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Asking to seat swap-what if it happens to you?

Hardly a day goes by where we don't read new stories of poor passenger behaviour on flights. It's been more than two years now since my last flight, and at that time I posted on this forum about being knocked in the head several times by passengers with oversized carry-ons. At the time I asked if it was the fault of the passenger for not following the rules or the airline for not enforcing them. Since then, as I read more and more stories, I'm starting to side with airlines on passenger behaviour issues. I'm not sure if this latest is a behavioural issue, but this one story seems to have circled the media outlets around the world. In summary, a woman went to the internet to plead her case after being refused by another passenger to switch seats so she could sit with her 10 year old daughter.

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-10732065/Woman-paid-44-plane-seat-refused-mother-child.html

Years ago, when my kids were about 7 and 5 and seat selection wasn't something you had to pay for, our flight from LAX to Calgary was cancelled. We were put on a flight to San Francisco and then on a flight home. My issue was that our seat assignments from SFO to Calgary weren't honored and we ended up in 4 different sections of the plane. The gatekeeper had no interest in helping me and told me to ask the fight attendant once we boarded. I did that and she shrugged her shoulders and told me to try to arrange it myself. It ended up not being much of a problem when some kindly senior couples noticed my concern and offered themselves up without my asking. My kids and I ended up seated together with my wife happily sitting by herself far away from us.

In this new era of paid seat assignments and unruly behaviour by some, I'm wondering in what circumstances would you be willing to swap seats or what your reaction would be if asked.?

Posted by
8151 posts

After a very negative experience, I just say “no.” There could be an exception to this if extreme circumstances, but for the most part, just no. Failure to plan or pay for seat assignments on the part of someone else is not my problem. You won’t sit next to your spouse for a few hours? You will both survive.

Posted by
2228 posts

I've flown on a whole lot of aircraft types, and I know which rows and which seats are for me and I pay the extra to reserve those particular seats, so I'm not very amenable to change requests unless there is something in it for me as well i.e. do I hear upgrade?

Posted by
2267 posts

There are lots of factors for me to consider when asked to switch, and unfortunately, it's harder to ask and weigh them all with a certain amount of pressure. If/how much I paid for seat selection. How pleased I am with my own seat (I'm rather particular, but care less when I couldn't get what I wanted.) Length of flight. The seat being offered in return. The requesting passenger's situation ie: needing to sit with young children vs wanting to sit next to a spouse/partner/friend.

I know that seat assignments go haywire on missed flights and the like, but I have little to no sympathy for people who simply chose not to plan ahead.

Posted by
8328 posts

Agreeing with Scudder. I will switch if its an equal or better seat, some of which depends on how large the person I'd be sitting next to would be. But not just because someone doesnt want to sit in the middle seat. If I had to make the effort to get my preferred aisle seat, then I have no sympathy for people who didnt.

I believe I've been singled out for asking to swap, even when traveling with someone, because I looked like a "nice guy" - the FA's singling me out not even knowing (or asking) if I have a reason for wanting that seat that might be as valid as the other person. If the airlines want to accommodate people with child issues, then they need to go to the Southwest Airlines model, where people choose their own seats, and people with small children board early. I think a 10-year old kid is old enough to sit by themselves.

Now, the unruly behavior issue is a whole other thing. I don't see the airlines making any meaningful attempts to address things like excess carryon baggage or rude, demanding, entitled passengers. If things have to escalate to violence before someone gets a hand slap, then they're at fault for not enforcing their rules. It seems like once the plane lands, all is forgiven.

Posted by
569 posts

Many years ago I arrived at my preselected window seat to find it filled with an infant. The parent then pointed to the empty aisle seat which she had apparently abandoned. I was internally furious at this lack of manners. A polite request on her part beforehand would certainly have received acceptance.

Depending on the situation, the flight duration and the exchange being requested I’ve obliged and I’ve declined.

Edit: I should have noted that I simply sat down in the aisle seat without saying a word about the situation.

Posted by
2697 posts

I look at this differently since this: many years ago we were returning from a cruise. The flight from Florida to California was canceled and the airline put us on another flight, two adults, four kids ages 6-14. But we were scattered all over this large airplane. The only cooperation we received was from one person who allowed our disabled 10 year old to sit with us. As we are getting closer to Sacramento (which was building a second terminal and runway at the time) the pilot announces that the departure airport had found tire fragments on the runway. No way to tell if this was from us or another flight. His plan was to circle the tower a few times so that they might have a look. But, he said we would land on the just completed but not in use runway as it was much longer and land as if a tire was blown-very slowly with a very long time before braking. We we’re then re-educated on the crash position. As we approached the flight attendants all began to yell for us to assume the position. My wife and I briefly looked around and saw our terrified kids many rows away. We were sure this was it, we’d never hold them again. Well I’m writing this so you know that didn’t happen. We landed with fire engines racing along both sides of the plane, then taxi’d the long distance to the terminal, cheering all the way. So folks, if parents are separated from their kids and you are asked to help out, think twice before saying no.

Posted by
1807 posts

I always carefully choose my seat and pay the extra. I would never give up my forward area, aisle seat, especially if someone wanted me to scoot over to the middle or it meant I had to sit next to a small child. Other than that it would depend why they were asking and how they were asking. If it was just so 2 people traveling together wanted to sit together, I probably wouldn't move.

Posted by
247 posts

I was asked to swap my aisle seat for a middle on an 8-hour redeye flight (the couple had both middle seats). for the first time, i thought of myself first and refused (as much as i hated it and would have liked to see them together). a middle seat on an 8 hour redeye flight is a nightmare scenario for me. I was proud of standing up for myself, the man was probably upset. they asked another man and he said "i have long legs, aisle only please"

nothing personal, i would have gladly swapped for a aisle seat. the Lufthansa attendant did help them eventually.

Posted by
6900 posts

I have had both experiences, and I always purchase our tickets months in advance. We were flying from the Midwest to Oregon when our kids were toddlers, and our first plane was delayed because of an ice storm. For our new second flight, all of our new assigned seats were middle seats. No one would switch. It was horrible having our little kids sitting with strangers.

I have had people ask to switch seats. If it’s two adults, I will switch if it’s a similar aisle seat. If not, I keep my original seat. But for parents/young kids, I try to be helpful and switch.

Posted by
1324 posts

For most of us the answer appears to be situational. Is there a "good" reason for the request, is the switch an even one or upgrade? I've volunteered to swap when the need seemed obvious (youth or infirmity), I've asked to make an even swap (aisle for aisle or window for window) in order to sit with my young children but would never ask to swap unless it was at least even nor would I simply to sit with my friend or partner. The most recent time I was asked to swap was for a premium economy aisle for the premium economy middle in order to accommodate a dead-heading pilot. Apparently the pilot's contract requires that they always get a PE aisle. I was offered a bunch of frequent flyer points and throughout the flight was given ample opportunity to receive extra alcohol.

Posted by
2228 posts

"the airline put us on another flight"

Were there better seating options for you on later flights?

Posted by
2581 posts

I choose my seat very carefully--aisle, and I am partial to the aisle of the middle row as that leaves just 1 person trying to get up. I am not likely to give that up for anything but another aisle seat...I'd need to see what else was sitting in the proposed swap area, too--my recent trip to London was a nightmare both ways thanks to the proximity of young kids one flight and then a baby that cried non-stop for 10 hours--distance might have helped in both cases.

I generally travel solo, but on a trip last year with a boyfriend who got his ticket long after I did I was perplexed as to why he was so unhappy about not sitting with me--I had a good book and movies so I was quite content.

Posted by
4180 posts

Like so many other things, the government could fix this by requiring airlines to seat certain categories of flyers in close proximity-parents with children under 12, people over 75 or who have disabilities. There is no excuse for Jean's situation. The airline should have been the ones to reassign the seats of others. But clearly the consumer agencies funded by our tax money have little interest in serving the people, even when it's low-hanging fruit like this.

Posted by
2228 posts

ZERO need for government intervention.

It's all part of travel planning, need special seating, book flights that allows you to get your seats grouped together.

Posted by
5293 posts

The newspaper article refers to a TUI flight, which was likely to have been booked as part of a package holiday. Their terms and conditions state that seats together on the plane are not included in the base cost and if you want to guarantee them then you need to buy 'select your seat' which allows you to reserve 2 weeks before the flight. So the people not paying were taking a chance.

I have swapped seats and not swapped seats over the years. In economy I would not give up the aisle.

Posted by
2053 posts

One man boarding late found the overheads full at his row of seats. All were full all around his seat area but he tried to stow his bag several seats in front of his seat. He tried to identify bags with people in seats. He was ignored or people refused to move their bags. When he got to me he was quite irritated and demanded to know where my bag was. It was across from me as I was in an aisle seat. The bin above me was full when I got on in a much earlier group. He demanded that I move mine. He was in my face mad with repeated demands for me to remove it. I finally looked at him and said “make me”! He ended up putting his on the other side of his middle 4 seat row. He had a middle seat in the row of four. Poor guy!
I’ve moved seats and I’ve refused to move seats. It depends, but I want as much comfort as I’m willing to pay for so any switch must be equal.

Posted by
2583 posts

I always carefully choose my seat and pay the extra. I would never give up my forward area, aisle seat, especially if someone wanted me to scoot over to the middle or it meant I had to sit next to a small child.

Ditto. I am fussy where I sit and as I get older I get fussier. Things can go awry but I preplan the best I can. I choose my aisle seat on the left hand side of the aisle in the front of my class section or pay for a seat upgrade. I've sat in the middle row if absolutely nothing was available, domestic only. I may have changed an aisle seat for a window a few times when I flew regularly years ago so a couple could sit across from each other.

Some of the empathy or lack of it is probably due to how much planning the seat holder did and the price they were willing to pay. If they paid for basic economy and the family got scattered throughout the plane, that was their choice.

Posted by
8328 posts

So, it seems like an obvious solution to require compensation if I have to give up my seat. Either from the airline (especially if I paid for seat selection) or from the passenger. That's the American way. Or at least the airline could address this before they start boarding the flight. But I guess they prefer the overstressed cabin crew to "just deal with it".

And yes, requesting politely goes a long way. Seeing less of that all over.

Posted by
2935 posts

I guess my reaction would be situational. Middle seat? Heck, no. Knowing myself I'd probably agree just to keep things calm, and then quietly seethe for the duration of the flight. It also depends upon how long the flight is. A short flight? OK.

There was a guitar in an overhead bin and my carry-on was behind it. I pulled out the guitar to hand it to the person it belonged to and they got pissed. "Be careful with that!" I didn't know what else to do. I apologized to prevent any escalation of the situation but felt like a doofus.

Anyway, I would also try to arrange it so the wife sat with the kid as I enjoyed some peace and quiet.

Posted by
2935 posts

Stan, what if the person making the request is a 6'5", 345 pound offensive lineman from the University of Florida? What would you then?

Posted by
3926 posts

I offered an upgrade to a couple once that was happily and quickly accepted.

My wife isn't a good flier and it's not uncommon for her to make use of the barf bags. To battle it, she'll drug herself before a flight, but that can cause her to be drowsy, and fall asleep. However that can mean leaning onto her seatmate and drooling on their sleeve. As a result, she prefers that it's me that she barfs or drools on.

A few years ago on a flight to London, we were travelling with my Mother-in-Law. I always plan ahead and had booked seats, however something had gone wrong and when we got to the airport I was advised that our chosen seats were taken. The seat configuration was 2-3-2. I was in an aisle seat in the middle row and my wife and Mother-in-Law were in the 2 seats configuration a few rows behind me. My wife still wanted my arm to drool on so I asked the couple beside me if they wanted to switch and they jumped at it. The only loser was my arm.

Posted by
14451 posts

Flying solo to Europe I don't do seat assignments on-line, all the more so if that were not free. No way am I going to pay for pre-seating. BA charged for that, at check-in I asked for a seat in the back, the further back the better. Lucked out a few times.

Luckily, I have never been asked to switch seats coming from a passenger, only once by the flight attendant on Lufthansa SFO to FRA telling our entire row already seated to get up and move , follow him to our new seats. These did turn out to be an improvement, (surprisingly) , even though I was satisfied with the first seat...grudgingly. I'm used to a long flight of 11 hours as long it's non-stop since I know I'll sleep anyway. The main point is how long even if the sleeping is broken up.

On the case at hand: were I asked to change seats presumably in Economy as that is my only seat choice for the sake of the mom and the girl being together, I would do it.

Even more so, if that "new" seat were better, space-wise, no other passenger next to me, or other possible incentives. Still, if for nothing else, just simply swapping the seats to accommodate them in order their being not separated, I would oblige... no problem .

How would the other passengers react to my "yes" if they had been asked first and told the mom "no" ? My problem now, isn't it?

Posted by
17330 posts

A1) If I have a tight connection I really try and stay up front; otherwise I am pretty flexible.
A2) If a husband and wife or family gets split, I have been in that situation myself, so I really dont mind.
A3) The few times (twice) I have been asked I just told the flight attendants I am a bit claustrophobic, so find me something on the aisle, and then sure; they did once and moved me to Business once.
A4) Life is too short, and my life has been too blessed, not to help out when I can.

Posted by
7677 posts

I flew last Friday; the flight was 8 hours. A lady asked if I could switch so she could sit with her parents. I saw that it was an aisle seat the same as what I paid before so I was able to help her out. I wouldn't if she had a middle or window seat

Posted by
2679 posts

When my kids were young I had a couple of flights where I was unable to get seat assignments ahead of time (I forget why). It was very stressful getting seats assigned all over the plane and then having to get on the plane not knowing if we could fix this. It all worked out, and I was able to do it by offering aisle seats to people who had middle seats.

Ever since, I always offer to switch when I see parents struggling to sit near their kids. I don’t assume it is their fault for planning ahead. And even if it was, I would not want the child to suffer. I’m no saint; it’s just a case of treating others the way I would like to be treated.

This just happened on our trip last month. The mother was so appreciative and said she was sorry I would not be sitting across the aisle from my husband. I told her we had been married for 46 years and could probably survive being apart for a couple of hours.

Posted by
1629 posts

I flew for business travel for over 30 years and can't tell you how many times I gave up a seat for a family. However, that was back when the airlines had two basic classes on the plane, first class and the rest of us. The airline industry causes these situations, but neither party in this scenario was wrong. I actually would have suggested to the mother she switch and the couple could have entertained and distracted the child during takeoff. If she refused, I would suspect she was playing a game up upgrading by sympathy.

Posted by
752 posts

Like most people l usually try to help out families. But I discovered one set of parents who like to have a break, I guess. And that’s when I nearly became “The on-board nanny”:

Years ago on a 2-4-2 configuration long haul flight, I had an aisle seat in the center section..The lady next to me in the center middle seat asked if I would change seats with her husband who had a window seat further back on the opposite side of the plane in the side section.

Seemed OK, I stood up to see where the seat was. There was a toddler sitting next to the husband. Whose child is that, I asked. “It’s our little boy, and he won’t mind sitting by himself with you. I’m sure you’re great with children.”

When I suggested the flight attendant might be able to seat the whole family together, her reply: “Oh, no, we usually find someone like you that lets the two of us fly together in peace.”

Posted by
2716 posts

I am sorry but... 'in this new era" I am VERY unlikely to change seats.

And if you are huge lineman for a football team so?? Am I suppose to be scared? I'm not If you physically touch me you it will not end well. I know how to dial 911 and will do it LOL!

Posted by
60 posts

What Nick said...

Last fall, just when people started really flying again, I was on a domestic flight, towards the back of the plane, and a woman with several older children and another adult told me (not asked) to move to another seat so her entire group could sit together. I was somewhat taken aback because of the way she asked, but said sure. I got up, gathered my book and small carryon which was under the seat in front of me and tried to move into the aisle so I could move to where she wanted me to go. She continued to block the aisle, I told her I would be happy to move if she would please step aside so I could. She got REALLY snarky, the flight attendant who was standing there told her if she wanted the seat, she needed to move. She still blocked the aisle and finally the flight attendant have her a bit of a shove to move her aside. The poor flight attendant apologized several times, which was sad, but in today's world I think decent people find themselves apologizing way too often. Fast forward, at baggage claim the woman came up to me and was yelling at me because I didn't move quickly enough.

I've moved many times over the years to help someone out, even when I've paid to upgrade a seat, but after that I'm not sure I'll ever move again, I don't care how nicely someone asks!

Posted by
2583 posts

“It’s our little boy, and he won’t mind sitting by himself with you. I’m sure you’re great with children.”

Barbara, you must be kidding. That took a lot of gall on her part. I would have told her 'I don't have kids, I don't babysit' (which is true).

Posted by
90 posts

We usually pay for the upgrade to choose our seats - especially for an overseas flight. Though no one should have to give up a seat after paying for it, children should always be seated with a parent. With four kids, we didn't often fly with our kids, but I would not have wanted them sitting with a stranger. Even on a plane filled with people.

Posted by
26441 posts

I had an annoying situation on Southwest (no reserved seats) back in January. I like to sit on the aisle for access to the toilet. I walked on the plane, spotted an aisle seat with the center seat occupied by an adult female and the window seat, by an unmasked (legally) toddler. I put my carry-on bag overhead and prepared to sit down. At that point the woman said she wanted to sit in the aisle seat because her husband was across the aisle and they could trade off the child-care responsibilities. That made sense, but why wasn't she sitting in the seat she wanted? Others were still trying to board, and by this point there may have been no more aisle seats, so I didn't have much choice. To make it worse, the unmasked toddler ended up next to me in the center seat.

I don't know whether the woman was just a typical harrassed mother of a young child or was being cute, hoping the window seat would remain empty (but why?).

I swapped even coach-class seats a couple of times. I'm not picky as long as I have an aisle seat that reclines. I would not take kindly to someone expecting me to give up my aisle seat for a middle seat. And being expected to sit next to someone else's young child as if I were a babysitter when the parents are on the plane--that's ludicrous. The nerve of some people.

Posted by
264 posts

I'm usually pretty flexible on planes when someone requests a seat change (as long as I'm not stuck in a middle seat downgrade). On two legs of my most recent round-trip, I got on the plane to find someone already in my seat. Its not that I wouldn't have said yes to switching; I just minded the fact that my seat was already occupied before the person bothered to "ask permission". I find this quite presumptuous and rude (there were no small children in either situation, just friends who wanted to sit together). Maybe this is part of that whole "I'd rather ask forgiveness than permission."

Posted by
2228 posts

"live in a bubble"

This is only one part of what goes on at airports every day - there's a steady stream of travellers always looking to game the line-ups for check-in, for security, for passport control, for boarding the plane first, for deplaning first - it just never stops.

Posted by
3196 posts

Periscope - I know. I was raised by parents who felt strongly about the importance obeying "the rules", and not asking for "special" treatment. Obviously other parents were raising their children to uphold a very different standard!

Posted by
4180 posts

Big Mike, if it was a UF football player, I for sure wouldn't give up my seat.

Posted by
752 posts

@roubrat and @horsewoofie, I stopped the next flight attendant who came by and explained the family’s problem. She offered to re-seat all three together in the center last row of the economy cabin (I know, worst seats on the plane). The lady declined, and they all stayed where they were. After dinner, she took a sleeping pill and that was that. Husband and son never came over during the entire flight.

Posted by
2383 posts

This has indeed been eye-opening, and shows how this isn't so straightforward.

A Story:

I was in my preferred left side aisle seat, so I can stick out my right elbow, with my earbuds in, on a fairly full flight, when a shrieking baby somewhere behind started to let loose. I just hunkered down and figured I could last longer than it could, but it turned out to have stamina, and projection. I didn't bother to turn around because I also figured that the parent(s) had enough on their hands without adding my glaring/pleading stare to their burden, so I pulled my head farther into my shell and tried to ignore it. This kid had pipes, though.

When the landing-soon announcement came, I got up to use the facilities, and found that the baby was two seats immediately behind me, and that I was the only non-relative anywhere in the vicinity -- at least 9 people had gotten up and changed seats to get outside of the blast zone! I was the sole post-nuclear remnant in that part of economy. Now I was annoyed -- why hadn't the FA given me a nod or tapped me on the shoulder and offered the chance to move as the others had done?

Well, maybe they had and I was too withdrawn to pick up the signal in all that noise? In any case, this meant that the other passengers who started the flight thinking they had an empty seat beside them were called upon to show some mercy to all those who had been seated around this backpack nuke of a baby.

This illustrates a lot of things. One is that some of us are quicker to just give up when we're trapped in a metal tube miles in the sky with nowhere to go than others of us are. I'm saying that this doesn't reflect a fundamental courtesy or manners or even stoicism on my part, it just show how I have that shrug emoji sitting on my shoulder almost all the time.

Posted by
2221 posts

Barbara, it makes you wonder what their vacation was like. Did they dump the poor child off at hotel reception? So sad. It is funny too though, so I don't know..lol

Posted by
1056 posts

I’m generally fairly hesitant to change my seats because I plan them far in advance and pay extra on occasion to get legroom. However, I will switch seats when there is a need for a child to sit next to their parent, etc. Here’s one example when I did not switch seats. I think you’ll get a kick out of it.

My job entailed a lot of flying around the country, and I always reserved aisle seats, as I am tall and need a place to stretch my legs. I was comfortably seated when a lady came and said, “you need to change with me so that I can have the aisle seat. (I was in the aisle and she was in the middle seat next to me.) She looked at me and said, I have a fat ass and so if you don’t move I’m going to make things very uncomfortable for you.” I rang the flight attendant and asked her if she could reseat the lady next to me since she needed a bigger seat for her ass. I was happy to see that they could accommodate her.

Posted by
694 posts

I always purchase 2 seats together for my husband and myself, both seniors. Usually they are in the 2-seat section of premium economy or seats 3-4 or 5-6 in the center 4 seats of premium economy. That way we only have to trudge over each other and not other passengers. An attendant once asked me on a long transatlantic to change to a seat in the row behind us so that a very young male/female married couple could sit together in our row. I firmly said that we will stay seated together in one row and patiently explained that we are also a married couple who paid for our seat selections. If you want to sit with your spouse purchase your seats together before another married couple purchases them. Don't assume two people aren't as married as you or that you have more privilege because you have an ideal "young married couple" appearance. I still find these situations unnerving even though we've faced decades of unfairness.

Posted by
3926 posts

I'm saying that this doesn't reflect a fundamental courtesy or manners
or even stoicism on my part, it just show how I have that shrug emoji
sitting on my shoulder almost all the time.

We were lucky. Both my kids as babies and toddlers were excellent flyers, but I do remember when my son was about 8 months old and the stares of worry we got in the departure lounge as everyone prayed that they didn't get seated near us. Now I'm extremely tolerant of young parents with crying babies because there's very little they can do if the baby decides to go nuclear. I don't even mind if a child is sitting in my row or staring at me over the top of the seat in front of me...as long as the parent makes the effort to make sure they behave.

Posted by
3008 posts

Allan: we now need a whole new thread on sitting next to babies and children! ;)

I have never in my travelling days ever asked to change seats with anyone on a flight.
I always either pay for a seat that I prefer, or check in at the 24 hour before mark to see what 's left that I would be happy with for "free".
I can only recall being asked to change my seat once.

There was a young woman who wanted to move to sit with her friend, who was very anxious about flying.
The attendant had already asked a man nearby ; but he shook his head firmly, crossed his arms and wouldn't make eye contact.
So she asked me, and offered me another aisle seat at a bulkhead up front.
I could see the girl was indeed looking anxious already, so took the offer and had a good flight with a sleeping baby next to me and plenty leg room.
It was cold on that flight, so later, I asked the attendant for another blanket, and she said I'll just ask the Captain to turn up the heat....and it was turned up!

If anyone asked me to change to sit with their child, disabled companion or elderly relative, I would be happy to move; but would ask what was on offer for me as I pay for my seat too.
If it was someone who was rude, or entitled, or just married....sorry, try again in the next row.
Be polite to me, then I'll think about it.

Posted by
14451 posts

Sitting near to a baby crying constantly, ie, on and on, I only experienced once, can't recall if I was going over or returning, a summer flight , but this baby just did not stop. The plane was full, every seat around me (in Economy, obviously) was taken. At first the others around me were more or less tolerant but their patience began to wear thin as did that of the father, who also at first used humor to diffuse the reaction of the passengers , the crying baby continued.

As it went on and on (I marveled at how that crying could go on uninterruptedly,) the kid was blasting away. You could see the mood of the passengers turning nastier and with that so did the reaction of the father, who became more belligerent towards snide remarks from passengers about his son's crying. Both the father and some passengers were now in a foul mood.

I said nothing (obviously) and was thinking on how I could fall asleep amidst this noise, the strategy of attrition wasn't working with him. I dozed off anyway and this baby stopped but it seemed that took forever. One wonders what was bothering him that caused that non-stop crying.

Posted by
1324 posts

Sometimes families are split up through no fault of their own. I speak from personal experience. In the summer of 2000 we were flying from Chicago to Seattle. The plane had some sort of mechanical failure on take-off. We dumped fuel over Lake Michigan for what seemed like an hour. We returned to O'Hare on a completely cleared runway as far from the terminal as possible with firetrucks and ambulances screaming down the runway on both sides of the plane as we screeched to a halt. This all occurred during a United pilot slowdown. O'Hare was a madhouse. There were thunderstorms and tornado warnings. We were lucky to get rescheduled for the following day. We were not seated together. We were all in middle seats in a DC-10. We didn't care. Our daughter was 7, but a sufficiently experienced flier that we were comfortable letting her sit by herself. My husband was maybe 2 rows behind her. The kind person next to our daughter noticed my husband speaking to her then moving to a seat a couple of rows back. He offered to switch so she didn't have to fly by herself after a rather traumatic experience. I guess that's a long way of saying that sometimes a little empathy is needed.

Posted by
486 posts

If the seating is 3 wide I'll book the aisle and the window seat for the 2 of us - leaving the middle free. About 1/2 the time no one takes the middle seat. If they do its either no big deal - or if I want to actually talk to my partner I'll offer to swap one of our seats for the middle seat - most will say yes

Posted by
201 posts

After reading these posts I'm a little confused. The only time that I can remember when we were allowed to switch seats was on our flight from San Diego to Chicago in March 2020; the flight had very few passengers, so the stewardesses told us to sit where we wanted. We have asked to switch to empty seats and told that we could not. And since we are in the habit of paying for our preferred seating and purchasing our tickets months in advance we would likely not switch with anyone. What is to prevent someone who purchases a Basic Economy ticket from getting a free upgrade? This may be an uncharitable comment, but plane travel is expensive and not as comfortable as it was years ago.

Posted by
2716 posts

Actually they do watch for "self upgrade"

I have seen the FAs nicely send the "self upgrade" back from comfort to their zone and not as nicely force the first class freeloader out of a seat. They know which seats should be empty :)

Now most carriers on jets could care less if you move from your assigned middle seat to an empty aisle next to you :) or if you can convince someone that your middle seat is worth trading for their assigned aisle.

You even can swap business class seats with coach. I have a friend whose husband travels a lot so when they fly domestically he often gets upgraded and will give that to his wife while he sits in her coach seat. As long as it's a 'one time' swap the staff doesn't care. (I have seen them say "NO" to the "hour 1 I sit her and hour 2 my spouse sits here" or the "I sit here and my spouse hangs out for the entire flight") I'd like to point out that my partner refuses to take the upgrade from me... he figures I "paid" for it with business travel that he hates!

And of course there was my all time favorite trade request "We are on our honeymoon, would you trade your business class seat to Europe for my husbands seat in the back of the plane" (She didn't mention it was a middle seat, I figured that out later) Followed by "pouting" when I politely said "no" When he did come up I overheard their conversation, two things became apparent 1. It was not really a honeymoon in the traditional sense of "we just got married" and 2. they purposefully only bought one business ticket assuming that their "sob story" would work with either the airline or other passengers. Of course it's not like he asked any of his seat mates if they wanted to trade with his wife so the love birds could sit together in coach :) (And yes, the Flight Attendant finally shoved him back to coach)

The only real exception to my no move rule is SW where they don't assign seats. I have moved there. Of course I have also seen their flight attendants "bribe" us to move. "If someone will move so this mom and child can sit together I will give you a free drink" and they deliver. As soon as the flight takes off they go to whomever moved with the free drink (wonder what they are using now? Extra snacks?)

Posted by
3985 posts

Every time I have been asked to switch seats, the one offered is always worse than the one that I have. I find it laughable that those who “want” to sit together as a family or friends always want the better seats. So I don’t switch.

Posted by
1876 posts

Barbara--Your story reminded me of a spring break when we took our kids to Hawaii. There was a family on board with 3 kids, ages about 7-12 or so. The parents put them in a row by themselves, the dad was in a row ahead of them and the mom was further up. Both parents had earbuds in and completely tuned out the kids. I STILL remember that one of the boys was named Henry. One of the other kids would get upset with him and yell his name. I have never been so happy to get off a flight and I told my husband they better not be at our hotel. Fast forward to our flight home, and we are sitting in Oahu at the airport and we see a different family, but another one that was on our same flight. They all said they sure hoped Henry and his family were not on our flight back, lol!

Posted by
1017 posts

My seat requirements is the right side aisle because my left knee replacement. Plus I need to get up and stretch and pee, extra leg room. I hate to bother people to move. I would rather move for them,

If exchanging for another aisle , I would.

Posted by
683 posts

I really don’t care where I sit.

I mean, yes, I do pick an aisle seat and that’s my preference, but it’s no big deal for me to switch to help out a family with young kids or someone accompanying a person with extra needs.

The plane ride is just a few hours, and we all wind up at the same place at the end of the trip. I can handle a middle seat a few times in my life.

I’ve had plenty of kind strangers help me out, on and off airplanes, over the years; I’m happy to pay it forward.

Posted by
1142 posts

All familiar scenarios. When we would fly BA we always paid the high extra premium for exit row seats in economy. On a particular trip from London to IAH, my travel partner and myself were seat in the three-seat row with another lovely woman from London making the 10-hr journey to see her daughter. In the row directly behind us was a man and his daughter, probably around 7 or so. We were still on the ground, and the daughter kept shoving her feet into the back of our seats, literally thrusting us forward at times. We politely asked her to stop, and the father did nothing. We finally said something to the FA, who said he would be happy to move us and understood. The move would be further back in the plane. We all three explained that we paid a very nice premium to be in the seats were in, and would gladly move - but up (Forward cabin) - not back. The FA went and spoke with his superior, returned and asked the gentleman and his daughter to switch seats with another person further back. He was not happy and protested saying his daughter was a good girl. No one disputed whether or not his daughter was a "good girl". We just knew we were not willing to spend the next ten hours with feet shoving in our backs, and an uncooperative father doing nothing to stop it. They did move, and the lucky person they switched seats with moved to a row of three all for herself - and the second row even better. The FA spent the rest of the flight being very attentive and apologizing. We assumed he was new. One another BA flight, we bought those same exit row bulkhead seats and had the aisle and middle seat. The window seat was cumbersome in that the door jutted out into the leg space somewhat. Mid-flight, they moved a passenger from the middle section to that seat. The person was obviously sick, and they had given him a blanket to put over himself and his head in an attempt to keep his illness from spreading. (The coughing and general illness). I felt bad for the gentlemen, but it certainly did not make a comfortable flight for us since we had no idea what his illness was. His family kept coming and standing and squatting in front of our seats (remember all that space from exit row) and he kept getting up and going back and forth. We didn't say anything, but what would you have done? We didn't want to be callous but maybe they should have moved us up and let he and his family sit there. He ended up staying in the back with his fam 3/4 of the way through. He clearly didn't want to be there. That was a trip that paying all that extra for those seats was not fun. On yet another BA flight, same seats, a mother and baby were seated across from us. The baby was fussy and she whipped out her boob and began feeding a way. We support mothers breastfeeding their babies whenever, but the fact that several children from other families were seated around her, she should have covered up somewhat. Not her. She whipped it out for the world to see and it made a rather uncomfortable situation. She could have cared less that her bare breasts were out there.

Posted by
572 posts

We paid extra to choose our two aisle seats on a flight. When we got to our seats a man was already sitting in mine. He said the flight attendant told him it was okay to trade with me. I ended up in the middle seat next to my husband, but the only other option was to sit next to child and his wife, so I just went with it.

Posted by
1324 posts

Well wouldn’t you know it. Here I sit in my PE aisle seat and a woman just asked me to switch to a middle seat so she could sit with her husband. I declined.

Posted by
1142 posts

BTW, this is actually a fun topic to read. Love reading everyone's responses!

Posted by
2716 posts

The man who told you the flight attendant told him it was okay was lying. And what you do in that case is you reach up over his head and you push the call button and then you don’t do anything else. you let the flight attendant come throw a jerk out of his seat. It’s not your problem. I am no longer even talk to the interlopers who decided to sit in my seat. I’ve heard enough of their stories. If someone is in my seat I reach up, I push the button and I wait for a flight attendant to deal with the problem or i walk back up to the front and say “my sear is occupied”. I do not even discuss it with the person who thinks that he/she could just take a seat they like because they are so special

Of course this could work in your favor. I’ve told this before but I was flying home from France and Mr. important was in my seat. I hit the button, flight attendant shows up, Mr. important proceeds to loudly tell everyone on the plane how important he is and the airline can find any old sear for me because he is the most important flyer in the world he spends thousands of dollars, etc. The attendant takes both our boarding passes and disappears. She comes back a few minutes later and hands me a new boarding pass. And she smiles at me as she does it. I look down. I’m now in business class. mr important is in coach. If half of his claims were true he should’ve been upgraded over me. But of course he was Mr. important 😂

Posted by
1932 posts

Actually I wish the airlines had a rule that families had to sit together. On a BA flight we were in PE and there were two boys sitting across from me in the middle. As boys do, they started to get loud and roudy, a FA came around and told folks around them there was nothing she could do. Turns out Mom was in Business Class and deemed to come back to check on her kids twice the whole flight. When the mom complained the kids were being too loud, the man sitting beside them piped up and told her that why parents should sit by their kids. LOL.

Honestly, the woman acted like the FAs and the other passengers should be her nanny. Not to mention, as a mother I'd want to know where my kids were if anything should happen. That was the longest London flight ever.

That said 95% of my fellow passengers are fine. it's just that 5%.

Posted by
2006 posts

I’m reluctant to swap seats. We purposefully choose and pay extra if required for the seats we want. We have chosen different itineraries in order to get the seats we want if our preferred travel dates didn’t have the availability. We have swapped out when it appeared critical but I’m not generally sympathetic. Like when she wanted her dog to have my seat on the train in France.

Posted by
3926 posts

Like when she wanted her dog to have my seat on the train in France.

No way I would have moved either....I'd have told her to move and leave the dog with me ;)

Posted by
69 posts

I've got a couple of stories about this. First one, right after the Continental/United merger, my wife, 2 year old daughter and I were flying home from San Francisco, with three seats all together in one row. Flight wasn't changed or anything, but when we check in, our seats had all been scattered all over the plane, with my toddler daughter by herself in the back of the plane many rows from either of us. The agents were terrible about it, said "we'll work to try to accomodate you" for over an hour, until general boarding was announced and we still didn't have seats together, and the gate agent got testy with me for being insistent, saying "I'm TRYING sir if you'll just let me work." I was livid, but at the last minute at least they got my wife and daughter sitting together.

Second story, I was flying to Greece by myself back in 2000, I was 24 and still pretty deferential to elders and a bit of a pleaser. I had an aisle seat, but an older English couple traveling with their young daughter was going to be in my row, and asked if I would switch with them (with me in the window seat) because otherwise the little girl would probably be wanting in and out a lot. So I nicely (but secretly begrudgingly) said "sure, why not." And then as we were reshuffling some redneck joker in a middle seat said "you wanna change seats with me." That did make me regret it just a little more.

Now, I'm not so pliable. I hate getting shoehorned into coach seats, I feel claustrophobic and also get restless leg, so I work hard to reserve an aisle seat on the left side of the cabin whenever I can. I plan ahead, if other people do not, it's not really my problem.

Posted by
14451 posts

Changing seats on the train be it in 2nd class or 1st class (ICE or TGV) is much less of a problem for me, much more willing to oblige if I don't have luggage in tow.

On the last few trips, 2018, 2017, 2016 making a seat reservation only mattered in guaranteeing yourself a seat, but if the rack above was already filled with luggage, leaving me no space, that was an additional problem. You find your reserved seat in the crowded coach but luggage space for your spinner is only to be had 5-6 rows down or worse.

Since it's only flying Economy for me going over, I prefer the aisle seat but there have been times I ended up in the middle for the 11 hour flight, certainly not ideal but you live with it. No one will ask me to change seats to be in the middle and I know I'll still sleep regardless, be it in an aisle or a squished in middle seat.

Posted by
594 posts

Well...

There are couples, who want to have a whole row of seats to themselves that try and game the system by booking a window and aisle seat, knowing no one really wants to sit in the dreaded middle seat. It works well enough that travel industry content creators regularly share the advice.

There are cheapskate parents who are not willing to pay for seats where necessary to guarantee that they and their kids are all seated together. They are willing to pocket the money and put the flight crew and other passengers in the position of asking people to move seats to accommodate the family.

The problem for me is that these shenanigans usually fall on the solo/single traveler to be accommodating, and so its a hard no for me.

Posted by
485 posts

Unless it's an upgrade, I decline, explaining that I chose the seat a long time ago (usually true). The last time this happened to me, a young woman said that she wanted to switch because she was separated from her boyfriend. (I'm especially unsympathetic to that.) I told her that I didn't want to switch and somehow they were able to sit together and I had an empty seat next to me.

Posted by
1213 posts

Ah yes, the dreaded seat switching. I am a very nervous flyer and need and at times pay extra for my window seat with someone I know, ie husband/sister, next to me for my comfort level to be able to keep myself calm. So no, I do not want to be randomly removed to another seat without my permission or just told I had to switch without it at least being equal. Asking politely goes a long way. That being said I have also asked other people to move to accommodate me. Our flight got canceled on our way to Greece and the agent reassigned us to a different flight leaving around the same time with a layover in a different city, got me into a window seat with an aisle seat open next to me, and all of a sudden the aisle seat was filled. Why would that seat have been chosen when I had just grabbed the window? So she cannily seated him in an aisle seat way up front in row 7 that was open. She told us give it a go to get the person to switch with my husband as I didn't want to fly without him for 10 hours. The guy seated next to me was Greek and spoke virtually no English, but when I made it clear it was an aisle seat in Row 7 way up front it wasn't a problem. A short time later hubby came up the aisle as it was an equal swap.

I have also been asked to move for a family from a window seat to an aisle but I wasn't happy about it. Luckily the lady with the window seat next to the one I got moved to was happy to switch seats with me for a couple of hours while she slept. I've also had kids sleep except for takeoff and landing. Awesome! Another there was a lot of crying and screaming which caused my blood pressure to ratchet up but I survived. As for the parents who deliberately try to be seated away from their kids, that is horrible. How dare they do that to their child and to the people that child ends up next to.

I also got put in the middle of the middle 5 seats once when I was a part of a large student group traveling. Not ok for me. So when we got to the airport I took it upon myself to see if I could snag a window or at least an aisle seat. Got the window extra legroom seat but didn't have anyplace to put anything in front of me it had to go above. No problem, I'll take it. If I hadn't been able to advocate for myself I would have still survived but the flight would have been a lot rougher.

As with so many others, I'll think about it under certain circumstances and as long as it is equal or an upgrade.

Posted by
31 posts

@Barbara - OMG.

this woman is lucky you are very nice person. I plan my trip, choose and pay for my seats. Anyone even ask me, the answer is a polite no. Someone have the audacity to tell me to move... I won't be so polite. How entitled people are, it's not my fault they didn't plan properly.

2018; my mom and I flew to Paris on Airfrance. We did not have seats together on the return, as I purchased extra leg room seats. I was last minute so we sat separately. It was better to sit apart and have comfort.
Well wouldn't you know, a man asked if she can swap seats so he can sit next to his ADULT daughter. My mom is so sweet.. she came to me and told me.. I told her no, don't switch. He was in middle seat that you get free of charge. She was in aisle.

If it were me asking and It was that serious. I would have offered to pay.

A decade ago, it was the flight attendant that asked me. I was flying solo on a 11 hour flight, and I didn't mind. But I did not feel pressure to do so.

Posted by
6900 posts

I just had an interesting one in a train going from Venice to Florence last week. I purchased an aisle seat - to use the toilet once, and I had a really tight train connection afterwards.

I sat in my seat, and the young man who was supposed to sit next to me at the window had a large thin box (held a painting). He didn’t speak English and wanted my seat, apparently to hold his box in the aisle. But, he also told me in Italian “Today all of the seats change.” ?? The aisle seat behind me was open, so I just offered to sit in it. (It was at the end of the train car so the box would have really been in the way.). In the meantime, we found room overhead for his box.

Next stop, and the person for the seat I was sitting in arrived. So, I told the guy, I need my seat. He spent the next 15 minutes doing something on his computer. Then he showed it to me in English. “Today we change all seats.” I showed him my reservation for the seat location and put it away. He ended up getting up soon afterwards and standing at the train door.

Posted by
2221 posts

Hmm, this is curious, Jean. Is there a National Swap Seats day in Italy that we don't know about? lol

Posted by
3008 posts

Was he meaning that today is the day the new train schedules are posted??
(Is it?...I don't know.)
If you had a reservation however, that wouldn't change.
Very curious!
(And why did he not book an aisle for himself?!)

Posted by
6900 posts

It was odd, and he was motioning that people at the aisles should move to the windows - making circular motions. Anyway, I made my quick connection, and we all survived.

Posted by
2383 posts

Jean, did you see any clear indicator that he had a ticket at all? If he got up and stood by the door that to me is a clue that he was trying to bluff his way into that car. I've seen people who don't want to deal with a crowded second class prowl / pace around the first class car for their entire trip.

Posted by
3926 posts

I've seen people who don't want to deal with a crowded second class
prowl / pace around the first class car for their entire trip.

We took the high speed train from Nice to Paris in 2019 which was our experience with reserved seating on a train and I'm glad we were one of the first on the train because it was quite obvious this was happening. I have no idea what is acceptable in these situations but there was a senior couple across from us and down a few rows and when they got on, there was someone in one of their seats and he wouldn't move. The woman sat down, but the guy just shrugged his shoulders and sat on the armrest of the chair for the entire 6 hour ride. It seemed to me that this couple was French and by the way he shrugged his shoulders it seemed to me the social custom was to accept that first-come first-served overrides reserved seating.

Posted by
10040 posts

Definitely not the custom Nice to Paris, Allan, or anywhere in France. Perhaps the couple is the one who got into the wrong train car or the wrong day. Or maybe the husband had a tix in a different car and the young person didn’t want to swap. French education ingrains obedience for rules and authority when in view of others; normally, the husband would have searched for the controller, conductor in English, to boot the intruder.

I’ve had someone in my seat going across northern Italy, Bologna to Bolsano, sort of a shoulder shrugging event for the seat intruder. She moved.

Posted by
6900 posts

Avirosemail, I’m a cheap second class rider, so my seat wasn’t in the first class section.

I wondered afterwards if he had a phobia of being enclosed, so he wanted the aisle seat? If so, I don’t know why he didn’t reserve one…..or maybe there were none left. I never did see his ticket; I just showed mine and considered the question closed.

Posted by
310 posts

I agree with just about all of you about always switching to help bring child/parent sitting together if separately. Thankfully I never ended up being the 'airplane nanny" like some of you have mentioned! Wow! I've always had so much help from strangers while travelling and I'm a big believer in "paying it forward" so i always tried to do my part to help strangers. To be honest, if nothing else it gives me a happy feeling. After reading this thread, I realize my generosity would only go so far if faced with some of your similar situations!! ha!
I travelled business for many many years on one particular airline so I had frequent flyer status and would usually get upgraded if available. This is a funny story- (pre-Covid) I was flying home from Las Vegas and got upgraded to first class. I was sitting next to a gentleman who had just "hit it big" and was very loudly letting everyone know. For some reason- his significant other was seated back in coach. He offered me $500 to switch seats with her. I looked at the flight attendant and said "is this allowed? She gave me a little wink and shrugged her shoulders and looked the other way. Score! Sold for 500 bucks! I heard all the slot machines "chinging" in my head!!

Posted by
342 posts

What an interesting thread! Loved everyone's stories, so I will add mine.
I have never been asked to switch seats, so I am either lucky or I have some "Don't even try it" vibe going on. While I have found someone in my seat on occasion, they have generally moved without problem when asked, with one memorable exception.

On a flight from Brussels to Atlanta in economy, about 10 years ago. I was in the last group to board, get on, and find a large man in my window seat. Polite attempts to get him to move don't work, the aisles are crowded, and there's no flight attendant nearby, so I finally just went ahead and sat in the neighboring aisle seat. Man promptly goes to sleep.

Fast forward to 4 hours into the flight. Man wakes up and apologizes to me profusely for taking my seat. He explains that he had just flown in from visiting his family in a small African village. Everyone in the village was sick with some mystery illness, but he thought he was okay until midway through the flight to Brussels when he began feeling unwell. He had taken the window seat so he could sleep because he felt so badly. However now he feels so much better and thanks me for letting him rest.

He turned out to be a very nice and interesting person, so we chatted for the reminder of the flight. Already sat next to him for several hours now so what's to lose, right? Spent the next 2 weeks wondering when the symptoms would present and getting my affairs in order.

Posted by
342 posts

Roubrat - It is now! Not so much at the time! 😂

Posted by
752 posts

getting my affairs in order.

Oh Linda! Funnier in the rear view mirror, but quite scary. Probably good that you took the aisle seat in case the symptoms progressed.

Posted by
5933 posts

On yet another BA flight, same seats, a mother and baby were seated across from us. The baby was fussy and she whipped out her boob and began feeding a way. We support mothers breastfeeding their babies whenever, but the fact that several children from other families were seated around her, she should have covered up somewhat. Not her. She whipped it out for the world to see and it made a rather uncomfortable situation. She could have cared less that her bare breasts were out there.

Okay, I have to chime in here and I apologize for the diatribe but I am a huge advocate for nursing mothers and I do not believe that mothers should have to cover themselves up when traveling to save someone else's sensibilities. Nursing fulfils a basic need for the child. I nursed my daughter for several years and did so in public, before children and other adults. A woman's breast is just a part of the human anatomy and was designed for a purpose. And I can tell you that if more mothers were able to nurse babies in public without facing public condemnation, there would be a lot less crying babies on planes. If a woman wants to cover up, that's fine, but many do not, and the baby usually doesn't like it much either. Would you want to eat with a blanket covering your face? 😊

Posted by
167 posts

I recently experienced the seat switch "request" in on a two-hour flight from France to Heathrow, in first class. My husband and I had reserved and paid for aisle seats across from each other. There was a guy in my seat, who explained his friend in the window seat was a nervous flyer, so I could sit in his window seat several rows up. (This was the type of first class where they put a table over the middle seat.) I told him no, we'd purchased our seats and he needed to move. He got all huffy. Low and behold, the flight attendant found them two seats together a few rows back - so I knew they hadn't even tried to solve this during check in. He later came up to get his bag in the bin over my seat and gave me a dirty look. It is too bad that he felt I was the bad person, rather than him having way too much nerve.