What would make you give up your airplane seat?

man putting luggage in overhead compartment

Have you ever been asked to vacate a seat on a plane? And did you agree or not?

Travel forums are full of tales of people being asked – or pressured – into giving up their seats for various reasons, but mostly to keep families together, although a surprising number only want to swap their seat for an aisle seat or bulkhead or exit row. Go figure.

There seems to be two camps in the answers; people who refuse to give up their seats, and people who only give them up for a good reason, and very few will willingly give up a good seat for an inferior one.

If you paid for a specific seat or booked in early and selected your seat the time of booking, I can understand travellers being miffed with the suggestion they suck up for the convenience of others.

Read: What your plane seat choice says about your personality

However, the flip side of the argument is some families may need to travel last-minute for any number of reasons, or their flight has been changed and it may be too late to choose assigned seats together. Do you let a toddler sit away from their parents, and would you even enjoy your flight with a minor sitting next to you on a flight?

My brother-in-law is 193cm – six foot four in the old scale – and travels a lot. He usually goes business overseas, but for short domestic flights he pays extra to get an aisle or exit row because it can be excruciating for him in today’s cramped cabins. I would get second-hand annoyance for him if someone asked to take his seat, especially as he’s paid for it and especially if it was for something such as a couple preferring to sit together.

Read: Five lesser-know places to visit in Vietnam

In an extreme example there is the case of the late Renee Rabinowitz, who successfully sued Israel’s national carrier El Al, for discrimination after she was forced to move from her seat next to an ultra-Orthodox man who refused to sit next to a woman.

It seems they picked the wrong woman to move on as Rabinowitz is a former a lawyer and Holocaust survivor who initially complied but when she found out the scale of the issue – there was an organised legal campaign against the practice – she sued the airline.

So what’s the solution? Depends on the situation and the alternatives.

Read: Cool train trips around Australia

If someone asks you to give up your seat, I think I speak for many people that if I had paid extra for a seat I would want some sort of compensation, either a better seat in turn, some discount flight vouchers – especially if was in business or premium economy – or free stuff, i.e. drinks or food.

But of course if it was for a flustered parent and I was in economy, I’d almost always move. They’d have my sympathies and frankly, I don’t want to look after someone else’s child. Thankfully my children are well beyond this and would probably prefer to sit on their own, but back in the day if I had to ask a stranger to move, I most definitely would shout them some snacks or drinks.

The cold, hard truth is that, unless the airline is providing a solution for you, you are under no obligation to give up your seat.

Have you ever given up your seat? We’d love to hear about your experience in the comments section below.

If you enjoy our content, don’t keep it to yourself. Share our free eNews with your friends and encourage them to sign up.

Written by Jan Fisher

Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.

Leave a Reply

GIPHY App Key not set. Please check settings


  1. My wife and I were on a trip from Halifax to Gatwick, UK on a UK airline.
    We waited to select seats until checking in as per the Airlines policy which stated there was no fee for selecting seats if you selected seats within the last 24 hours before flight time.. We were able to select two aisle seats opposite each other. During the flight the Attendant asked if I would move to allow two people on my left who had paid $26 for each for their seats, one of which was facing part of the bulkhead., to move across to my aisle seat. The Attendant asked for my boarding pass as though I had stolen the seat. I had the boarding pass and handed it to the Attendant who went away and then returned to say that there was a mistake and that I had to move for these Brits in the other seats.
    I was asked to move to the rear seats where there was lots of room, so I considered this and said that if I moved I wanted as many Fosters Beer supplied as I could handle in the first two hours of the trip. They agreed but in hindsight I felt that I should have asked for an upgrade to first class for my wife and I instead.
    Later, I outlined the issue experienced and made it clear that I would not be flying with that airline again in an email to the head office.. Their answer did not offer anything but stuck to their poorly outlined reason for asking me to move in the first place.

man holding wife's hand tightly on flight

Ask the experts about your fear of flying

film crew filming on beach at sunset

Bestselling writer Harlan Coben on travel disasters and tourist tactics