Seat-swapping on airplanes can be a reasonable plea or a scam. I’ve got a dozen rules to help you decide when to swap.
Seat-swapping between passengers has reached epidemic levels. The airlines have an ever-going campaign to squeeze more and more passengers into their planes. TSA security lines are often long and full of angst for many.
At airports there’s a constant passenger rush to the gates to wait for flights. Passengers with checked luggage never stop worrying about it arriving with them with nothing missing. And of course, in general, flying is stressful every time most of us journey from home, whether for business or leisure.
We’ve planned well and carefully chosen seats for our flights. Sometimes we have to pay a seating choice fee or extra cash for seats in an upper-class cabin. It can be, at best, annoying to be asked to seat-swap and upsetting if the new seat is one of significantly less quality.
I have a seat-swap scam story to tell. A woman wouldn’t move from first class to coach to sit with her husband. She wanted me to make the move!
I had a seat-swapping incident several years ago. I was flying back from a convention in Los Angeles. Totally spent after four days of workshops, meetings, and the organization’s annual general meeting, I was exhausted. Knowing I’d be tired, I used miles to upgrade to first class for the transcontinental flight, not wanting to take a chance on an automatic upgrade. It was a good decision. There was just one auto-upgrade available, and a higher-status traveler got it.
Shortly after I sat down, a woman sat in the window seat beside me. Within a minute, she asked if I would swap my seat with her husband so they could sit together. I almost said yes but asked, “Where’s your husband sitting? Is that him on the other side of the aisle?”
She replied, “No, he’s just a few rows behind us.”
I saw him as she waved to him to come up, getting up from the middle seat about ten rows back in economy. I said, “I’m sorry, but this is first class and your husband’s seat is a middle seat in economy. Why don’t you ask if the woman sitting next to him would exchange seats with you so the two of you could sit together. I’m sure she’d be happy to move to first class.”
She very obnoxiously replied, “Oh, I couldn’t do that. I think you’re being very selfish, forcing us apart.”
I retorted sarcastically, “Yes, that’s me, Mr. Selfish.”
For the next few minutes, she was cursing under her breath. But I immediately put on my noise-canceling headset and started watching a movie, stopping only for the safety briefing, then dinner. She finally got over it.
Oh, and she never even visited her husband in economy!
There are times when we should seat-swap. I’ve done it.
I’ve said yes when asked to swap seats from time to time. I’ve swapped seats so couples could sit together when the seats were the same as mine. I’ve allowed parents to sit with their youngsters.
When asked to sit in coach while in premium seating, I’ve drawn the line, I consider that a scam. The passenger could swap in reverse. In one case, that’s exactly what a flight attendant did for a parent. They had the child in the premium economy next to me go back to his mom with the woman sitting next to her coming up to premium economy next to me.
Here are my dozen seat-swapping rules.
Over the years, I’ve compiled a list of a dozen rules for seat-swapping that I’ve followed.
1. If I’m traveling with my wife, neither of us swap seats.
2. I won’t swap my seat if I’m traveling with someone needing medical or otherwise assistance.
3. I won’t swap my seat while traveling with my family or close friends.
4. If I paid extra for my seat, such as for first class, business class or premium economy, I won’t swap to a lesser class seat. The right swap is the other way around.
5. If I chose and paid for a “better” seat, such as one that I can recline a bit, one with extra legroom, wider, etc., I won’t swap to a lesser quality seat, as the right swap is the reverse, similar to a swap between cabins.
Swapping in economy to an exit row seat may sound like a good deal, but not if the exit row is next to a lavatory.
6. If I’m on a flight longer than an hour, I won’t swap to a seat near an economy lavatory, particularly near an exit row. (I’ve found that too many people think that the area in front of the exit row seats is a great place to congregate while waiting to enter the lavatory in planes designed that way.)
7. If I’m connecting to a flight as soon as I land, I won’t swap to a seat in a row behind where I was sitting unless the crew will be asking everyone to remain seated who doesn’t have a tight connection while those who do get quickly off the plane. That has happened on numerous flights I’ve been on over the years, flying into a hub city that ran a half hour late or more.
Middle seats are difficult to work in, particularly if you need a laptop computer.
8. If I need to work on the flight, I don’t swap to a middle seat where using a computer and working generally is much more difficult.
9. If someone is sitting in my seat when I board, I will not swap my seat with them when they tell me that I should use their seat since they’ve already sat down. If necessary. I’ll have the flight crew move them to their seat. This happened to me twice. I had to call in a flight attendant both times.
10. If you’re not polite (calling me “Bro” is an immediate killer) or are in any way obnoxious or automatically expecting me to swap, call me obnoxious, but I’m not swapping my seat.
I’ll seriously consider seat-swapping so a parent can sit with their child, if it’s a logical swap. I won’t swap with anyone who appropriates my seat before I’ve boarded and plans to hold on to it.
11. I’ll seriously consider a seat-swap so a parent can sit with their infant, toddler, or youngster, even if it’s to a lesser seat in the same seat class and if I’m the logical person with whom to swap. On the other hand, I won’t swap if it’s a teenager or adult child unless they have a medical condition that the parent can help with.
12. If I’m asked to swap seats for spouses, partners, or family members, one got an upgrade, and the other doesn’t forget it. My wife and I have turned down single-person upgrades so we can stay seated together. If it means a lot to sit with family, the upgrade should always be turned down.
I closely follow my dozen seat-swapping rules, but I do have flexibility. There have been times when I purchased last-minute tickets and asked someone to swap so my wife and I could sit together, but each time it was with someone who had an equivalent or worse seat than my wife and I had.
After many years working in corporate America as a chemical engineer, executive and eventually CFO of a multinational manufacturer, Ned founded a tech consulting company and later restarted NSL Photography, his photography business. Before entering the corporate world, Ned worked as a Public Health Engineer for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. As a well known corporate, travel and wildlife photographer, Ned travels the world writing about travel and photography, as well as running photography workshops, seminars and photowalks. Visit Ned’s Photography Blog and Galleries.