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Still willing to swap your airline seat?

Now that airlines are charging extra for many aisle and window seats, a request to switch your seat so a couple or family can sit together may not go over well.

By Karen Datko Jul 13, 2012 2:19PM

Image: Mother and daughter watching in-plane movie © Ron Levine/Photodisc/Getty ImagesAirline etiquette has a new wrinkle now that so many airlines are charging an extra fee for the best seats -- window and aisle near the front of the plane -- and holding other coveted seats for elite-status fliers.


Case in point from a New York Times column by Joe Sharkey, who'd paid $20 extra for an aisle seat on a recent flight (and also paid with an airline credit card that snared him priority boarding). He declined a request that he switch seats to accommodate another traveler's wife.

I told the man that I preferred sitting where I was, but from his huffy reaction you would have thought that I had failed to yield a seat on a bus to a nine-months pregnant woman. "We like to sit together," he muttered darkly as he heaved his considerable bulk into the middle seat for the three-hour flight. I resisted the urge to assure him that he and his wife would still arrive in Houston at the same time.

(Post continues below video.)

With the proliferation of these airline seat fees, it appears the code of conduct has changed. It's true even if you're asking someone to switch so you can sit next to your small children, writes Eileen Ogintz, who blogs on Taking the Kids.  

You wouldn't think anyone in their right mind would want to sit next to someone else's kindergartner or preschooler but parents say they are not always eager to switch if it means giving up an aisle or bulkhead seat. One man, (mother of three Kelly) Lewis added, only agreed to switch so she could sit next to her preschooler after the flight attendant offered to bump him up to first class.

There are ways to get the adjacent seats you want without paying the extra fee, like booking early or checking in online at the earliest opportunity (24 hours in advance). But those tactics aren't foolproof. Sometimes the airlines make changes to your itinerary. If the gate agent or flight attendant can't/won't help, what can we reasonably expect from our fellow passengers? Not much, it seems.

Wrote one commenter on a thread started by a fellow who was flying with his girlfriend from Boston to Norway, via London:

You cannot expect someone to take a less desirable seat just so you can sit together. Without reserved seats purchased in advance, you will probably each have a middle seat and want to swap one of the middles for a window or an aisle for which another passenger has paid extra.

A frequent flier who posted on another thread commented:

Why should I switch to a middle seat to accommodate someone who wasn't willing to pay for (a better seat) and hasn't earned it by flying a lot? It's a favor that I don't have to grant and will not grant to people exhibiting the attitude that they're entitled because they have children with them.

Ouch. Another reader responded:

It must be nice to be among the tiny, tiny percentage of people who never needs ANY sort of understanding from anyone about anything. I hope the next time I bring two small children on a long flight . . . we are sitting next to you.

There are tips to improve your chance of sitting together if you are stuck with nonadjacent seats and must rely on the generosity of fellow passengers:

  • If you're seeking a swap, focus on the seats not likely to have a premium -- middle seats or those in the back.
  • Never offer your middle seat to someone sitting by the window or aisle. That's rude.
  • If giving up your aisle or window seat in exchange for a middle seat gets you next to your main squeeze, be grateful.
  • If your group is composed of two parents with a small child, it's fine if only one of you sits with the kid. 

Some parents have come up with creative solutions. Wrote "flyingfran" on

My daughter, son-in-law and 6-year-old grandson fly into Orlando several times a year to visit us. They do not have status and are never assigned seats together. My daughter just gets on the plane and puts my grandson in the center seat where he has been assigned. She just smiles at the passengers on either side and explains that Delta could not seat her next to her son. Passengers are never excited about having a 6-year-old child as a seat companion.

Read on. It gets better.

Our grandson has never flown without a parent next to him. Someone always elects to take daughter's middle seat rather than flying across the country with a 6-year-child. On her flight last week she put grandson in center seat and said to the adjoining passengers that grandson was quite cranky and she was glad that Delta did not require her to sit next to him. Both passengers gave their seats to daughter and son-in-law.

Why not give the mind games a rest and pay the extra fee so you can sit together? Or fly with an airline like Southwest that has open seating. Ogintz says families board after the first group gets on, or you can pay an extra $10 per person for EarlyBird check-in.


I would not be inclined to give up a seat that I had paid extra for. How about you?


More from MSN Money:

Jul 13, 2012 3:05PM
I think the daughter with the 6-year-old is rude and presumptuous.  You can get seats together if you bood in time, and not wait until the last minute.  I'm sure no one wants to sit next to an unattended kid, but the mom sounds like a real conniving piece of work.
Jul 13, 2012 3:34PM
If you want the aisle or window seat, why not offer to pay the person $10 or $20 out of your pocket? The person gets back the money they spent and you get the seat you wanted. Sounds like a win-win to me.
Jul 16, 2012 10:36AM
What a friggin hit piece this article is. Why SHOULD I give up a seat that I paid $40 more for, so some snot nosed kid can sit next to his mom? I earned that money, I chose to buy something with it, and I'm supposed to just give it away? Screw them! It's not hard to get your family seated together. Many airlines let you pick seats ahead of time. Sometimes at the time you book even. if not, certainly if you get to the airport early enough. If it's that important to you, plan ahead. Don't just show up late, get a bunch of seats scattered through the plane, and then expect everyone else to accommodate you even though THEY were responsible enough to plan ahead and purchase the seats that they wanted. But no, now I have to look like an inconsiderate jerk because I don't want to sit in a middle seat for 6 hours even though I planned it AND paid more so that I wouldn't have to.
Jul 16, 2012 1:19PM
This is an interesting topic. I just flew from New Jersey to Florida and had this same thing happen on the flight.There was a woman that was sitting in someone else's isle seat.(late booking I'm guessing)As it turns out the woman just sat in the seat to be near her mother.They both had middle seats in different isles.When the person that actually had the seat assignment arrived, she was asked if she would exchange seats with her. She refused saying she picked an isle seat because thats where she preferred to sit.Well it got unpleasant after that.This woman was pissed that she wasn't getting her way. She basically expected the other person to give up her assigned seat.Flight attendants had to get involved. As it turns out each party sat in their assigned seats as the should have.But the way the woman acted that didn't get her way was just B/S.She had to make a scene trying the make the other person feel uncomfortable.Hand jesters the whole bit.If the wanted to sit together they should have booked earlier.The crazy thing is the the mother was not that old where she couldn't function.She was a healthy individual. I'm was happy to see the outcome. Stick to your assigned seats. If you want to sit with someone special book earlier,if you can't get seats together be happy apart or book a flight you can be together on.
Jul 13, 2012 5:48PM

Sure, go ahead and put your 6 year old in the middle seat next to me. As a favor, I'll buy him 4 or 5 bars of chocolate.

It will be your turn to have fun when you get him later.


Seriously folks. If you expect to sit together why aren't you planning this when you buy the tickets? or worst case, when you print your boarding pass. Are you surprised to find a 6 year old next to you with a ticket when you approach the gate? People pay for their seating and airline flights can be a miserable enough experience these days without you making it worse.

Yes, you have to buy the premium seat if you expect to sit together.

Don't spread your misery around.

Jul 16, 2012 12:14PM
I have been kicked from behind...after politely asking the mother to control her child three times seemed to have zero affect on the little midget. I stood up and disciplined the child right then and there...guess what....the kid did not move or peep for the rest of the flight, whilst the mother sat and stewed the whole way muttering how she was going to turn me in to the authorities, and how i ought to mind my own business.....the kid became good though...i slept peacefully...
Jul 16, 2012 1:09PM



I fly all over on business. I don't particularly like to fly, and the airlines have made it progressively less fun over the years. The ONLY control I have over my flight experience is picking my seat, which is always an aisle. (If crowded, I'll take a window). But I NEVER take a middle seat. I take a different flight instead. It goes directly to my comfort and being able to stretch and not having shoulders and legs on both sides of me.

Ergo, I NEVER switch seats, unless offered a similar one to my own.

If you want my aisle seat, and you have an aisle seat to give me for it, I have no problem with accomodating you. But if you have a crappy seat or didn't know enough to reserve for you and your munchkin together, tough noogies. Don't take it out on me, cause I don't care.

Jul 16, 2012 12:51PM
Twice I've given in and given up my preferred aisle seat so a family could sit  together. They never even said thank-you, although the flight attendant gave me a voucher for the entertainment system.
I ended up in inferior seating with my carry-on too far away to access during the flight. I have not done it since and endured scowls and muttered comments from other passengers.  Tough.  I pay extra and I'm keeping my seat!

Jul 16, 2012 12:08PM
I book early, and fly at times I can get a good seat.  I am not moving.  I actually had one tall man say to me that he prefered the aisle seat.  I agreed with him.  I prefer the aisle seat. That's why I book it.
Jul 14, 2012 11:49AM
We had a saying in the military Proper Planning Prevents P*%$ Poor Performance.  Children are expensive and if the parent did not have enough foresight to plan for seating maybe they need some parenting skills.
Jul 14, 2012 2:33AM
NO I will NOT give you my aisle seat, because I booked WAY in advance and paid more so I can sit in that exact seat.  Maybe you should have done so...  Perhaps I could be bribed with a meal and beers or first class, or whatever you have to offer... and I might move 1 row back, but not out of the aisle, or more than a couple rows back.  Absolutely not.  Book earlier, people, or drive.
Jul 16, 2012 12:25PM

I was once late to board a plane, that had assigned seating, because the gate was moved.  When I got to the correct gate, no one was there!  I walked back to the departures board to make sure that I was in the right place and by the time I walked back to the gate, the ticket attendant was back.


Anyway, when I get to my seat, someone is in it.  I told them that it was my seat.  "Well we want to sit together, so you can sit there," and pointed to a middle seat between two above average sized travelers.  The last time I was in a seat like that, I had to sit at the edge of my seat, bent forward for the entire flight.  I was NOT doing that again.  Oh, and there were no children involved.


I'm usually an easy going person, but that was too much for me.  I told them "I'm not going to give up a window seat to sit between two people just so you two can sit together!  You need to get out of my seat now."  Luckily, the flight attendant saw what was going on and upgraded me to first class.



Jul 13, 2012 6:53PM
Happened to me this weekend. I took my two adult sons to Las Vegas. I paid extra so all three of us would have aisle seats. A large man sits next to my youngest and says to him "would you mind switching with my new bride" My son is not really answering. I turned and looked at him and said loudly enough so the other person could hear. "You are not giving up that seat, I paid extra for it". End of conversation. You want to sit together...Do what I did, log on and pay for it!!!
Jul 16, 2012 12:52PM
I'm small, I pay extra because I want lots of room and no I would not trade unless it was to first class. If you want the seat, pay for it before I do. Once it's mine, it's mine.
Jul 13, 2012 6:24PM
I've seen this.  In a part of the plane where you pay for more leg room, some guy wanted the guy next to him to go back to an area with less leg room so his wife could sit with him.  I don't blame him at all.  He paid for the seat.
Jul 15, 2012 1:41PM
I have refused to give up my seat when I have paid extra to do so and I kindly and gently tell that to the person who has asked me to switch seats with them. Some people have been nice and said, I didn't realize that you could do that, or said, sorry to have asked, etc.  Others have been down right nasty, at which point I have pushed the attendant call button to solve the problem. I have often been bumped up to first class when there is an available seat; often the flight attendants solve the problem. If the plane is not full, I have complained to the attendant that when people move from other seats into seats which I know you have to pay extra for and ask why I have to pay extra and they don't.  Most attendants just ignore my complaint and that's when I write a letter to the airline telling them of the infraction and the flight attendant's name and the request for my extra payment to sit in a seat.  Every single time, I have received something-a voucher, check, gift card, etc.  Probably b/c I complain in a very sweet and kind manner in my letters.  If a child ends up sitting next to me in the middle seat, I just stay put and quiet and don't engage with the child under any circumstance. I put on the noice cancellation head phones, read, close my eyes, etc. If the child starts to whine, cry, stand up in the seat, etc., one of the parent's usually notices or one of the flight attendants notices and the problem gets solved.  From time to time, a parent has made a nasty comment to me about not being friendly to his/her child. My response is:  Why are you expecting me to be friendly to your child? They usually have no response and take care of the child.  One time, however, a parent was so nasty and insulting to me, that I finally said: "I'll be glad to babysit your child on this flight. I charge $50 per 30 minutes of flight and de-planing time." No one has ever taken me up on my offer to babysit!
Jul 13, 2012 6:01PM

Flying is definitely not a fun experience any more.

Jul 13, 2012 5:55PM
I fly quite a bit and always opt for the aisle. If the person sitting next to me is large, then I have a little room. There are usually seats available together even if there an extra cost. Sorry, but I wouldn't give up my seat either.
Jul 14, 2012 3:07PM
I always book a row for me and my children.  If there were a snafu,  I would offer money for the seat if the airline charged the passenger for the seat...  and would demand a refund if I had paid a premium for the entire row.  You honestly can't expect a person to move when they paid more for the seat unless you pay them for the seat.  If I'm Lucky enough to travel with my whole family, we put the children next to us,  children in the middle, adults by the window or aisle.  We try to get the same row also or back to back rows.   Children should never be with a stranger when under 12  (think ahead and pay the price) and adults can fly separately... even if "in love"
Jul 16, 2012 8:59AM

As someone who has travelled at least twice a year for 20 years I am really upset at where the airline industry is going.  First off, it's insane that airlines charge for "premium" seats.  However since they are, there is no reason to give yours up if you pay for one. Do not get upset if someone refuses.  If one does not reserve their seats in advance the penalty is being separated.  That's life.

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