Airplane Seat Change Etiquette & Tips

Airplane Seat Change Etiquette & Tips

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Airplane seating arrangements can be complicated, especially when you’re traveling with others — some airlines charge to assign seats, some airlines don’t assign seats in advance, some people may book last minute and not be able to reserve seats together, etc.

There’s only so much that airline reservations agents and gate agents can do to seat people together, so often if you want to sit together, you may be relying on the kindness of strangers. In this post I wanted to share my general philosophy on switching seats with other passengers — what’s the best way to go about asking, and under what circumstances do I agree to switch seats?

When should you switch seats with others on airplanes?

When it comes to onboard seat swaps, I have a few thoughts both for the person asking to switch seats, and for the person being asked to switch seats.

If you’re the one asking to switch seats:

  • Try to be as fair as possible — ideally ask someone to swap comparable seats, meaning an aisle for an aisle, or offer them a better seat, like an aisle seat in exchange for a middle seat
  • Don’t take someone’s seat without asking — if you want someone to switch seats, ideally don’t actually take their seat without asking first (which comes across as presumptuous), but rather try to approach them as they get to their seat
  • It can never hurt to ask, and tone matters — there’s something to be said for the way in which you ask someone to switch seats, as there’s a big difference between saying “yeah I took your seat but you don’t mind switching, right?” and saying “is there any chance you wouldn’t mind switching seats with XYZ, we weren’t able to get seats together?”
  • Accept no for an answer — someone made a decision to assign a specific seat, so if they deny you, don’t badger them or be rude if they say they’d like to keep their seat
Try to be reasonable with seat change requests

If you’re the one being asked to switch seats:

  • You should never feel pressured to change seats — ultimately you assigned a seat and are entitled to sit there, so don’t feel pressure to change seats
  • Recognize there may be reasons people couldn’t sit together — try to be compassionate, as you don’t know what others are going through; for example, people could have booked a flight last minute because they’re headed to a funeral
  • Be polite — I think this should be true for just about any interaction in general, but respond politely, and if you’d like, maybe even explain why you prefer the seat you have (for example “I like an aisle seat because I go to the bathroom often,” “I like a window seat because I like looking out the window,” or “I don’t want to be in a bulkhead because I have a bag that I want to keep at my feet”)
Be polite, but don’t feel pressured to change seats

My policy on switching airplane 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 always honor a seat change request if it’s a similar type of seat (a non-bulkhead aisle for a non-bulkhead aisle, a bulkhead window on one side for a bulkhead window on another side, etc.) and I’m not traveling with someone
  • While I generally prefer window seats, I’ll almost always agree to switch to an aisle seat (or other non-horrible seat) if the person is polite about their request, and if I feel like they have a legitimate reason to ask for the request (in other words, not just that they like a window seat more than I do, but rather that they’re traveling with a loved one)
  • At the end of the day I’m fortunate to travel as much as I do, I recognize a lot of people have less vacation time and travel may be even more special for them, and if I can allow a couple or family to sit together by slightly inconveniencing myself, that’s a small price to pay to make someone else happy
I do love beautiful window views

Ironically I’m too sheepish to ask others for similar seat change requests. I’ll politely ask others to make a switch to an identical seat in another row, but personally I couldn’t bring myself to ask someone to switch their type of seat.

The one exception is when I’m traveling in economy with someone, where I typically book an aisle and a window seat, hoping the middle seat stays empty. When it doesn’t stay empty, I’ll offer the person in the middle seat the window or aisle seat, and I’ve never been turned down. I think that’s fair, and a win-win.

But please, folks, don’t be ridiculous, like that time I flew MIAT Mongolian from Ulaanbaatar to Frankfurt, and was asked by a passenger if I could move from business class to economy class so that a woman could sit next to her husband. That’s just greedy — the correct etiquette there would be to ask the person sitting next to your husband in economy if they want to sit in business class.

Don’t be like that lady on my MIAT Mongolian flight…

Bottom line

On just about every flight there are several people looking to switch seats, to be able to sit next to travel companions. I think it’s perfectly fine to ask others to accommodate this, though don’t be surprised if you’re rejected. If you’re going to ask others to switch seats, try to be as fair as possible, and swap for a comparable or worse seat, rather than for a better seat.

Personally I try to be very accommodating of seat change requests. 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. 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.

I’m curious to hear what OMAAT readers think — what’s your policy on airplane seat swaps?

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  1. LuxinLA

    Hmmmm... don't like switching seats especially during the pandemic when I'm purposely trying to pick seats, and change them right before boarding, that have the middle to the aisle clear and open.

    When the Seat Gods smile upon you, it's like winning the lottery to have the entire row to yourself! No pax shld deny another of that good fortune; haters stay away.

  2. Mark

    My policy resembles yours Ben except that if I’m in a seat I specifically chose for a reason and PAID an upcharge for, then my default position is: NO. Unless they have an amazing story to melt my heart. Their neglecting to book in advance to be together however does not constitute a crisis for me.

  3. Patricia Noyes

    We flew home from Maui in July
    1. A man was arguing with Delta gate agent about moving seats 15 D and E ( our seats)To accommodate his family .
    She told him it was a person traveling in a wheelchair and companion they would not move them.
    Long story short he took a flight the next day .
    2. We get on plane first with wheelchair
    Window seat is...

    We flew home from Maui in July
    1. A man was arguing with Delta gate agent about moving seats 15 D and E ( our seats)To accommodate his family .
    She told him it was a person traveling in a wheelchair and companion they would not move them.
    Long story short he took a flight the next day .
    2. We get on plane first with wheelchair
    Window seat is empty . A woman gets on at end and says “Scoot over and I’ll take the aisle seat because my husband is across the aisle “
    I said No he is in a wheelchair and needs aisle seat ! She sat in her window seat .
    3. On second leg of the trip back to Boston a man comes up and tells me I am in his seat . I told him no and I have boarding pass to prove it . He sat in his middle seat .
    We have mainly flown Delta since 1994
    And this is first time we met so many rude people.

  4. Paula

    I was asked by a newly married young man if I would swap seats with his wife so that she could sit with him. Of course I could. But her seat was on the very last row and the woman I sat beside was rude to the airline staff ( and she desperately needed a shower). Because we were in the last row there was no food left by the time staff got to our row. Happily the young couple sent me back a lovely glass of wine. I put my ear phones in and quietly suffered

  5. Cathy Narvaez

    I was recently asked to switch seats so a newly married couple could sit together. They asked a man in her row first and he said no, then she asked me. I went from a window seat to a window seat. I was happy to accommodate them.

  6. Jed

    I switched once with a mother and child about 7 who wanted to sit by the window and was in a exit row. She rewarded me by kicking the back of my seat from Phoenix to Cleveland
    When I asked her and her mother several times to please stop, the mother called me a B...h and told the girl to ignore me. Never again will I switch seats!

  7. Kelley G Tedd

    I take about 100 flights a year and maybe get asked to switch seats maybe twice a year. I LOVE the way it happened most recently (which was just last week).

    A couple wanted to travel together and that required me to change from a First Class Asile seat to another First Class Aisle, just further back (basically comparable). Instead of waiting until we were onboard they asked the gate agent to ask me...

    I take about 100 flights a year and maybe get asked to switch seats maybe twice a year. I LOVE the way it happened most recently (which was just last week).

    A couple wanted to travel together and that required me to change from a First Class Asile seat to another First Class Aisle, just further back (basically comparable). Instead of waiting until we were onboard they asked the gate agent to ask me and it was about 10 minutes before boarding. They messaged me through the agent so that I wouldn't feel "pressured" to change if i don't want to. I thought it was the best way to handle it ever!

    I had no problem changing seats, but if I would have not wanted to change out, then, it would have been much easier to say 'no' to the gate agent than to the couple with puppy dog eyes on the plane.

  8. Mharri

    No if I pay for my seat I am keeping it end of discussion especiallyif I pay extra. I will not switch seats. Unless I would be stuck next to someone younger than a teenager, I don't want to have to put up with a badly behaved kid then as long as the new seat is better than my current seat would I move.

  9. P Dev

    I’m quite torn, as an solo traveller I get asked to switch often and many times I do. However, I think more people need to understand the world of fees these days and be understanding when someone politely declines. I once had a gate agent call me up and ask to switch from a second row economy extra leg room window seat to the a last row middle seat that didn’t recline right in front...

    I’m quite torn, as an solo traveller I get asked to switch often and many times I do. However, I think more people need to understand the world of fees these days and be understanding when someone politely declines. I once had a gate agent call me up and ask to switch from a second row economy extra leg room window seat to the a last row middle seat that didn’t recline right in front of the bathroom. Mind you that was the second time that day I was flying across the country. I asked the gate agent if I’d be refunded the money I paid extra to select the extra leg room seat at check in (I was not randomly assigned that seat). She looked at me shocked and said of course not. I kindly responded that I’d stay with the seat I PAID extra for. 2 months later I had a late night flight before a big presentation. Again at check in I decided to upgrade my seat to sit in a front window seat. This allowed me to work undisturbed by others bathroom breaks and to deplane quicker. I was seated next to a couple with a lap infant. They quickly asked to change seats to have the wall to make holding the sleeping infant easier. I kindly declined and showed them my receipt for a seat upgrade charges from only 45 mins earlier when pressed. The father got angry and tried shaming me into switching. I hit the call button and a kind flight attendant offered them an empty row. They declined. While I’m sympathetic to the fact that stuff happens out of ones control … I also think others need to be sympathetic to solo travelers. I’m not keen to give up a seat I just paid extra for not even an hour ago when you could have done the same. I also shouldn’t be made to explain why my answer is no (like second flight of the day coast to coast or a whole host of other reasons). No should be an acceptable answer.

  10. Louise Gabay

    If I'm on a 9 hour flight I'll be less inclined to switch to a less desirable seat, but on shorter flights my attitude is why not make someone's day. I will refuse impolite attitude though. I've had greatfull flight attendants ask what they can do for me and I always say, "Bump me up to Business." Always worth a try!

  11. Nancy

    I fly Alaska if possible because I can select my seat when I book my flight. I always book a window seat because I love looking out. On Southwest I pay for a higher boarding number and then see many front rows reserved for family and friends. I plan my flights months in advance and should not be expected to switch to a less desirable seat because of someone else's poor planning.

  12. madgoat

    I almost always fly alone, domestic economy, and primarily for work. I always assign myself the "Best" seat available at booking (best being subjective for me, but usually in the order of bulkhead E+, exit row, E+ aisle/window, standard Y aisle/window as close to the front of the plane as possible).

    I've been asked many times if I'm willing to switch and will do so if it is better or like for like (or close...

    I almost always fly alone, domestic economy, and primarily for work. I always assign myself the "Best" seat available at booking (best being subjective for me, but usually in the order of bulkhead E+, exit row, E+ aisle/window, standard Y aisle/window as close to the front of the plane as possible).

    I've been asked many times if I'm willing to switch and will do so if it is better or like for like (or close enough). What I do not like is when I'm asked, say in a bulkhead seat with extra legroom, to move back so someone can sit next to their partner in the other bulkhead seat instead of them asking the opposite and giving up the extra legroom seat. That always struck me as entitled and I will almost certainly decline unless there's a good reason they could use the extra space.

  13. Mark

    I always assign the window and the aisle seats in a row of 3 for the 2 of us when flying economy, My thinking is nobody will want to sit in the middle seat by choice and if the flight isn't full we get the whole row all to ourselves.
    We have had times when the flight is full that we just sit together in the window and middle seat meaning my partner is...

    I always assign the window and the aisle seats in a row of 3 for the 2 of us when flying economy, My thinking is nobody will want to sit in the middle seat by choice and if the flight isn't full we get the whole row all to ourselves.
    We have had times when the flight is full that we just sit together in the window and middle seat meaning my partner is in someone else's seat when they arrive , they are usually very pleased to be told there getting the aisle seat, one time though flying from new York to Orlando the guy insisted on having his assigned middle seat so what goes on in peoples heads cant be predicted, it was a very long flight.

  14. Kat J

    Last flight I took, I paid the upcharge for both the slightly-larger seat and to select the seat for both legs of my flight. I have extreme anxiety, and this was my workaround to make the trip bearable.
    Got off the plane and used the bathroom at the stopover and, don't you know, return to a woman sitting in my seat, with 2 kids in the rest of the row. "I couldn't get all...

    Last flight I took, I paid the upcharge for both the slightly-larger seat and to select the seat for both legs of my flight. I have extreme anxiety, and this was my workaround to make the trip bearable.
    Got off the plane and used the bathroom at the stopover and, don't you know, return to a woman sitting in my seat, with 2 kids in the rest of the row. "I couldn't get all together with my kids, it's fine if I take your seat, right?" Just above "commercial flights" on the list of anxiety triggers is "confrontation with strangers" and above that, "kids." I threw myself in the other seat, still ashamed of that to this day. And it might literally be my last flight...it was rough.
    So while I mostly used this opportunity to complain about something I've not gotten over, allow me to suggest not taking seats others may have paid for and been counting on.

  15. walester

    @Lucky what do you do when it's the FA making the request for you to move from your window seat to a middle seat a few rows back so that a couple can sit together? I think it puts added pressure on you to do something that you would normally say no to, but no one wants a pissed-off FA. It happened to me once flying cross country.

  16. WorldTravelerPlus

    I was in Premium Economy on Virgin Atlantic LHR - IAD, then was asked by someone to swap seats with him to he could sit next to someone. This person said his seat was in Upper Class, so I followed him to his seat with the words, "Let's see if the flight attendants are okay with this" but what I really wanted to do is verify that he was seated in Upper Class.

    When I found out he was, I happily did the switch. Cheapest upgrade ever!

  17. WorldTravelerPlus

    Posting this as it is relevant to the story

  18. Luther

    I will do them a service and switch seats... but of course, I expect a tip of at least 20% of the ticket value. I provided a service... NOW TIP ME!

    ahahahahaahahahahahaah

    STOP THE TIPPING!!!!

    1. Kat J

      If the attendant really went out of their way to help me, I'd be happy to tip.

  19. Carrie

    This is a naive question but I was under the impression that passengers were required to remain in the seat assigned on the official manifest - is that a requirement by air safety authorities? Flying QF, passengers are routinely reminded to return to the seat noted on their boarding pass prior to the commencement of descent.

  20. Rik

    I've been fortunate in life to fly most of the time in business/first paid or with points. I actually often give up my seat to someone in the militay, as a thank you for their service or very elderly. I view it similar to giving up my seat on a train or bus to someone more in need. I usually do it in conjuction with the flight attendants and they will provide me with a...

    I've been fortunate in life to fly most of the time in business/first paid or with points. I actually often give up my seat to someone in the militay, as a thank you for their service or very elderly. I view it similar to giving up my seat on a train or bus to someone more in need. I usually do it in conjuction with the flight attendants and they will provide me with a decent available seat due to my kind gesture. Live life with kindness and pay it forward in life is something we can all easily do.

  21. Donna

    I rarely ask for a seat swap, primarily because I travel alone. I prefer aisle seats but if I end up with a window it’s no big deal, I just keep it. I will grant all reasonable requests for swaps.

  22. OPR

    In the early 90s, I had a comfy Economy Plus seat on a cross-country United flight. I don't believe you paid extra for that at the time, I want to say MileagePlus members got first pick and United tried to keep the middle seats open... someone correct me if I'm wrong.

    Anyway, I was asked by the FA if I would switch with a lady who had a bird in a cage - so she...

    In the early 90s, I had a comfy Economy Plus seat on a cross-country United flight. I don't believe you paid extra for that at the time, I want to say MileagePlus members got first pick and United tried to keep the middle seats open... someone correct me if I'm wrong.

    Anyway, I was asked by the FA if I would switch with a lady who had a bird in a cage - so she could benefit from that open middle seat. I switched - to I believe a middle seat in regular economy. I wasn't exactly a seasoned traveler, mostly had a few transatlantic flights under my belt at 8+ hours, and told my new neighbor, oh well, it's only a 5 hour flight :).

    Why did I switch? Maybe it's because the FA asked, maybe I was a sap, maybe I'm just a nice guy - or all of the above. I did kinda regret it a little bit, but surely the convenience to the lady was much greater than the inconvenience to me.

  23. Sherri

    And please don't ask after I've stowed my luggage, put in my headphones, and opened my book. Because, no, I don't want to reverse all of that to move a couple of rows so that you can sit with your spouse! Haven't you heard that absence makes the heart grow fonder.

    1. OPR

      Then of course there's "out of sight, out of mind" :).

  24. Linda ward

    I flew from Newark to Dublin a few weeks ago. 2-3-2 configuration. I had the aisle in the middle section and a woman and infant had the other aisle with an empty seat between us. I noticed her talking to a man and child across the aisle from her. I offered to switch with her husband so they could occupy the 3 middle section seats. They jumped at it. I've traveled with kids and it's easier to sandwich the kids between parents.

  25. Ryan

    I had an experience recently on a budget carrier within Europe. The carrier has very poor legroom and as a result I paid to reserve an aisle seat near the front of the plane in advance. A couple comes on and are assigned the window/middle and basically demanded that I give the woman my aisle seat because she has a ‘medical condition’ and gets claustrophobic if she doesn’t sit on the aisle. They were rude...

    I had an experience recently on a budget carrier within Europe. The carrier has very poor legroom and as a result I paid to reserve an aisle seat near the front of the plane in advance. A couple comes on and are assigned the window/middle and basically demanded that I give the woman my aisle seat because she has a ‘medical condition’ and gets claustrophobic if she doesn’t sit on the aisle. They were rude about it and didn’t pay to reserve their preferred seats as I had.

    There was some bickering and complaining and finally they demanded that a FA move them on ‘medical grounds’… which they did, to the last row of the plane next to the toilets. And then I got the whole row to myself. Win-win!

  26. Tizzette

    I am not sympathetic to seat switchers who bought a fare that does not allow seat selection and wouldn't pay for extra for it. Basically their cheap out strategy is that some kind soul will switch with them.

    1. Christopher MacLean

      Sure, but sometimes it’s the airline’s fault. For example, I recently paid for seat assignments to be next to my wife and our 2-yo son on a full flight. It was a Delta award on a KLM flight. I paid Delta but at the airport KLM had no record my seat assignment purchases. Only the kindness of a stranger allowed me to switch and help with our kid management. (He was good but it’s a...

      Sure, but sometimes it’s the airline’s fault. For example, I recently paid for seat assignments to be next to my wife and our 2-yo son on a full flight. It was a Delta award on a KLM flight. I paid Delta but at the airport KLM had no record my seat assignment purchases. Only the kindness of a stranger allowed me to switch and help with our kid management. (He was good but it’s a lot of work.) I’m still trying to get my money back from delta even with an ironclad receipt. You’d think it would have only taken one call.

    2. Teresa

      Absolutely! My husband and I had a similar issue on American when our child was 2. We had paid to select seats and chosen seats together when we booked, but when we got to the gate we were no longer seated together because all seats were automatically reassigned due to an aircraft type change. Our 2yo was in a middle seat between two strangers!

      The gate agent said there was nothing they could do and...

      Absolutely! My husband and I had a similar issue on American when our child was 2. We had paid to select seats and chosen seats together when we booked, but when we got to the gate we were no longer seated together because all seats were automatically reassigned due to an aircraft type change. Our 2yo was in a middle seat between two strangers!

      The gate agent said there was nothing they could do and it didn't matter that the toddler was seated without a parent. (I was very angry and decided to boycott American on the spot. Come on, mark passengers under some age as needing to travel with an adult in the booking party!)

      The young man seated next to me was kindly willing to switch with my toddler so they could sit with at least one parent. But this really shouldn't be left for passengers to hammer out amongst themselves!

      Delta, OTOH, handled a similar situation brilliantly. In that case, when I went to negotiate sitting together after an aircraft change, the agent looked at me like I might be a little stupid and said "She's seated next to you already, she's only a toddler." Delta is my new preferred airline for having common sense.

    3. beachmouse

      There are also folks who have been rebooked because of IRROPS (hello Southeastern thunderstorm season that got me diverted to Huntsville followed by an unplanned night in Atlanta last month) and who end up assigned any open seat in order to get to their destination in a vaguely timely manner.

  27. Betty

    I had a situation on a United flight many years ago. I was sitting in an aisle seat and a mother was sitting next to me in the center seat. Her child (maybe 6) was seated a row up and in another middle seat (3-3-3) configuration.

    She comes and very nastily asks/demands I switch with her child to which I declined. Then she nicely asks the older woman next to her child (on the...

    I had a situation on a United flight many years ago. I was sitting in an aisle seat and a mother was sitting next to me in the center seat. Her child (maybe 6) was seated a row up and in another middle seat (3-3-3) configuration.

    She comes and very nastily asks/demands I switch with her child to which I declined. Then she nicely asks the older woman next to her child (on the aisle) to switch and she also declined. She was a pill to sit by for the whole flight. I felt kind of bad for the child, but when one can't even ask pleasantly, don't be surprised when the answer is a resounding "NO"!

    If she had been smart, she would have sent the child up to me with the instructions of - my mommy told me to ask the nice lady if she could switch with me so we can sit together. That would have probably done the trick.

    At the end of the flight, I immediately got up and turned away from her and she started tapping on my arm to get my attention as she wanted to complain about it some more. I whirled around and barked at her not to touch me. Reinforced my decision to not switch. The sins of the parent get visited on the child

  28. Rich

    I follow Ben's practice with two modifications:

    I used to strongly prefer aisle seats. When many seats have been assigned at the last minute for some reason (like an equipment switch), I've asked an aisle-seat neighbor "You wouldn't happen to prefer the window, would you?" Sometimes they've said Yes—win-win! And sometimes they have no preference and switch. Of course I never argue if they say No.

    I've learned that sometimes giving a reason for why...

    I follow Ben's practice with two modifications:

    I used to strongly prefer aisle seats. When many seats have been assigned at the last minute for some reason (like an equipment switch), I've asked an aisle-seat neighbor "You wouldn't happen to prefer the window, would you?" Sometimes they've said Yes—win-win! And sometimes they have no preference and switch. Of course I never argue if they say No.

    I've learned that sometimes giving a reason for why I prefer the seat I chose is taken as an invitation to debate the validity of my reason. To forestall that I just say "I prefer to keep my assigned seat, thanks" if the swap isn't to my liking.

    1. OPR

      I was going to suggest the same thing to Ben! Don't be afraid to ask, because for all you know the person would *prefer* to switch or perhaps be ambivalent... Don't know until you ask.

  29. Jamon Serrano

    I once politely offered my business class seat to two different unrelated people sitting in economy next to my wife (she was in a middle seat) on a US domestic flight. Surprisingly enough both looked at me like I was bothering them and turned it down -even after I tried to explain that it was no problem to the crew. I guess my Spanish accent was a deterrent, my wife is too hot or they were just simple stupid. Most likely the last…

    1. Eskimo

      No offence sir, but maybe your wife is too hot. Might be simple stupid to leave your hot wife next to 2 hounds especially when the flight have no IFE or wifi available.

      The more important issue is, after those two people turned down your offer, did you even try to switch seats with your wife so she can sit front?

    2. Jamon Serrano

      I did have my wife sit in business class and then farted as much as I could all the way until we landed. I would call it a loose-lose situation.

  30. Abey

    Lucky is a nice person ❤️

  31. Steve_from_La

    Flew Alaska last week. I assigned myself a window seat in first class. The guy next to me asked if I would change seats with his wife who was just across the aisle. I politely declined and told him I liked to look at the window. He then asked the guy with the window seat next to his wife if he would swap. He did.

    Funny thing is that for the 2+ hours of...

    Flew Alaska last week. I assigned myself a window seat in first class. The guy next to me asked if I would change seats with his wife who was just across the aisle. I politely declined and told him I liked to look at the window. He then asked the guy with the window seat next to his wife if he would swap. He did.

    Funny thing is that for the 2+ hours of flight time he and his wife read books and didn’t interact at all. I guess sitting next to each other was so much more important than sitting across the aisle from each other.

  32. MIchael R Karpiel

    I've asked someone to switch seats before so that I could sit next to my wife. But it was a First class Aisle for a First class Aisle.

    We have an upcoming trip where my wife and I are separated she is in a 2 seat coach exit row in the window and I have the aisle seat across which also only has 2 seats. So hopefully the aisle person next to her will...

    I've asked someone to switch seats before so that I could sit next to my wife. But it was a First class Aisle for a First class Aisle.

    We have an upcoming trip where my wife and I are separated she is in a 2 seat coach exit row in the window and I have the aisle seat across which also only has 2 seats. So hopefully the aisle person next to her will switch or the window person next to me will switch.

    I would never dream to ask if it was not equivalent or an improvement for the other person.

    1. Eskimo

      Anyone please explain me why?

      @MIchael R Karpiel
      Please explain why do you need to sit next to your wife. I've never understand this ever. (I'll give a pass if you and your wife are older than 65). I've never once heard someone got divorced because they sit separated on the plane. Nor will the time on the plane the only time you have. Ovulation in the next few hours and you can't wait?...

      Anyone please explain me why?

      @MIchael R Karpiel
      Please explain why do you need to sit next to your wife. I've never understand this ever. (I'll give a pass if you and your wife are older than 65). I've never once heard someone got divorced because they sit separated on the plane. Nor will the time on the plane the only time you have. Ovulation in the next few hours and you can't wait? Afraid, he or she runs away with the new seatmate? If for some reason the plane is your precious time together you're too cheap to buy the seat next to you? You want to spend so much time together but you can't spend a few minutes to select seats? You loved he or she so much, you waited to book flights the last minute when it's full? It's not me, it's you who don't deserve my seat.

      I'm normally agree to switch (even to a slightly worse seat) when an elderly or family with young children asks me.
      I always say no when 2 people who looks around 18-65 and have no medical condition wants to sit together.
      You have plenty of time at the origin and the destination.
      I always say no if you have an ESA.
      I am very delighted if you occupy my seat before I board. You are guarantee to get the walk of shame.

    2. jetset

      Really? This is an absurd response. No one said they "NEED" to sit next to their spouse. It's a preferable situation - you're traveling together, why not sit together if it's possible. If it's not possible everyone will be fine. They're simply stating that is the preference, not that it's a must.

      I've had situations where due to aircraft swaps my partner and I get reassigned seats that aren't next to each other. We politely...

      Really? This is an absurd response. No one said they "NEED" to sit next to their spouse. It's a preferable situation - you're traveling together, why not sit together if it's possible. If it's not possible everyone will be fine. They're simply stating that is the preference, not that it's a must.

      I've had situations where due to aircraft swaps my partner and I get reassigned seats that aren't next to each other. We politely ask our seatmates if they'd be willing to switch. If not, that's fine - we'll sit separately but we'd prefer to sit next to eachother. We don't even talk much but it's nice to be able to make the offhand comment, ask for things, etc.

      Also in COVID times I'd prefer to sit next to someone from the same household than a stranger. Not that this significantly changes exposure risk but, again, a preference.

      You sound like the type of person that won't allow their luggage to be moved slightly in the overhead bins even if it would result in more luggage being accommodated. Obstructionist for no reason other than being inflexible. To be clear, I'm not even saying you should move when asked but acting as if it's a ridiculous question to pose or that there's no possible reason for a healthy middle-aged couple to move seats is absurd.

    3. PlowJockey

      @Eskimo "Please explain why do you need to sit next to your wife. I've never understand this ever. (I'll give a pass if you and your wife are older than 65)."

      It's often not a need, but a preference. As noted by other comments, sometimes (especially this year) flights get canceled and passengers get rebooked out of their seats together - not because they're too cheap to pay for the seat assignment fee or due...

      @Eskimo "Please explain why do you need to sit next to your wife. I've never understand this ever. (I'll give a pass if you and your wife are older than 65)."

      It's often not a need, but a preference. As noted by other comments, sometimes (especially this year) flights get canceled and passengers get rebooked out of their seats together - not because they're too cheap to pay for the seat assignment fee or due to poor planning. Just because you may prefer to escape a companion for a few hours of flight time (or vice versa, and from your attitude I can understand that) doesn't mean everyone shares the same preference.

      Obviously fine to decline. But it's sad you would hate on folks for asking or lack the imagination to understand why they enjoy each other's company.

    4. Eskimo

      @PlowJockey

      Well that is why I accommodate the elderly or young children.
      Most of the time it is just those who think they are the center of the world and everyone else must be interrupted so they can stay in the center of the world.

      If I was separated from my companion because of cancellation, then we split. Lucky for me, with a few moments planning ahead, I normally do get to sit next...

      @PlowJockey

      Well that is why I accommodate the elderly or young children.
      Most of the time it is just those who think they are the center of the world and everyone else must be interrupted so they can stay in the center of the world.

      If I was separated from my companion because of cancellation, then we split. Lucky for me, with a few moments planning ahead, I normally do get to sit next to my companion, unless we get upgraded, then quite often we have to split.

      I know I'm going to get the heat for being straightforward, but really are you all going to ask people your whole life to keep you in the center. If the divorce rates are not at an all time high, I might be understanding to couples.
      You take my seat so you can enjoy each other's company just to throw it all away few years later with a divorce.

    5. Joe

      Another reason is with how cramped the seats are, it's more pleasant to be next to your spouse/partner than being crammed in next to a stranger.

  33. derek

    Others sometimes have no strategy. They have 2 middle seats and want to sit together. Instead, one of them should try to get an aisle or window seat, even if near the back. With that, they may be able to switch easier.

    For example, 35C aisle and 30B middle originally. They may convince 35B to sit in 30B. That way, the two will sit in 35B and C.

    If they have 30B and 15B, they might be able to convince 30A or C to sit in a middle seat but way up in front.

    1. Eskimo

      The secret strategy is to ask the flight crew. Works best with JetBlue.

      No one dares to reject flight crew instructions. You will end up being offloaded by armed law enforcement officers. The media will portray you as the disruptive passenger. If they can divert planes because they think feathers can hijack a plane then anything can happen to you.

  34. Susan

    We do the aisle / window thing also and actually had the middle seat guy turn us down once when we offered him his choice of aisle or window. For a 4.5hr flight! Bonkers

    1. Eskimo

      Was that person by any chance Japanese?
      It might be a cultural thing too. My Japanese friend told me some Japanese are very strict by the rule, zero deviation. You assigned seat is your only seat.

      My personal record was 14 hours JFK-NRT. The guy took only 1 bathroom break and stayed invisible the whole flight, in a way, respect.
      Another time, I think it was DTW-HND, it was on A330. The Japanese...

      Was that person by any chance Japanese?
      It might be a cultural thing too. My Japanese friend told me some Japanese are very strict by the rule, zero deviation. You assigned seat is your only seat.

      My personal record was 14 hours JFK-NRT. The guy took only 1 bathroom break and stayed invisible the whole flight, in a way, respect.
      Another time, I think it was DTW-HND, it was on A330. The Japanese guy was in the aisle and I was window. The flight was not very full so I switched out to another row, and told him I won't be returning. But every time I walked pass my old seat, he never once intruded my old seat, even his legs or elbow didn't spread out. Respect.

  35. Bob

    Timely article. Im traveling with my family this week and our original flights were cancelled and we were rebooked automatically onto the only other direct flights. We were spread apart the cabin with my young children sitting separate and alone. United was no help in accommodating us as they cancelled flights on 767s, rebooting onto polaris 777s. We were told us to ask people to trade seats with us.

    1. Never In Doubt

      This happened to me day of travel at the airport. Flight canceled, put on next flight. Wife and two little-ish (5-10) kids with me. We’re scattered across economy, all middle seats. Gate agents ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
      Nobody would switch. Couldn’t blame them!

  36. D3kingg

    No thank you. I prefer to keep my assigned seat.

Featured Comments Load all 52 comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

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Kat J

Last flight I took, I paid the upcharge for both the slightly-larger seat and to select the seat for both legs of my flight. I have extreme anxiety, and this was my workaround to make the trip bearable. Got off the plane and used the bathroom at the stopover and, don't you know, return to a woman sitting in my seat, with 2 kids in the rest of the row. "I couldn't get all together with my kids, it's fine if I take your seat, right?" Just above "commercial flights" on the list of anxiety triggers is "confrontation with strangers" and above that, "kids." I threw myself in the other seat, still ashamed of that to this day. And it might literally be my last flight...it was rough. So while I mostly used this opportunity to complain about something I've not gotten over, allow me to suggest not taking seats others may have paid for and been counting on.

Christopher MacLean

Sure, but sometimes it’s the airline’s fault. For example, I recently paid for seat assignments to be next to my wife and our 2-yo son on a full flight. It was a Delta award on a KLM flight. I paid Delta but at the airport KLM had no record my seat assignment purchases. Only the kindness of a stranger allowed me to switch and help with our kid management. (He was good but it’s a lot of work.) I’m still trying to get my money back from delta even with an ironclad receipt. You’d think it would have only taken one call.

LuxinLA

Hmmmm... don't like switching seats especially during the pandemic when I'm purposely trying to pick seats, and change them right before boarding, that have the middle to the aisle clear and open. When the Seat Gods smile upon you, it's like winning the lottery to have the entire row to yourself! No pax shld deny another of that good fortune; haters stay away.

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