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

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.

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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?

A.
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?

Written by Olga Galacho

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