Switching Seats on an Airplane can cause commotion and delays. So why do people ask!

Flying can be stressful enough with long security lines and overpriced airport food. Planning ahead, arriving early, and hanging on to our sense of humor can all be helpful in handling in-flight quandaries.

If you’re the one asking to switch seats, be sure you have a valid reason. Because aisle 17 is your lucky number or you want to be closer to the front, sit down! These are not compelling reasons.

Asking for a Seat Switch: Always include “please” and “thank you.”

  • Nope: Just because an airline has unassigned seating, a selection was made by the passenger, and they have the right to stay in it.
  • Yep: If you have only minutes to get to your connecting flight, speak up. Talk to the flight attendant. They are usually very helpful.
  • Yep: If you’re travelling with a child or elderly person who requires assistance. While it is a valid circumstance, some people might wonder why you didn’t plan ahead. They did.
  • Yep: You have a “real” medical condition that requires you to be near the restroom.
  • Nope: You are stuck in a middle seat, but prefer a window seat. You may stand a chance if you are offering an equal or better seat position.

How to Sweeten the Request: If declined, don’t throw a fit, you’ll find yourself being assigned a seat, in the back of a black and white.

  • Politely ask a flight attendant to make an announcement, including a sweet offer of purchasing wi-fi or a meal or beverage.
  • Questionable, but you can offer cash, deposit into their account, or purchase a gift card.
  • If you have a business, offer a complimentary service or product. They might not be interested–move on.
  • NEVER approach an unaccompanied minor. Your request may be misunderstood, not only by the minor, but also by the surrounding passengers. A child might feel obligated or intimidated by an “adult’s” request.
If the conversation or person starts to become belligerent, don’t pull out your phone to start recording. This will only antagonize the person more, and take away your focus on resolving the situation, or protecting yourself. Instead, use the “call button.”

Why People Decline to Switch Seats: No one is obligated to consider your request to switch seats, nor provide you with an explanation.

  • They’ve already wiped down their area.
  • They are settled in.
  • They paid extra for that seat.
  • They need to be close to the restroom, exit row, aisle…reasons they may not want to disclose.
  • They are seated next to their partner or coworker.
  • It’s a short flight. They figure you can make it in whatever seat you were assigned.
  • The way you asked; rudely, demanding, chip on your shoulder…

Related videoGood Morning America: “Switching Seats on an Airplane”

Ways to Reply to a Seat Switch Request: Remain calm. Ask for flight attendant assistance if you feel intimidated or they Become insistent. That is what the “call button” is for.

  • Acknowledge the request. Make eye contact when you reply. Ignoring someone can make them feel disrespected, hence, reacting in a more forceful manner. Wrongly, of course.
  • Calmly and politely respond with a neutral statement like, “No, I don’t want to switch seats.” “I’m comfortable where I am.” If you wish to provide an explanation that’s great, however, it only keeps the conversation going. “I paid extra for my seat.” They may comeback with, “How much? I’ll give you cash!” 

Final Thoughts:  The moment you see or hear the person becoming frustrated or pushy, disengage. At that point, it is unlikely that they’ll suddenly become reasonable. Use the “call button!”

Etiquette Expert/Trainer, Author, Media Source 

Nationally recognized etiquette expert with over twenty years of providing trainings, and serving as a source for media.

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© 2023 Rosalinda Oropeza Randall

Advice and tips provided are basic and general guidelines and options. 

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