Travel SOS: Can you swap seats on a plane after boarding?

Colin wants to know if he is required to sit in his assigned seat after boarding.

Travel SOS: Can you swap seats on a plane after boarding?

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


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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    3rd May 2019
    The first part of your article is spot on Ben but the second half is debatable.
    I ALWAYS change seats on a longhaul flight if there are groups of 3 untaken as these become a place to have a nap. You have to move immediately the seat belts sign is turned off as these go within minutes.
    Its funny about not being in your assigned seat. I understand how the calculations around centre of lift and centre of gravity work and why staff want passengers to remain in their allotted seats. As you correctly stated staff do not want a mass movement as this is what changes the dynamics. With that in mind I was once lectured about being on seat back by a young stewardess who had absolutely no idea about the mathematics behind what she was saying and how ridiculous her comment was. When I explained this to her she disappeared very quickly.
    For the record its takeoff and landings where pilots want passengers to be in their original seats and also seats are never changed en masse unless the plane is only half full so there is no real change which can leave an aircraft unstable. Its just 'policy'.
    4th May 2019
    Make a difference, swap seats with pilot.
    Pass the Ductape
    5th May 2019
    Hahahahahah! Good one Charlie
    4th May 2019
    Many peoples ignorance of aviation procedures is quite evident in this 'story' and the associated one about baggage handlers.
    In these days of DNA analysis changing seats pre takeoff and before landing may not be such an issue but in days pre-DNA (ie before about 2000) your seat position and/or the seat serial number, was the primary means of identifying your charred body in the event of a crash, particularly on take-off or landing. Do not make light of weight and balance, particularly in smaller commuter aircraft. Many crashes have been attributed to incorrect wieght and balance. These are safety measures, not merely pig-headiness on the part of flight crews
    4th May 2019
    I don't recall any airlines ever asking my weight?
    pedro the swift
    5th May 2019
    Apparently in future,Cheexil61, they may not ask but put you on scales since the average weight they use for load calculations is obsolete and people are getting fatter.
    I recall getting weighed when going out to the rigs in Bass Strait. Helicopters are much more critical with loading!

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