Etihad Airways seats economy class cabin
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

The Irritatingly Successful Seat Poachers

towing my bag before I sat in an aisle seat of a Boeing 777-300 aircraft to which I was assigned, a woman comes and places her bag on what was to be my seat for the next 14 hours for a transatlantic flight; and on that seat was a clean unused pillow.

“Could you please remove your bag from my seat?” I asked politely.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” she grunted indifferently as she plunked another bag on my seat so that she may stow a third bag into the overhead bin with which she and her husband were traveling.

This flight is already not starting off well for me; but it is a minor issue. Besides, I switched what was to be my pillow for a clean pillow from one of their seats without them knowing about it while they were busy getting settled. I have no idea where the undersides of those bags were before they touched what was to be my pillow; and I had no desire to get into a kerfuffle or brouhaha — or some other silly word which can mean noisy confrontation — for such a long flight seated in the economy class cabin of the aircraft.

Yes, I know: who knows where the pillow had been before I arrived at my seat; and when was the last time it was cleaned. However, I would say that there are better odds that a pillow is cleaner than the underside of a bag.

Expecting this to be a fairly full flight, I get settled in my seat as the boarding of passengers continues; but please allow me to “set the stage” first, so to speak…

There are four seats abreast in the middle section of this aircraft: D, E, F and G. I am sitting in G, which is a seat next to the aisle closest to the starboard side of the aircraft; while D is located next to the aisle closest to the port side of the aircraft.

The couple sat down in seats D and E. F was empty. I was seated in G.

Eventually, the boarding of passengers had concluded; and F — the seat next to me — was still empty. Yes! I thought — an empty seat for the long haul…

…until the male half of the couple — probably in his 50s — decides to move over one seat and sit next to me. What?!?

“There is an empty seat,” he volunteered to me as I sat there stunned. “This will give us more room.”

Yeah — it will give you and your wife more room. What about me?!? I originally thought for a moment that we would “split” the empty seat for more room — or at least use the seat back table to store empty food trays until the trays were taken away by the flight attendants.

I tried employing the “hint” method first. “You would rather sit next to me than your wife?” I semi-jokingly asked the man, to which he replied: “She is tired; and I want to give her room to lay down and sleep.”

Never mind that I just had a layover of 14 hours after concluding another flight having sat in a seat in the economy class cabin for greater than seven hours — but no one else but me caused that to happen; and I take full responsibility for that. I was fine; just tired. Normally, this would be no big deal — but who was he and his wife to declare themselves the final arbiters of how the empty seat should be used?

I decided to inform a flight attendant of this issue; and she then addressed it to the man by coming over to him and informing him to move over and take his assigned seat.

“This is my assigned seat,” he responded.

Yeah, right, I thought to myself.

“May I see your boarding passes, please?” asked the flight attendant.

As I sat there anticipating his moving over one seat within the next minute, he took out his boarding pass and showed it in plain view — and what I saw astonished me.

He was originally assigned to sit in seat F — the middle seat next to mine.

How could that be?!? That makes absolutely no sense — but it does not matter: he was assigned to F; and he had every right to sit there. There was nothing I could do at that point as the flight attendant walked away, as there was nothing she could do either.

Eventually, there was an announcement by the pilot that the departure of the aircraft would be delayed by ten minutes or so to unload the luggage of a couple of passengers who did not show up for the flight…

…and that is when it hit me: the couple “poached” seat D, which was the aisle seat — or perhaps they poached E, which was the seat next to it; but that seemed like an unlikely scenario — and the person originally assigned to that seat never showed up for the flight. That was the only logical explanation on a fairly full flight — otherwise, why would they book the two middle seats unless they booked the flight late and it was already crowded?

Either way, a poaching of a seat did happen — and I would have liked to see what the outcome would have been had that missing passenger showed up.

Meanwhile, the man sat next to me for the entire duration of the flight instead of his wife — all 13 hours and 15 minutes of it, which did not include taxi, takeoff and waiting at the gate.

Yes, I do realize that I did not pay for that empty seat and neither did they; and yet, for a while I could not help but feel like I was cheated — even though I know that I was not cheated in any way, shape or form…

…and then I figured out why I felt that way even though it was completely erroneous: had the couple taken their original seats to which they were assigned instead of “poaching” the aisle seat, this would not have been an issue for me in the first place. The man would have sat next to me all along; and I would have just sighed, shrugged my shoulders, and murmured “oh, well…”

I have written articles about seat poachers in the past — including this one; as well as seat poaching purportedly from the other point of view — but I have never come across a situation quite like this one before.

Have you experienced anything like this? What are your thoughts?

The photograph at the top of this article shows the actual row of seats in question before the couple showed up. My seat is the one on the left. Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

  1. Weird situation indeed. I had something like this happen, but decided to let it go.

    First, I was on a mileage run last year IAD-KWI-BAH and monitored the seatmap like a hawk for weeks leading up to departure.

    I finally secured 20G on the 777, middle section that had stayed empty with no one else in my row. I had done it, managed to find the golden goose in Economy, an empty set of 3. In front of me, was a woman with TWO CHILDREN (one on her lap in G, one in the middle seat in E) and a guy in D.

    My plan was the immediately lay down covering the the three seats once we were airborne. Apparently, the seat belt sign means nothing to the dude in 19D. He jumped up and snagged 20D as we were taxiing… I was furious.

    What the heck dude?!?! I worked HARD for this seat (changed at least 3 times).. but I understand. I understand he didn’t want to sit next to two young children overpowering a mother for 13 hours, but dang, did I get burned or what!

    1. Either that, or they poached seat E, Points with a Crew.

      One thing was for certain: seat F was assigned to the man, which is what was odd…

      1. Perhaps they booked D & F and figured “no one is going to opt for a middle seat… worst case we switch the person that selects E to sit next to each other”. My wife and I do this on transcons.. Book her on the window me on the aisle, worst case the person in the middle switches with either of us, best case no one selects the seat and no one gets assigned there.

        It’s a little different on a 4 abreast config, and how weird it was that he originally was in E, then moved to F.

        1. +1 my wife and I do this all the time on 3x seating…it’s kind of dishonest, but the way I look at it, is if the middle seat gets booked, the person has already come to terms w/ a middle seat for the long flight, so when they show up, it’s a nice little surprise to get a non-middle seat 🙂

          1. I do not think that it is dishonest, Kurt. I certainly understand attempting to get an empty seat next to you, which is far more difficult to do when traveling solo than when traveling as a couple.

  2. If you think logically, wouldn’t you think they poached seat E? No one ever picks a open middle seat. The funniest part is that other boarding area blogs recommend this strategy as “How to score extra space on a flight.” I’m sure you were upset at the moment but when it comes down to it, you would do the same as well.

    1. …perhaps on the rows with three seats, Russell — as is the case on either side of the aircraft, which was configured 3-4-3…

      …but this was a center section with a row of four seats. Unless many of the seats were already taken by the time they booked their tickets, why do it with one person already assigned at an aisle seat in that row instead of in a row with only three seats?

      1. Were there any 3 seat sections empty? I think you already answered your own question “Unless many of the seats were already taken by the time they booked their tickets”. You’re trying to hit a point with this article and not taking a look at the whole picture. Who care if they booked 1000 days ago or 1 day ago. You can’t second guess why they choose the middle seats vs the side seats. You can only go with what you already know.

        Imagine if they booked the center section and your seat “G” was a no show or empty. Then they would have a whole section with two exits. Much more upside there with a small gamble.

        I’m sure the guy didn’t care where or who he sat next to. His wife on the other hand seems to be on the bossy end and usually someone who gets their way.

  3. Here is what really happened: the couple were checking out the seat map on their iPhone app until the very last moment, keeping seats D & F for themselves with no one in E. If, by some chance, someone showed up late assigned to seat E, the man would have traded with the person in seat E (since seats E & F are equal and the man would explain that he wanted to be next to his wife). Pretty smart of them to be honest.

    1. On this particular Boeing 777-300, Alan, the seats are configured 3-4-3…

      …so unless there were no open rows left, would it not have been better to have employed this strategy on the rows of three seats instead of in the center section?

  4. Now I know a reason not to say anything if the seat next to me appears to be poached.

    Because in this case, it really wasn’t poached at all. And complaining would make the flight even more uncomfortable.

    The strange thing is why did he sit in the other seat to begin with. He should have sat in F from the start.

    1. Why he did not sit in F in the first place was strange, Greg

      …but to his credit, the remainder of the flight was not uncomfortable at all. We both minded our own business, which is what I typically prefer…

      …although there were a couple of times where he was dozing that he almost leaned on my shoulder. I definitely would not have liked that…

  5. This is why when you have an open seat next to you, you should put some of your stuff there to claim it. Then you only move the stuff if the person has the boarding pass for that seat. Which in this case, he did.

  6. Not to be rude but were they both big? maybe that’s why he rather sit next to you than his wife? It makes no sense to move over for his wife’s sake.

    That does suck but I am surprised you actually got the flight attendant to ask him to move. I think I’m too nice to do that.

    1. Neither of them were passengers of size — either horizontally or vertically, Prince. He was average sized; she was smaller but not petite.

      When I approached the flight attendant, I merely explained the issue as I saw it at that time. She chose to pursue it; I did not specifically ask her to pursue it.

  7. That does sound very irritating. I thought passengers were supposed to sit in their assigned seats for take off because the plane’s balance is calculated according to weight distribution?

    Anyway putting their dirty bag onto the clean pillow

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