Is it okay to say ‘no’ if asked to swap plane seats?

Burt wonders if it is acceptable to refuse a request from a passenger to swap seats.

When to say ‘no’ on a plane

Burt isn’t called ‘Stretch’ by his mates without reason. In fact, he is so tall that he actively seeks out airplane seats with more leg room when he flies. He wonders if it’s okay to refuse another passenger’s request that he swap seats.


Q. Burt.
I stand at six foot seven and, if I haven’t booked a seat with extra leg room, I can really struggle to get comfortable in economy. I can pay up to $175 (Virgin Australia) for the additional space, depending on the flight. But even when I pay less, I still feel obliged to switch seats with someone who asks to because they want to sit next to a loved one. In fact, I wonder if this is a ruse, where one of two passengers will buy the extra legroom and hope that their travelling companion can swing a similar seat without having to fork out more on their fare. I really resent having to give up my preferred seat. Can you tell me if there is any etiquette I should follow?

Well, Big Burt, I have good news for you. From my reading, the consensus among airline staff – and they should know – seems to be that you are well within your rights to refuse a fellow passenger’s request to change seats, even if you haven’t paid extra for it and even if you have no need for extra room.

If you have gone out of your way to book a seat to suit your physical comfort, then your proactivity should take precedence over someone who just took their chances with whatever the airline allotted them.

Of course, if asked to swap a seat that comes with an additional fee, you could always ask your intrepid fellow passenger to cough up the extra cost. Chances are they will just stay put.

There may be some exceptions. For instance, you can use your discretion if a parent wishes to swap with you in order to be next to their young child. Judge each request on its merits.

But one thing is for sure, you should not feel pressured to give up your special seat for an inferior one, even if you don’t have special needs.

Unless they have a compelling reason, it could in fact be considered rude of a passenger to expect you to give up your aisle or window seat for their middle seat.

For ideas on how to politely refuse a request for a switch, check out this forum.

Have you ever been asked to swap seats on a plane? If so, how did you react? Would you feel rude if you did not oblige such a request? Have you ever asked another passenger to give up their seat?



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    29th Sep 2018
    You are definitely within your rights Burt. I am also tall and pay for extra leg room if the flight is more than an hour or so. It isn't necessarily a ruse though and they is several reasons why loved ones are seated apart. A few years back we booked with Air New Zealand and only needed to pay for one checked bag. Problem was was could only put us through on the same booking with both having checked bags or neither having a bag at all. We made separate bookings to get overcome this but then ended up with separate seats. Some may have been switched onto the flight at the last minute by the airline. Some simply don't think reserve seating before check in and some aren't prepared to pay the fee for selected seats so take their chances at check in. Also, some might have only booked the flight a few days before and only single seats were left. Whatever the reason, unless the exchange is with a seat of equal or better leg room I would decline. Bottom line is you paid for it so it's yours. If they really want to sit together why can't the person next to you give up their roomy seat and move to sit next to their loved one in the crappy seat?
    29th Sep 2018
    Of course he doesn't - he just paid an extra $175! Try that caper with a business class passenger - they paid extra too.
    I am sure the other people in the row who have the extra space seats would find it very easy to swap with the people in the row that this family member just came from! hehe
    29th Sep 2018
    What is really annoying me with flights at the moment is the carry-on luggage.

    No one is checking the 7kg limit and the overhead lockers are stacked to the point where they serve no purpose for the traveller you wants to temporarily store something to access during the flight.
    They could easily weigh the items at the customs check and send them back to the baggage check in. Either it is time to start thinking of the plane's architectural design or force people to stow their baggage below.
    29th Sep 2018
    Why can't they weigh the carry-on at the check-in or baggage drop counters where they have the scales to do so?
    29th Sep 2018
    Good idea. Although you can check in online these days so no one actually checks the bag weight.
    29th Sep 2018
    Actually I beg to differ on this one. On all my recent trips between Sydney and Melbourne the 7kg limit has been rigorously adhered to Not only a bag being weighed but also women's handbags and even the newspaper were added to the scale. If you were carrying it, it was weighed. There were many many people who had to pay $50 dollars to have their bag checked in before the flight!
    29th Sep 2018
    I was once asked to swap; no idea why but agreed. When I got to the new seat, it was the emergency exit. I then refused, as no way could I fulfil the necessary tasks if there was an emergency. I was a Disability Pensioner(now Aged). I refused to take the seat and somehow they got a volunteer. I don’t know what all that was about, but putting me (5 foot tall, feeble looking) in the Emergency seat was just stupid.
    29th Sep 2018
    Now I have confidence that you would never have had to use it!
    It does seem illogical however having the leg room would have been wonderful.
    29th Sep 2018
    I was once asked by a passenger to swap my aisle seat (which I had specifically chosen online when making my booking) for a middle seat elsewhere. I refused as it was an 9 hour flight and I dislike middle seats. Eventually a hostess approached me and offered me a different aisle seat and I happily swapped. I will only swap if it suits me and maybe,in the future, if I get lucky, I might get bumped up to 1st class by a hostess trying to get me out of my seat for a fellow passenger!!
    29th Sep 2018
    No one wants a middle seat ever!
    I was so lucky on my last few seats to have the middle seat empty both times. Bliss!
    29th Sep 2018
    I have been asked to swap seats so a child could sit in the window seat next to her parent. I refused! When I am travelling 24 hours in flight and have paid to select my seat, I am not going to be emotionally blackmailed into giving up my carefully considered choice for a parent too cheap or lazy to do the same.
    29th Sep 2018
    Totally agree KSS, not going to kill the kid if it doesn't sit next to the window, similarly people who book late and end up with separate seats and then want to sit together, who cares!, again its not going to kill them to sit separately, they need to suck it up and chill out and enjoy the peace; I wouldn't think of changing unless the new seat was an upgrade!
    29th Sep 2018
    No you may politely decline to swap seats if somebody requests that you change. If it suits you then of course you may change. If I had paid extra then it is only fair that the person who swaps pays you the amount you paid for the particular seat and your answer should say that I paid an extra $100 for this seat I am prepared to change if you pay me the extra too.

    I travel a lot in Business Class and sometimes swap seats. It is not usually a problem because the seats are all good. When I do travel economy I don't recall being asked to change seats for someone's convenience.
    30th Sep 2018
    I was once called to the counter after boarding had begun and asked if I would mind swapping my seat. There was a family with two small children and they were going to be spread throughout the plane (not sure why they weren't booked ahead with selected seats) but I agreed so that a small child was not needing to be seated next to strangers. I always choose an isle seat but gave it up to go to a middle seat in another row --- where the single child would have been. After the plane took off I was approached and told that an isle seat was now available so I ended up with the isle seat with no-one next to me. This was great but wondering how it came about I found out that the couple who had been in those seats had been boosted up to Business Class. While I was happy with my seat(s) I was slightly miffed that someone else got the Business class seats when it was me that had obligingly given up my original isle seat.

    30th Sep 2018
    cant believe the number of selfish people here who refuse to a simple request.

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