She gave me a big grin, and told me she likes to sleep and couldn’t get a window seat and would be delighted to trade. Win-win. It never hurts to ask, but the very few times I have, it’s always been politely and for an equal seat. I’d never ask someone if they wanted my middle seat!

    Moira Tomayo – My husband and I are very independent people, and aren’t stuck like glue. However, when flying domestically, I bring snacks aboard for us that we share, and sometimes we’ve planned on watching a movie together on his laptop, so sitting next to one another is important.

    Neo – an airline allowed a two year old to sit in an exit row? Isn’t that against ALL airline regulations?

  35. I am always baffled by people who make such a big deal about where they sit. Its just a seat.

    Sure there may be special times when I am flying over a mountain range, or a take-off that offers a spectacular view, but usually from an aisle you can see pretty well.

    Then there are people who like/don’t like the bulkhead. Does the bulkhead really offer that much less/more space. I believe the bulkhead offers more because nobody leans on you, but you are forced to put you bag in the overhead compartment.

    I find people that fly in business or first to be more arrogant, and entitled, and are often less courteous. I am a loyal AA flyer. And fortunately because of my executive platinum status, I rarely find myself in coach.

    I guess I prefer a window seat, but really couldn’t care less. If I am on a long haul if I am at the window, nobody is going to bother me to get up to use the washroom. If I am in an aisle seat its easier for me to go to the washroom without needing to bother my seat mate. Mind you, about half the flights international have been on the new all aisle business class so that is a mute point.

    I think the most important consideration would be the meal order preference, for those times when I have not had my upgrade clear over 24 hours out, and not able to pre-order my meal.

    Really this is a rather silly topic. I am an aviation nut as the next person, and of course have seats I prefer, but the difference is so minute, I am always absolutely shocked that people care so much about the position on the plane they sit in.

    Its the food/beverage and physical seat in business/first that are most important.

  36. I’ve become too jaded to give up my seat. I am a solo traveler 80% of the time and am perceived to be easy pickings to anyone feeling entitled to my seat. Nope…ain’t going to happen.

    Three times this year I have been a victim of the pre-board scam. I arrive at my selected seat only to find one of the “those that need extra time getting down the jet way” crowd sitting in it. I’ve gotten the flight attendant involved in all three instances to get the squatter moved.

    Yeah, I sound bitter. But these days–to paraphrase the awesome Pat Benatar–domestic travel is a battlefield.

  37. This once worked in my favor! I was seated in the front row of coach on an AA flight from MIA to ORD. Next to me was a mother and child. The father was seated in first class, and came back and asked me if I would trade with him!

  38. Several years ago I was flying a redeye transatlantic in coach. I booked early to avoid the awful middle seat and reserved an aisle. When boarding the flight attendant asked our row if someone would switch to an middle seat so that a mother can sit with her child. The last thing I wanted was to switch but felt the pressure that I have to. The FA was quite pushy and made sure to treat all passengers who declined like sh** the rest of the flight. I was never re-positioned after booking, I was not aware that seats can change even for those who have planned ahead, so thanks for pointing that out. In the end I think it’s worth to be helpful and supporting wherever possible. However a redeye middle seat in coach is a though one to practice kindness…

  39. Candice – “However, when flying domestically, I bring snacks aboard for us that we share, and sometimes we’ve planned on watching a movie together on his laptop, so sitting next to one another is important.”

    If it’s that important you will book far in advance to get the seats you want. The person who’s seat you ask for probably had plans to be comfortable as well. Your having to share snacks and watch a movie on your laptop trumps their desires? SMH.

  40. A few years ago I had booked an aisle seat on an A330 flying from Tel Aviv to Philly. The woman sitting next to me (in a middle seat) asked if I would switch with her since she gets up often to go to the restroom. I very reluctantly said yes, because I had to sit next to this person the whole flight and didn’t want her to be upset with me. Guess what? On that entire damn 13-hour flight, she didn’t get up even one time. I know because I couldn’t get a wink of sleep in that middle seat.

  41. I’ve actually been that presumptuous jerk once when a change of plans meant my wife and I had to book on separate routings. Went ahead and sat next to my wife in the bulkhead row of economy. Guy did the usual “I think you are in my seat” thing, and then I sprang my seat switch plan. I take his middle seat in economy and he takes my seat 1A in first class. Needless to say he didn’t hesitate and looked like he just won the lottery. I think that one worked out okay. =)

  42. I will switch seat if I am offered a seat in a higher class than the one I am sitting. 🙂 I saw that happen when I was sitting on international business class on AA and a guy came from first and asked a passenger sitting next to his girlfriend on business if he would mind taking his seat in first so he could sit in business next to his girlfriend. Now, that is love!!!!! 🙂

  43. I fly a lot for work and have been asked to move on only 5% of my flights. One time flying from Dallas to LAX I changed seats 4 times on the same flight (I kid you not) in the first class cabin to accommodate partners and friends. We were all laughing about it. It is very important to offer a comparable or better seat to the person you are trading with.

  44. Happy to move for someone on a regional flight less than 3 or 4 hours in length. However, if it’s moving to a middle seat I may choose to stay. Hesitant to move for an international flight (5+ hours), depending on the seat. Both of these apply if it’s in the same class or I would receive an upgrade. If someone is already sitting in my seat, unless I would receive an upgrade, they are not getting my seat.

  45. Unless I’m traveling with a friend or family, I’ll always do a like-for-like swap (unless the counterparty is obnoxious about it), and will consider an aisle-for-window trade if it’s a relatively short flight. (I absolutely hate having to ask people to move if I have to go to the lavatory.) Of course, I’ll take an upgrade anytime! 😀

    Since I usually travel alone, and have made seat reservations in advance when traveling with someone else (and been lucky enough to always have them hold up), I’ve never asked someone to move for me.

    I did have one bad experience once on a TPA-LAS flight (back in the day when there was such a thing) when a guy in a middle seat asked me to trade with him so he could have the aisle seat across the row from a friend. I declined, partially because at the time I had a medical issue that required me to visit the lavatory every 60-90 minutes or so, and partially because he could have just asked the person in the center seat next to his buddy to trade like-for-like, or asked the person in the aisle seat to trade with his buddy, again like-for-like, but by trying to swap with me he was angling for a better seat.

    Well, he freaked out and started screaming at me because he supposedly hadn’t seen his friend in so long, and where did I get off being so unfeeling? I pointed out the two like-for-like options he and his friend had, and that I had selected my seat weeks in advance and he could have done the same, but the yelling (and swearing) continued for a few more minutes, when the FA finally came and told him to sit down and be quiet, but he kept on complaining, quite loudly, to everyone around him (and the FA) about what an evil person I was.

    The woman in the aisle seat next to him took matters into her own hands and offered the friend a swap, which he accepted – he had looked completely mortified since the yelling first started and jumped at the chance to put an end to the matter (although he didn’t lift a finger to actually take that solution when I suggested it, being at least a silent accomplice in his friend’s seat improvement scheme.) That wasn’t quite the end of it, though, since Mr. Loudman then stood up, pointed at me, and crowed that despite me, things had worked out. I just yelled (yes, I admit I had lost my patience with him by now) that I had suggested that exact solution 10 (effing) minutes before, but that he just wanted an excuse to get a better seat. The rest of the flight passed without incident, thankfully.

  46. I’m a creature of order and spend a lot of energy fretting and organising specific seats on a plane. Some of my most horrible trips were on Ryan Air where there were no seat assignments at all. It was like the Hunger Games when they threw open the door and my travelling party was sprinkled throughout the plane. That was when I was young and relatively mellow, I couldn’t handle it anymore.

  47. OK – had to comment on this due to what happened on a recent trip. I really really don’t care for AA, but since the airport is literally 5 minutes from my house and they are the only airline that currently services it, it’s either deal or drive 3 hours to a larger one.

    I had booked 4 months in advance so my husband and I could sit together. Well, lo and behold, when I print out the boarding passes, even though the seats were supposedly together when I purchased them, they are no longer – both window seats one in front of the other in 1st class.

    After calling AA, I was told this type of “glitch” happens all the time and to ask the ticket agent when we got to the airport who was no help. Long story short, after sitting in our assigned seats, I kindly asked the person who showed up to sit next to me if they would mind switching and they jumped at the chance to switch to my husband’s window seat, so it worked out just fine.

    Then on our flight back, even though I had paid for upgraded seats online there was evidently another “glitch” and we had to argue with the ticket agent who did not listen to what we were trying to tell them and were eventually given the seats we paid for – sheesh!

    So, my point is, those types of “glitches” happen all the time and it may not always be the person’s fault…

  48. I’ve been flying 50-70k domestic per year for the past 2 years and surprisingly have yet to be asked to move! I’m definitely game to move unless it’s a terrible swap or the person was rude.

    I did witness one really weird incident which caused some drama on a US flight about 7-8 years ago (I *think* it was DCA-TPA). I was in 7A. An older solo female passenger was seated in front of me in 6A. A family with a middle school aged kid boards, the father is in 5A and the wife and kid were in 6 B & C. The father asks if 6A would swap with him – one row up, same exact seat… you’d figure the woman wouldn’t mind, but oh boy did she mind!

    The father asked politely if she would be willing to exchange seats so he could sit with his family, “excuse me ma’am, sorry to bother you but I’m seated right in front of you, would you mind swapping with me so I can sit with my family please?”… the woman screamed, “NOOOOO!” at the top of her lungs. She then proceeds to yell, seemingly with all of her power, “I chose this seat, I chose this seat, this is MINE! NO!”… everyone around him was speechless. This was a grown woman in her late 50’s screaming.

    The FA was at her seat seconds after her second “I chose this seat!” and tried her best to diffuse the situation. She explained that the seat was exactly the same, but the woman yelled (like she was in a stadium), “You will not do this to ME!”

    The FA asked the 2 people in 5 B & C to swap with 6 B & C and everyone was more than happy to accommodate and shut her up. 6A was hopelessly looking around for support while going on and on about how it was her seat. Once everyone was settled, the FA said to 6A, “your an awful person and you’re not getting any service today”… once service began, the FA offered everyone in 5, 6, and 7 (hooray!) a free beer or wine “for dealing with that awful woman”. The FA even pointed at 6A when she said “that awful woman”. It was awesome!

    I purchased noise canceling headphones before my flight home.

    Looking back on it now, I feel like nowadays an adult screaming like that would be promptly escorted off the plane.

  49. Got a good one! Red eye flight NY to MKE maybe half full. FA announced that a mother with 3 kids, flying for the first time, was boarding after a flight from Floida.Then shares that she was seating them in back as all three kids were airsick on first leg of journey! Aside from two FA’s I was the only other female on the flight! Every man on the plane promptly moved to the front and collected all the “bags” from the seats. FA had one child on her hip the entire trip, mother had one, I took the last one!
    Never saw that many men change seats without being asked! Made for a busy flight!

  50. First try didn’t work, let me try again!
    I have a good one for everybody! How about all men on a flight changing seats without anyone asking!
    On a red eye flight between NY and MKE, FA announces that a woman with three small children would be boarding after a flight from somewhere in Florida and all three children were air sick! She then told them she would seat them in the back! She felt obligated to share info.
    As the plane was only half full every man made a beeline for the front! One man was nice enough to collect the airsick bags from their seats and bring them to the back!
    As I was the only woman aside from the FA’s on the plane, mother had one, the
    FA took one and I took the third!
    Made for a busy and interesting flight!
    My family was in shock when I walked into the airport carrying a small child at which rate I startled my husband by telling him that ” he followed me home! Can I keep him?”

  51. So – a few years ago, I was taking a transcon on Alaska SEA-DCA (or was it DCA-SEA? I’m not sure). Since I was MVP Gold at the time, I got a First Class upgrade to 2D, nuts and Alaskan Amber, here I come! I was quickly seated and looking through the inflight magazine, wondering what movie to watch (on the old Dig-E-Players).

    Near the end of the boarding process, a soldier in camouflage uniform came straggling in, and it was clear he was young and nervous about something. I overheard one of the FAs thanking him for his service, and “welcome back.”

    Having served, I knew young troops never got a chance to really relax or enjoy their travels, so I stood up and asked him where he was sitting. I grabbed my carry on, and told him thanks for his service and that he could take my seat. His shocked face was priceless, I think he was too stunned to say anything. Before I headed back to the middle seat somewhere near the rear lavs, the closest FA commented that I was very nice, and she made sure I was taken care of with drinks and a Dig-E-Player back in coach. Not saying everyone should do this, but it was one time I remember I was happy to be sitting in coach instead of up front.

  52. Just returned from LHR to BOS on a daytime BA 747 flight in Business Class. Flying on separate award tickets my wife and I were assigned split up seats. She had a window and I had middle facing backward. At online check-in time I had just missed moving to the empty seat next to her by a few seconds when someone else grabbed it. My middle seat was the rear bulkhead seat, so access to the aisle was not an issue. I asked the man who had the seat next to her if he would change with me. When he saw it was a middle seat he said absolutely not. Same seat, same aisle access. I felt he was being a dick, but I didn’t glare at him as he got it fair and square.

  53. I always move if the new seat is an equal trade. I specifically try to travel in aisle seats when i travel coach class. So aisle for an aisle is good. i would move to a center seat if the request was from a family with a child. Since I hate people who would not accommodate my family if we were travelling together so I try to be as accommodating as possible for others with hopes that others would extend the same courtesy. Most of the airlines now offer all Aisle seating in business class so moving is never really a big problem.

  54. I’ve found that when I sit in an AA MCE seat or a comparable product on another airline I almost never get asked to switch (since usually elites would be able to request a spouse or friend to sit by them), but back when I didn’t have status it happened fairly regularly. My own rules are elderly, disabled (or crutches…), mom and child I will almost always switch on domestic (int’l depends if i need to sleep). Couples and friends I’m fine if it’s the same type of seat moving closer to the front or down if it’s just a row or two. Other than that no thanks.

    The times when i book a late flight and can’t sit by my wife I book the best seat I can and ask the person to trade as soon as they get to our row. Both times it’s been no problem.

  55. A few years back I moved 3 times on a Qantas flight from Tokyo to Melbourne.

    It was a late transfer after my flights from LHR via HKG were cancelled due to a typhoon, so no choice of seat. I’m 6’5 and ended up jammed against a bulkhead.

    Not long after takeoff the FA advised me the back row of 3 was available and I was there in a flash. I laid flat and relaxed until 2 hours in when the same FA asked if I’d switch with an elderly woman whose ankles had swollen up and needed to be elevated. No problem.

    I took her aisle seat in middle of coach and nodded off. Few hours later another tap on the shoulder, different FA: old woman was OK and wanted to return to her seat next to her hubby. Would I mind going back to my row of 3 up back? You bet!

    I enjoyed my “lie-flat” seats rest of the way. After the final meal service I chatted a bit with the FA’s involved and one apologised for moving me all over coach. I jokingly responded with an upgrade request: “Since you’ve moved me all over the place, could you ask the pilot to swap seats with me… I think I can bring this thing home from here.” Reply came back: “Well, I’ll put in the request… but no guarantees!”

    End of the flight I was one of the last to leave and the FA’s stopped me to pass on their thanks for being cooperative, along with a bottle of champagne from the nearby galley. Bonus! (found out later it was worth just over $100). A great end to a chaotic day.

    Moral of the story? Help others in genuine need, and those just trying to do their jobs. It works out well for everybody.

  56. I won’t swap at all anymore. I am that selfish guy.

    I have been flying several times a week for years, and get asked frequently. Most of the time it’s an offer for a worse seat because grownups apparently cannot be apart for a few hours. Sometimes it’s more sneaky because my seat is a premium seat..such as an exit row aisle, an extra legroom seat, a first or biz class seat, or at least an aisle in coach and they simply covet it. The longer the flight is going to be, the more seat poaching you get.

    Older people play up being infirm and senile. People who don’t speak English as a first language suddenly don’t speak it at all. Others list unverifiable maladies around bad knees or claustrophobia. Threats include being sick, a screaming kid, incontinence, panic attacks…and none have ever manifested when the bluff is called.

    The fact of the matter is, it is a competition. It starts when the flight is released for booking, and it starts months out. If you are savvy and skilled, you can get the seats you want well in advance. You book online, you fork over some extra money, you leverage your status with the airline, and you keep checking that seat map until boarding begins at the gate. Other people lack the skills and knowledge and leave it up to the fates of the computers at the airline. Others are even more out of touch and check in 20 minutes before departure as if it were 1985, and then wonder how they ended up in the middle by the lav in the back. If I have a better seat, it’s because I won it. I win, you lose. When you win a race, you don’t run back on the track and hand your medal over to the guy in 14th place just because he really wants it.

    If you failed to plan, it’s not my problem

    If you got hosed with last minute operational things like cancellations or missed connections..that’s terrible. But it’s STILL not my problem, and you should be happy simply to have a seat at all. Take what you get and be grateful.

    If you are a grown up and your companion is over 14…sorry, you really don’t need to be together. I don’t care about separated adult couples, colleagues, or friends. You can be apart for a few hours.

    Even if there are little kids, I will resist in the hopes that the cabin crew will sort out the musical chairs with someone else, elsewhere in the plane. The airline separated them, the airline can sort it out instead of me.

    I don’t offer excuses. I simply say “No thanks, I will keep my seat” and leave it at that. Further protestations and I will ring for the FA.

    I don’t care what they or anyone else watching thinks of me. I will never see these people again. If they are offended that I would not give up my seat for an old lady hamming it up, then they can put their money where their mouth is and offer up their OWN seat.

    Equal for equal? Truth is, I cannot be bothered. I have already settled in.

    People complain about a lack of common courtesy, but my take on it is this: Common courtesy on a plane is first and foremost taking what you get and not bothering anyone else. When I end up in bad seats, I simply accept it. Why can’t others?

  57. I agree Dr. Dan. My most recent incident…
    I had to pay over $700 for a SEA-MSP-SEA ticket. I am MVP so got a bulkhead aisle (I don’t want windows or middles due to climbing over sleeping/working aisle people). Near departure the middle seat was open next to me and the person in the window seat got a last minute First Class upgrade. Then the family of 3 showed up. Hubby had middle seat across the aisle and wife and 10 or 11 year old next to me. Then husband asked me if I would switch for a MIDDLE seat between 2 large people. I politely refused saying I didn’t want the middle seat. Nothing was said for the entire flight. Btw, the kid played video games the whole time and when I checked on the dad he slept most of the flight. As we were deboarding the husband tapped me on the shoulder and said, “excuse me, do you have children?”. I answered, no. No response from him, but I know if I would have said yes he would have chastised me for not understanding why he could not be more than 6 feet from his kid for 3 hours. I almost wish he had started something cuz I was ready to rumble.

  58. Years ago on a HK-Tokyo flight, a couple who boarded at the last minute wanted to sit together. An FA asked me if I would move to accommodate them. I told her I had made my reservations 6 weeks before and had asked for the specific seat I was in, so sorry, but no. I also told her I didn’t think she should be polling the other passengers in First for two people who couldn’t be bothered to make their reservation in time to get the seats they wanted. She gave me the stink eye for the rest of the flight — and I sent a letter to UA’s chief FA and reported the incident.

    I would move to a comparable seat for a mother and child. I wouldn’t even move for that if it meant taking a downgrade, nor would I expect someone to move for me. You get the seat you get, period.

  59. I’d boarded an Asiana flight from Seoul to Hong Kong and took my aisle seat. When the boarding process was about to end and no one was seated in the middle seat next to me, I thought it was my lucky day.

    However, a FA came up to me and told me to switch to an aisle seat in a middle row that already had three other passengers. He said he needed my seat and the seat next to mine for two late-boarding passengers who wanted to sit together.

    Not aware of my rights and not wanting to cause a scene, I agreed. However, it turned out that only one passenger had boarded and she took my seat. Her alleged companion never showed up, so she placed her bag on the middle seat (which should have been a violation because bags should be stored in the overhead bin or under a seat).

    I thought I was deceived on what was, otherwise, a satisfactory flight and wrote a letter to Asiana to air my grievance right after landing. Not surprisingly, I never got a response.

    Hence, the next time a FA asks me to change seats in favor of passengers who want to sit together, I’d take a long, hard look at the situation before deciding. Apparently I can defy the FA’s request so long as it doesn’t relate to safety.

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