Home Book trading Should I ask to change seats? The Great Airplane Debate.

Should I ask to change seats? The Great Airplane Debate.


Benét J. Wilson isn’t sure what makes her a magnet for seat swap requests.

“I don’t know if I have that face that people think I will,” said the longtime aviation journalist and aisle-seating enthusiast. “But it’s ridiculous. It almost became comical.

Some people want to sit with a spouse or a friend. Some try to stay close to children. Others just don’t want a middle seat. As someone who uses their frequent flyer status — or pays extra — to choose a seat near the front, Wilson is usually unmoved.

Unless it’s a parent-child situation, “because I’ve been there and done that,” Wilson said, his answer is a short, simple “no.”

“I’m sure there are good reasons, but ultimately it’s not my problem,” she said.

No, I won’t switch plane seats with you

The scenario can become a problem, or at least a major annoyance. Social media posts and news reports frequently provide examples of cheeky requests to swap seats and rude responses — or entirely reasonable requests and understandable responses, depending on which side you take.

“It’s a stressful situation for everyone involved in the actual change and for everyone sitting around the people trying to make the change and the crew,” said Bobby Laurie, a former flight attendant and host of the syndicated travel talk show “The Jet Set”.

An Irish model and TV personality made headlines in August after he used profanity on his podcast to describe a man who initially didn’t want to swap so his family could be together after booking a wrong seat . In response, Daily Mail columnist Jaci Stephen wrote that she still refused to give up her seat to families.

“Here’s a simple fact: if you want to travel as a family or in a group, book your seats together in advance,” she wrote. “Your incompetence in not doing so is no one else’s fault and you certainly shouldn’t make others uncomfortable when they want to stick to their probably well-organized plans.”

At least three Reddit threads this year, most recently in early September, explored whether a passenger was wrong for not changing seats for families. (They have all been validated.)

There are clearly strong feelings on both sides of the issue.

When to ask

Etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore, founder of the Palm Beach Protocol School and former flight attendant, said an acceptable reason for requesting an exchange is if a traveler is separated from someone who depends on them for his care.

“Unless you have a minor child or maybe even an elderly parent or someone you are caring for who needs special attention… I really don’t see where it’s mandatory or where you should ask to be moved” , she said.

And there are no guarantees, especially since many airlines charge for the selection of certain seats.

“As a family, you have to accept that maybe you’re not going to sit together because the people who paid for those seats don’t want to give them up,” Whitmore said.

When someone has a valid reason to request a new seat, Whitmore said they should ask the airline before boarding.

“You go to the door, say, ‘Here’s the situation, is there anything you can do to help us? “, She said. “When you wait to be on the plane, it puts everyone in a precarious position.

The rules of flight like a decent human

Laurie said if someone is sitting in a bulkhead seat behind a divider, they can be asked to give that up for a passenger traveling with a service animal, as the legroom is more generous.

Many travelers who responded to a query from The Washington Post on Twitter say they generally try to accommodate a family with children – although some included the caveat that they would not be moving forward to rear of the aircraft or would not move to a middle seat. The U.S. Department of Transportation issued a notice to airlines in July urging them to “do everything in their power to ensure that children 13 or younger are seated next to an accompanying adult at no additional charge. “.

Despite her strict change policy, Wilson said she was once tricked into voluntarily giving up her seat in the aisle when she noticed an extremely tall man sign.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t in good conscience allow this guy to be crammed into the middle seat for 3 1/2 hours,'” she said.

Several optimistic travelers said they would gladly give up their economy class seat for a business class or first class seat. Some Airmen said it wouldn’t matter to do an equal swap — aisle for aisle, window for window — in the same section, as long as they were flying solo that day.

“I guess it’s always good to ask, but it’s never good to be mad if someone says no,” Laurie said.

No one should expect another passenger to abandon their window or aisle for a dreaded middle seat; don’t even think to ask.

Asking someone to leave the front of the plane for the back is another tough sell. An almost impossible mission: to exchange a free seat in the main cabin for any selection requiring a supplement, in particular one with more legroom or in a higher fare category. And don’t expect another passenger to leave their party so you can be with yours.

Laurie said no one should expect the answer to her request to be “yes”.

“If you go with that assumption, you kind of take on that attitude that you deserve it and that person has to give it to you,” he said. “It’s not a polite way to ask someone to give up what they had planned or expected.”

The worst approach, Whitmore said, is to preemptively sit in a seat that doesn’t belong to you.

“People make mistakes all the time, but if you intentionally sit in someone else’s seat, that’s wrong, that’s rude,” she said. “Then the flight attendant has to get involved. Then the flight attendant should return you to your original seat. This causes delays.

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Airport People

She said people who don’t plan their seat selection should be prepared to sit apart from each other, arrive early to speak to a gate agent, or pay for an upgrade when they do. arrive at the airport.

Still, experts agree there may be circumstances in which travelers are separated for reasons that don’t amount to cheap behavior or careless planning. Maybe they booked last minute due to an emergency, or maybe they got re-booked on a plane with a different configuration after a cancellation and lost the seats they had. choose. Sometimes passengers don’t realize they’ve booked the most restrictive fare that doesn’t allow seat selection or ensure that everyone in a group is seated together.

“You don’t know if they’re going on vacation, you don’t know if they’re going to a funeral, you don’t know if they’re going to a wedding,” Laurie said. “It’s always best to remember that we’re all in this together, we should all treat everyone the way you want to be treated.”

How to ask – if you must

Politeness is key, Laurie said.

“Take into account that you know it would be a disadvantage for the person you’re asking, understanding the position you’re putting them in,” he said.

He said it was also acceptable to ask a flight attendant to facilitate if the request is made on the plane; they can sometimes help to facilitate the decision if the need for exchange is extreme.

Laurie said that on a United flight, when asked to change seats, she was offered a $25 credit. He traded. Other travelers told The Post on Twitter that they agreed to change and then were upgraded or given free food or drink for their good deed.

Gary Leff, author of travel blog View from the Wing, said on Twitter that “good business bait” was important.

“Don’t expect to trade a middle seat in the back for an aisle with more legroom,” he wrote. “Offer a compelling reason. Ask politely. Offer cash or gift cards.