What would make you give up your airplane seat?

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 at the time of booking, I can understand travellers being miffed with the suggestion that they suck it up for the convenience of others.

Last-minute drama

However, the flip side of the argument is some families may need to travel at the 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’d paid for it and especially if it was for something such as a couple preferring to sit together.

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.


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.

Read: Cool train trips around Australia

Jan Fisher
Jan Fisherhttp://www.yourlifechoices.com.au/author/JanFisher
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'.


  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.

  2. How ironic- one has good seat and other has (perceived) bad seat – BUT they always want to move to good seat.

    If that happens (say I’m in row 4 economy-paid) and the guy next to me wants to move their family up from say row 29. I’d tell the FA to move someone in row 29 up to take his/her place and they can move back to be with their travelling companion. Problem solved. Nothing to see here.

    Although if upgrade for wife and me to Business Class was offered – that’ll be a different story.

  3. I was once asked to move (don’t know why), but found that my new seat was next to the emergency exit. Which meant I would have to assist if there was an actual emergency. As I’m elderly, have mobility issues and invisible disabilities, I said no. Attendant was not happy, but that was a ridiculous request.

  4. My husband and I usually ask for a window seat for him, and the middle for me. A lot of times the lovely staff will try to give us a row to ourselves (I’m disabled, and he’s my carer). That said, one time we got put in aisle seats across from each other. After they had to keep excusing themselves to get past our linked hands, they never did that again. I’m a nervous flier and I do need to be able to holdi hands, or some other touching like shoulder to shoulder.

    Never been asked to change seats for anyone thankfully. Our flights are almost always an hour from our Outback town to Perth. We fly it so much for medical reasons, I think most of the staff know us by now 🙂

    I do agree that if someone wants to change seats, hubs and I best get upgraded, otherwise it’s a no!

  5. I fly internationally a lot (on average at least one flight every two weeks) and have been doing so for more than 10 years. On long haul flights I fly business class and have never been asked to swap seats. Occasionally I have swapped seats but usually to an empty seat so no problem.

    Sometimes on shorter flights where I am flying either economy class or premium economy I will pay extra to get the seat I want. Usually that works well as I appreciate extra leg room. Only once have I been asked to change seats by airline staff and when given the reason I readily agreed so that a passenger had space to grieve as they were going to Jakarta to bring a body home.

    On a different occasion I was flying with my family from Los Angeles to Sydney and we occupied a row of four plus one extra seat that was occupied by my then almost nine year old daughter (she was already an experienced flyer) who proceeded to make friends with the lady seating next to her – the friendship lasted for more than 30 years. My daughter has very good social skills.

  6. Depending on the circumstances of the person that is wanting to swap, it would be an absolute no. If I’ve paid for those particular seats for my partner and myself I have no intention of moving elsewhere unless it is more forward in the plane. There are too many entitled people around wanting to swap, well then they should have paid the extra at time of booking. If there is an emergency, talk to the desk staff before you get on the plane and whinge to the FAs aboard. Usually these things can be worked out before getting yourself on the plane.

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