Can you swap seats on a plane?

Colin wants to know if he is required to sit in his assigned seat if there are better seats available.

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Q. Colin
I was on a flight recently and a passenger who was seated next to me got up and moved to a free seat shortly after we boarded. Is this allowed? What are the rules regarding when you are allowed to move seats and where you are allowed to move to?

A. Cabin crew usually prefer you to stay in your assigned seat during take-off and landing as the weights and balances on the aircraft may require it. One person moving is unlikely to unbalance the plane, but they don’t want to encourage too much movement around the cabin.

If you see a free seat after the cabin doors are closed (so that you know no more passengers are boarding the flight) and you would like to move, it is usually best practice to talk to the cabin crew, rather than just moving and sitting in the seat as the passenger you described did.

The cabin crew will most likely grant your request, especially if the seat is in the same class as your assigned seat, but they do have the final word on whether you are allowed to switch seats or not.

Unfortunately, as airlines have started to charge more for some seats on a plane, even in economy it is becoming increasingly difficult to change seats once you have boarded. Some airlines won’t allow you to move into an empty seat in economy if it has extra legroom, because they charge a premium for that seat. Even though the seat remains empty, it usually placates the passengers who paid extra for the privilege of having a bit more space.

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Written by Ben

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