You Never Have To Swap Seats On A Flight

On a recent Reddit thread, u/christontoast666 explained his moral dilemma when agreeing to switch seats on a flight with another passenger. “I booked an aisle seat on a 12-hour flight to Europe, and when I got on the plane, a woman asked me if I would mind switching with her so she could sit with her kids,” he wrote⁠ — only to discover his new seat would be a middle one. “So I went back to my original seat and told the woman ‘no,’ and immediately, she got quite upset. I explained to her why I needed my aisle seat, but at this point, everyone was looking at me like I’m this raging arsehole for separating a mum from her kids.”

For all the people-pleasers out there, we’re here to tell you: You do not have to agree to change seats when asked. Seating assignments are first-come, first-serve (or in many cases, something you’ve paid a premium for) which means getting the seat you want is each passenger’s own responsibility. Below are a few instances you might find yourself in and why it’s perfectly OK to refuse a request to trade — and the rare instance in which you actually might prefer to swap seats.

They offer a bad exchange

A passenger in a middle seat has asked for your coveted aisle one. Politely refuse and explain that you prefer the seat you picked; as the Points Guy writes, if you’re asked why you’re unwilling to trade, a simple “because this is my assigned seat” will suffice. Or be honest and explain that you just don’t want a middle seat. Unless the exchange is equal, like one aisle seat for another, don’t consider the trade.

You have a quick connection

You’re seated at the front of a flight so you can quickly deplane and make your connection. Don’t let someone take your seat and potentially compromise your ability to make your connecting flight. Explain the circumstances and why their seat would make it difficult for you to board your next flight on time. They should understand and willingly walk away in defeat. You’ve got a perfectly good reason to hang onto your seat here, and even if you didn’t, the other person was never entitled to it in the first place.

A passenger wants to sit next to their partner

It’s the most common excuse of them all; you’re seated next to the friend or partner of someone who’s sitting several rows back in the plane, and they’re wondering if you’ll switch so they can spend the flight together. Sounds nice, but you don’t have to move. They can survive without each other for a few hours, and if their need for each other was really that dire, they could have planned in advance and booked seats next to each other. Stay put.

When you should give in

There’s no circumstance under which you are required to give up your seat (unless an airline is involuntarily bumping you from a flight, but that’s an entirely separate discussion) — but there are times when you might want to trade. If the seat being offered to you is an upgrade, like they are offering an exit row seat with extra legroom, then go for it. If the exchange is equal but might benefit that person who can sit alongside their child, then you could trade if you’re feeling charitable.

But don’t give in if you feel inconvenienced at all by the request. If you’re lucky, they’ll ask another passenger or simply give up. And if you’re dreading spending a flight alongside a bitter passenger whom you’ve denied the chance to spend a couple hours gabbing with their partner, remember: It’s not your fault. Put on a movie or a pair of headphones and let them stew in their middle seat.


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