Etihad Airways economy class
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Seat Swap Requests: What Would You Do?

ou take your seat aboard the aircraft, ready for your flight and hoping that it departs on time. You are sitting in that coveted seat: perhaps it is in an exit row where you have more legroom; or a bulkhead where there is nobody in front of you to recline his or her seat; or an aisle seat for a quick exit to the lavatory or to leave the aircraft upon completion of the flight; or a window seat where you can enjoy some of the best views or lean your head against the wall for a quick nap…

…and then someone approaches you, asking if you can swap your seat so that he can be with his wife or she can be with her child.

As I first asked in this article on Friday, May 10, 2013 with regard to seat swap requests aboard airplanes: what would you do?

Many people responded in the Comments section of that article, which is about an issue that has occurred aboard airplanes for many years; and even though that article is greater than two years old, seat swapping has arguably become more prevalent due to the perceived cramming of more passengers onto fuller airplanes these days due to consolidation and mergers of airlines — as well as a supposedly improving economy.

I was personally almost driven to request swapping seats with someone else after I sat next to this person on a recent flight — but I suppose the situation could have been worse.

Neither airline reservations systems nor passengers are perfect. Flights become full. Passengers may not perform their due diligence in securing desired seats — or perhaps there was a swap of equipment which led to the separation of two people traveling together, which inevitably leads to the seat swap request.

Typically, one of two scenarios occurs: you either say “no problem” and agree to swap seats; or you politely decline. Simple enough, right?

Not always. FlyerTalk members relate their seat swap request “horror stories” — and while seat swap requests may not be as nefarious as people who poach seats which have already been assigned to other passengers, some of them are experiences which many of us would rather forget.

What if someone wanted to swap a seat with you — but the assigned seat of that person was located in a different cabin than your seat? While it might be a “no-brainer” if you were sitting in a middle seat at the rear of the aircraft and the person willing to trade with you was seated in the premium class cabin — yeah, right, that will happen — what are the chances of you obliging if the seat locations were reversed?

If those seats were in different cabins and the person was a family member or friend, would members of the flight crew mind if you swapped seats at random with that other person during the flight?

Perhaps you are “forced” to swap your seat as a result of the lesser of two evils. Consider the experience of FlyerTalk member wimpypipsqueak, who swapped seats after being told by a father that “you better swap seats — otherwise you’ll have nanny and a screaming kid in the middle.” That discussion had since become so contentious that moderators were forced to close it.

By the way, I intend to write an article about traveling with children in the future, although there had been some discussion about airline flights for adults only — but I digress.

Let us not forget that now that airlines are charging extra for certain seats for passengers who have not earned elite status in their frequent flier loyalty programs, a seat swap may not be completed as easily as a result of simply asking. The reason of why you reserved that seat for that flight may have evolved from comfort or convenience to price: “I paid $25.00 extra for this seat, and I am not about to take your middle seat by the rear lavatory. Sorry.”

If the response from the person with the seat request was “I will pay you $50.00 for that seat. I need to sit next to my son, who is nervous about his first flight and needs for me to be sitting next to him”, what would you do?

According to FlyerTalk member flydrha, a flight attendant reportedly initially asked flydrha to swap a coveted Economy Plus aisle seat with a fellow passenger traveling with a large dog seated in a regular economy class middle seat before offering a Economy Plus middle seat. Although flydrha felt bad, the seat swap was not executed. What would you have done?

By the way, that discussion had also since become so contentious that moderators were forced to close it as well.

FlyerTalk member rymetymeuk was prepared to offer $100.00 to a fellow passenger in the business class cabin to swap seats so that he may sit next to his pregnant wife who has a fear of flying. If you were that passenger, would you swap seats?

There was a potential solution which apparently no longer exists about which I wrote in this aforementioned article:

Could the answer be in the form of a software application program for your portable electronic called SeatSwapr? It purportedly checked seat availability in real time where you can either offer your seat for trade or place an offer on a seat you want. Can you actually profit by securing a desired seat and selling it to the highest bidder? I have no idea — and, surprisingly, there is no discussion to be found on FlyerTalk about SeatSwapr. Regardless, I do not intend to create a business plan on how I can earn a living swapping seats for profit by using SeatSwapr — but what do I know? Some enterprising person might be able to earn a few extra bucks per year swapping seats aboard aircraft.

Apparently, no one at SeatSwapr created a viable business plan; so I suppose I do know something about business.

Another concept — which was to be known as UberAirr — was announced but not launched last year; but it is expected to be launched as AirrTrade sometime during this month. Four members of Milepoint in an unscientific poll of only seven voters — hardly a significant sampling on any level —  were not interested in this concept of allowing you to purchase and sell your seat assignment.

AirrTrade from AirrTrade on Vimeo.

Then again, seat swaps can typically be negotiated before a flight. Have you ever been paged in an airport lounge to work out a seat swap with a fellow passenger?

You do not necessarily need to be active in the seat swap exchange to be impacted as a result. Consider the dichotomy experienced by FlyerTalk member ddrost1, who relates two stories: one where a teenaged girl threatened loudly to throw up on her mother if she did not switch her window seat with her middle seat; and one where an aisle and an aisle seat separated ddrost1 from an attractive woman — only to have some guy take that empty aisle seat where he and ddrost1 eventually engaged in a seat swap to the chagrin of that guy.

Sometimes a swapping of seats can occur without your input, as has supposedly happened to FlyerTalk member kate21677, who complained that her husband decided without first consulting with her to honor a seat swap request in the premium class cabin where she would be sitting in a bulkhead row, which she “hates.”

It is important to note that — due to the factors, policies and procedures of the upgrading of passengers to seats in the premium cabin aboard an airplane — that two people or three people in a family may not have seats together even though they are seated in the same cabin

…and sometimes the upgrade procedure can benefit you if you are seated in the economy class cabin next to the companion who is sitting in the premium class cabin and asks you to swap seats. The chances of that happening are slim, but it does happen — and you get to reap the windfall…

…unless the two people want to swap seats with each other between cabins during the flight rather than be together — but that is a story for another time.

The problem is that there are only so many seats on only so many flights. While there are some people who care more about arriving at their destination safely and on time than what seat is assigned to them, to accommodate every passenger with his or her preferred seat is nearly impossible.

I attempt to be as helpful as possible — but within reason, of course. I am not going to swap a seat towards the front of the aircraft with someone who is seated in that middle seat near the lavatory at the rear of the aircraft. However, I will usually accommodate requests for people who want to sit next to their traveling companions.

Of course, I have been on both sides of the seat swap request. Although I rarely ask to swap seats, I am usually successful because I am respectful and polite to the fellow passenger of whom I am requesting to exchange seats. As I have posted numerous times, politeness and respect towards others are your best tools in securing requests in getting what you want. However, I have had a few denials — one of them which was inexplicably and unnecessarily rude and without reason for the refusal to exchange seats, so I let it go. I expect to be treated with politeness and respect in return — but what can I do? Success 100 percent of the time is rare.

Anyway, what are your thoughts about swapping seats aboard the aircraft with fellow passengers? What id you did not understand the request for swapping seats by a fellow passengerWhat do you believe is the proper etiquette to follow and practice? Do you have a seat swapping experience you would like to share?

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

  1. Interesting concepts and I feel each situation is different. I also know that some airlines will handle differently. In your example with preg. wife. If the husband is trying to switch so he can have a better seat too, then my answer would be no. I would suggest he ask the person next to his original seat to move forward and have a better seat. If I pay for a seat in business, I would not swap. Now with that said, I have paid for an aisle economy plus on Delta. It was a long flight. I was seated. A daughter sat her mom down in the middle seat and left to the back of the plane. At the same time the daughter told her mom to behave and relax. She noticied my skin had some color and asked what I was and I said mexican. She then started to tell me how she really liked the Mexican and they were good people and how someone did something nice for her once and now she trusts them. She was older, found it humorous, but I knew I could not talk the whole flight, just wanted to rest, had a rough weekend. Then a young woman came to sit in the window seat. The older woman then started to have a tantrum and almost yelling that was supposed to be her daughters seat. I knew I couldn’t take that the whole flight. I went to the back, got her daughter (sitting in a middle seat (YUCK))and told her to take my seat. Her mom obviously needed her, was aging and couldn’t last a whole flight with her. I wrote to Delta afterwards and they refunded my seat. The FA gave me a wine…all was good especially since I was squashed between a couple who did not want the middle seat…….again, have to take it case by case 🙂

    1. You deserve much, much more than a wine in my opinion, Darlene.

      Although your experience was not completely altruistic, your heart was in the right place, as you went above and beyond what many people would have done had they found themselves in a similar situation.

      I agree: seat swapping should be assessed on a case-by-case basis; but there are some people who have their absolute beliefs pertaining to seat swapping — and I cannot wait to read them here in the Comments section.

      Thank you for sharing your experience.

  2. Hot topic for sure. I think most of us would swap for a better seat. Some would even if already seated next to a spouse or older child in many cases if the seat was in a better cabin. I have done a few reasonable swaps of course. Heck I even swapped a First Class Window seat (that I had spend 10 months reserving) for a middle First seat on a 16 hour flight to Asia and that was a $10,000 seat.
    All that said. Don’t ask me to swap out of an isle, exit row isle or economy plus type seat if you only have a middle seat or worse seat to exchange. Also don’t ask me to swap seats if you haven’t done ANY work to secure your seats together ahead of time. For example not checking in 24 hours prior and looking at what seat you have, etc.
    Oh and don’t be mad when people tell you no and I will be polite if I tell you no.
    I guess I spend way too much time trying to get the seat I want, even for short flights so don’t insult me if I say no even for a seemingly even swap. I have my reasons and likely paid a lot of money and or time to get the exact seat I like.
    Lastly if your an “A” passenger on a Southwest flight and your companion is a “C” don’t expect that too many folks are going to be nice and let you save that seat next to you in the exit row. Shame on any FA that let’s you save a seat as well. If your an “A” passenger and you purposefully paid extra for Early bird check in for only one of your party so you can save seats you should be ashamed of your self as well. In fact you put everyone on the plane in jeopardy with the bad karma surrounding you.

  3. I will do anything within reason to help out, but don’t ask me to take a seat with less leg room – I don’t fit in ordinary economy.

    My wife and I have been helped dozens of times to sit together after upgrades to first class – frequently allowing another couple to sit together as well. Some gate agents are proactive and call folks up to arrange the swaps. Those agents get one of those little slips elites have to give out.

    On one flight, a foreign family connecting off a long international flight with 3 small children were scattered in 5 locations and the kids were screaming. The flight attendant told everyone to sit down. My adult children got up anyway, enlisted another passenger, and arranged to get the family together. By this point the flight attendant was actually yelling to stop it and get in your seats. Mission accomplished to loud applause from the entire coach cabin. Flight attendant was fuming mad and stomped to the front of the plane.

  4. I hate to ask to swap seats as well, but did for a recent flight home from South Africa. In this case it was in business class, and my gf and I had reserved seats months in advance to be seated together (and I had been checking the reservation almost daily to guard against shenanigans). Lo and behold, on the day of the flight, South African Airways decided to move us both to wait list, and we are sweating it out until the gate agent lets us know that we are on the flight, but we are not seated together. We were in the same row, but on opposite ends of the row. She had an aisle seat on the right side and I had a window on the left side. Ultimately we got lucky again and found a nice lady to switch with me, and i was able to sit next to my gf. I know this is a charged topic, and was actually expecting more resistance, since it was in a premium cabin. I was very glad that it worked out, but would not want to be in that situation again…

    1. I think sitting next to your adult companion, in most cases, is not a need. It’s a want. I personally wouldn’t have swapped to unite a couple unless they were offering a better seat.

  5. A few years back on a fligh there was an incident with seat swapping in business class. A young man had declined the request of an older gentleman to swap seats so he could sit with his wife. The older man started getting very agitated and loud with the young man. Finally when the older man crossed the line and went beyond a verbal assault to touching the younger man who always remained seated and calm did the younger man pull out his badge and announce I am an air Marshall and you are under arrest. Talk about picking a fight with the wrong person. All I cared now is crap now we have no jar Marshall on our flight!

  6. If I’m asked to change my seat by a crew member, I request $200 for a “change fee.” That usually ends the discussion.

    If asked to change by a fellow passenger for an obvious family issue, I swap.

    Most of these issues could be worked out by the GA with one ounce of effort prior to boarding but that never happens.

    Why do you think that these issues are never addressed proactively?

  7. On our recent trip, we were re-routed on no less than 5 different flights. Our seats were picked out months in advance, me seated on the aisle with the 2 kids, and my husband in the same row on the other aisle. We only flew one leg like that! Due to cancellations and delays, we were put in last minute on every other flight, and even though the GAs tried to ask people to change seats, it came down to people in the seats who were sympathetic to our plight. If we actually had 2 seats together, I always put the kids there to watch a movie on the iPad. The worst was 3 middle seats where 2 people agreed to move so that we could have all three! Talk about gracious! We were very appreciative!

  8. We anticipated the need for passenger motivated to seat swapping when we filed a patent on how to go about doing this, considering the airlines don’t see it as a need, and can not collect this type of data on preferences such as religious preferences and other issues. Our patent allows passengers to switch by themselves for a fee.

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