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Am I a Jerk for Not Giving My Seats to a Mother and Her Toddlers?

Am I a Jerk for Not Giving My Seats to a Mother and Her Toddlers?
Jennifer Billock

Here’s a seating situation making its way around the internet, via Reddit: a frequent flyer paid out of pocket to upgrade to a window seat in an exit row that was empty because he was hoping to catch some sleep. But, when she boarded she found a mother seated in the middle seat with a toddler on each side of her. Was she a jerk for asking her to move? Here are more of the details from the Reddit poster:

A Gamble on Unattractive Seats

I paid out of pocket to upgrade to a window seat in an exit row, because the whole row was empty and that way I had a decent shot of getting at least a little bit of sleep.

(Because I take this specific route and airline a lot, I knew a few things about this particular row – namely that you can’t recline the seats more than an inch or two and the window is usually kind of weird, which was fine by me since I just wanted to get on the plane and conk out.)

Of course, when it came time to board, I get to my row and find that a woman is sitting in the middle with her two young daughters, maybe 2 and 4, on either side of her. I politely told her that she’d made a mistake and was sitting in my seat.

The Request That Turned Into a Demand

Her response was that she was seated a row up and across the aisle, on the aisle seat, but her two kids were across from her on the aisle and middle, and she saw the empty row before I got there, and would I do her the favor of just switching?

Here’s the thing: if circumstances were different, I would have! But I explained that I had a meeting at 8:30 and paid extra for that ticket so that I could sleep. I really thought that would be the end of it, but she huffed and shook her head and buckled her kids’ seatbelts RIGHT THEN AND THERE.


A Flight Attendant to the Rescue

By this point the plane is filling up, I’m blocking the aisle, it’s causing a whole thing, so I just flag down a flight attendant and explain the situation. The mom stops ignoring me long enough to pipe up and say she needs a row where the three of them can sit together.

The flight attendant (who looked exhausted and totally done and clearly just wanted to get home as much as I did) goes, “This is an exit row. Your kids can’t sit there because they’re not capable of performing the exit row responsibilities in case of an emergency landing. There’s not going to be another empty row. Please sit in the seat indicated on your ticket.”

But It Wasn’t Over

So I sit down in my window seat and she takes her kids and moves up a row, and I figure that’s the last of it, but of course, no one else comes to sit down in my row (the gamble paid off), and so when we finally take off and hit cruising altitude, I push the arm rests up and stretch out across the row and just pass out. When we land, I’m getting my bag out of the overhead, and the woman stands up and mutters to me, “You look like you slept well, b—-.”


Well, that was certainly an awkward encounter. But, before you read the colorful comments on Reddit, weigh in. Was this flyer in the wrong for not giving up their seats for a mother who wanted to sit next to her two small toddlers? Or was the mother in the wrong even before she resorted to foul language?


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View Comments (35)


  1. IHBvet93

    November 19, 2019 at 12:11 pm

    Seats are assigned for a reason. Boarding an aircraft with the expectation of finding one’s assigned seat empty is about as reasonable as it gets.

  2. kkua

    November 19, 2019 at 12:30 pm

    The kids cannot perform required tasks to open the emergency exit window. She and her brood cannot sit there. Case closed.

  3. arollins

    November 19, 2019 at 1:14 pm

    Aside of paying for the ticket, its an exit seat, rules clearly indicate the type of person that can sit there.

  4. AanneSFO

    November 19, 2019 at 1:14 pm

    Short answer to your question — which is mis-worded, by the way, since you did not have “seats” to trade — is NO. The mother and her toddlers were ineligible to sit in your seat. End of story.

  5. GrayAnderson

    November 19, 2019 at 3:40 pm

    Exit row trumps. Even if you had wanted to trade it wouldn’t have been allowed.

  6. fotographer

    November 20, 2019 at 4:22 am

    short answer.. no.. some passenger take advantage of using their kids

  7. CarolynUK

    November 20, 2019 at 4:59 am

    The kids were too young for the exit row – end of!

  8. MimiB22

    November 20, 2019 at 5:49 am

    I don’t know if you acted like a jerk or not because I can’t judge your facial expression nor tone of voice, but small kids aren’t allowed in exit rows, period, so you were correct in getting the FA to have the kids move. It probably would have happened anyway, once the FA was at the point where they explain the rules. You just did it in advance because you wanted the whole row to yourself, not out of safety concerns. As for the foul mouth comment by the mother, well, that ugliness is on her.

  9. Marko63

    November 20, 2019 at 6:09 am

    The kids would have been more comfortable in the overhead compartment in my humble opinion!

  10. jt12321

    November 20, 2019 at 6:28 am

    To answer the question, no, you’re not a jerk for refusing. The goes doubly-so if you paid a fee for an better than average seat. Karma points, however, can be earned if the request is made officially by staff: I was once summoned by the gate agent who requested that I accept a new seat assignment to accommodate a mother and her young children. I said “sure! But no middle seats.” The gate agent looked up at me, deflated, and I said “look at me, do you think I fit into a middle seat?” (I am no lightweight and I have broad shoulders.) I continued “put me in the back row that you guys usually block out for FAs; I’ll hang out with them. Well it turns out all the FAs were expecting me and I had a few beverages on the house.

    More importantly, though, I suspect the author took a few liberties with this narrative (or I must have misread,) because toddlers can’t ride in the exit row. I believe the minimum age is 14 and all persons seated in the exit row must be “able bodied” and “able to assist in the event of an emergency.” Second of all, the exit row’s armrests are not moveable because they have embedded trays (due to the lack of seat-back tray tables that could block egress.) So the ability to raise the armrests and sleep across the seats (the nirvana of overnight flights) in an exit row is pretty much impossible.

  11. saintsman

    November 20, 2019 at 6:37 am

    Some people are happy to inconvenience others but not themselves.

    This woman had the same chance to reserve tickets as the FF did. She chose not to.

    Exit row or not, the FF is not a jerk for insisting they got what they paid for.

  12. RSSrsvp

    November 20, 2019 at 6:50 am

    She was wrong and the exit row restriction would have prevailed anyway!

  13. Cotumely

    November 20, 2019 at 6:59 am

    I dread to think how entitled the kids are going to be with a mother like that!

  14. BOBAD

    November 20, 2019 at 7:40 am

    This is such a non-story…….. Kids are not allowed to sit in exit row for very good reason.

    Idiot mother deserved a slap for her rude behaviour and a harder slap for her use of foul language.

  15. flospi

    November 20, 2019 at 8:59 am

    Someone was able to figure the seat out and make a reservation. Someone else was ignorant… Situation pretty clear to me.

  16. Tizzette

    November 20, 2019 at 5:17 pm

    This mother of two toddlers had two seats together and the third seat across the aisle when she saw an empty row of three and moved there. Ever try to manage toddlers you can’t reach? She really, really needed to sit between the kids, not like your typical entitled seat poacher. FA had to move them because it was an exit row. FA should have found somebody willing to trade an aisle for a window to get the mother into the same row as her toddlers.

  17. RandyN

    November 20, 2019 at 10:05 pm

    I would have insisted she move so that I could occupy the seat I selected.

    And I probably would have gently told the woman’s toddlers that their mother is an emotionally unstable, rude, horrible person who needs help.

  18. KRSW

    November 20, 2019 at 11:37 pm

    Strike #1 — If she wanted to sit together, she should have paid for seats together.
    Strike #2 — No kids in the exit rows. This is well-established.
    Strike #3 — Being pissy about it

    She should have been tossed from the flight.

  19. DCAFly

    November 21, 2019 at 10:06 am

    Question, if the OP had given up her seat, would she be eligible for a refund of the added fee she paid? If you can’t get into a preferred or economy plus type seat based on your status, they can be pricey for a longer flight.

    She’d probably need to get a new seat assignment and boarding pass from the GA to show she was moved from the seat she paid for.

  20. DCAFly

    November 21, 2019 at 10:06 am

    Also – do U.S. schools no longer teach grammar?

  21. FTA

    November 26, 2019 at 6:46 pm

    Not a jerk

  22. testycal

    November 26, 2019 at 9:40 pm

    I started travelling with 3 infants ages 6 months x 2 plus 18 months at the same time and thereafter from time to time without my wife when they were older ie 3 years/3years and 4.5 years. Never easy. However I knew enough that having “friends” on board to allow me to whiz to the loo (pun intended if I spelled whiz correctly) was important rather than alienating the other passengers nearby. I understand wanting to be seated together but that is a FA directed issue rather than a self help issue and best dealt with during OLCI prior to boarding, at the check in or at the boarding gate. My experience is that most airlines do their best to seat families together.

  23. Allan38103

    November 26, 2019 at 10:39 pm

    The biggest “jerk” here is the person who came up with this awful headline.

    Not the woman who only wanted to seat her family together. (Yes, she could have asked first, but does THAT make her a jerk?)

    Certainly not the man (or was it a woman?) who had the legit BP for the seat. Sure, he/she could have let the woman and kids TRY to sit there, but the FA would not have let them stay even if it was OK by the other passenger.

    Was the FA a jerk for telling the woman her children could not sit in an exit row? Or was the airline a jerk because they won’t let children sit there? Or is FAA a jerk for coming up with that rule in the first place?

    The next biggest “jerk” is the person who wasted our time writing this story.

  24. Xrayman

    November 27, 2019 at 4:13 pm

    Sounds like this family would do well using Southwest as their carrier of choice where seats are not assigned.

    Exit row is a safety issue. No exceptions.

  25. Global Adventurer

    November 27, 2019 at 6:50 pm

    Regardless if it was an exit row or not, that lady and her kids did not pay for those seats AND one of the seats were already assigned. So, people with kids get free seats anywhere on the plane now? They should actually sest all kids in the back of the plane in my opinion.

  26. rickg523

    November 28, 2019 at 3:19 pm

    Can’t sit toddlers in the exit row, so that’s out. But FA very simply should have swapped her with Window next to her two toddlers. If Window whined about being forced into an aisle seat to let Mom sit with her little kids, then Window is a jerk, big time.

  27. HiAperture

    November 28, 2019 at 3:31 pm

    Even if no one had selected those seats she would have been told to move because it is an exit row, so….. no controversy.

  28. YEGcg

    November 29, 2019 at 6:54 am

    This topic comes up from tile to time and I’m perpetually baffled:

    For this specific case, why didn’t the mother ASK the people in the row she was already assigned to if any of those people would/could move? It sounds as though only one person needed to move from her row to the row with the solo flyer ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  29. The_Bouncer

    November 29, 2019 at 11:36 am

    1. No kids in exit rows. No exceptions.

    2. The mother was the jerk. If it’s that important, she needs to pay for assigned seats in advance. Your kids, your responsibility.

  30. torontotravel

    November 30, 2019 at 3:51 pm

    Same thing happened to me with Air Canada. The woman , who was obnoxious said the flight attendant told her that she could take my seat if I agreed so she could sit with her daughter. The flight attendant made me wait like 20 minutes before allowing me to sit in my seat which I also paid extra for. Then the woman verbally abused me as we left the plane. I then complained to Air Canada customer service,,the customer service that only occasionally gets back to you. The woman from AC was also rude…saying that for any reason you can be moved to another seat..even if you pay extra. That sounds LOCO to me. They finally sent me like 50 or 100 buck compensation can’t remember but only because I went to the President of the company to complain. How they get best Airline in NA is beyond me.

  31. Freaky

    November 30, 2019 at 5:22 pm

    I didn’t do what she did and boy, was that a mistake.

    I was flying to Belize a few years ago on a red eye. When the plane took off I was sitting next to a couple of well-behaved 20-somethings. Once we were in the air, his friend, one row behind, said that the guys next to me were his friends and they were traveling together and would I mind switching with him. I of course said “No problem.” After the switch, I was sitting next to a lady and her kid, something in the 3-4 year old range.

    For the next 8 hours. this lady stayed awake with the overhead lights on and played all kinds of non-electronic games with the kid. Patty-cake, counting games, reading aloud from kids books, bounce on the knee games and more. I asked multiple times if they could be quiet, shut off the lights and sleep. She got indignant every time and continued to play with the kid. And since I was in a window seat, she made a big deal of it every time I needed to go to the bathroom.

    After that, I swore that in the future, I will NEVER allow seat changes by myself or seat mates – unless, like Jerry in a Seinfeld episode, they move me to first class and put me next to a magazine print model – as I refuse to be abused like Elaine was in that episode.

  32. dddc

    December 2, 2019 at 12:52 am

    Airlines should seat families together, but I appreciate that it’s not always possible with late bookings or once seat selection opens up.

    However, the fact that children should not be in an exit row overrides any other issue here.

  33. drvannostren

    December 2, 2019 at 3:19 am

    Yea, this one is pretty easy. If it wasn’t an exit row, it would be a LITTLE stickier. But the onus is on the parent. If you wanna sit with your kids, book the seats. The other solution would be, if I read the post right, she really only needed to ask the person seated next to her two kids to switch with her, then she’d have the row for her and the kids. She didn’t need to find a different row entirely.

    That being said, I’ve done the same thing, booking a seat in the hopes that no one else would show up, only to have someone sit down in the aisle seat opposite mine as if it were theirs. It’s a bummer, because I would’ve stretched out, but as long as I can get the extra shoulder/elbow space by having the open middle, I can get a decent amount of sleep so I don’t get too bent out of shape about it. It’s a gamble, but I’m not THAT selfish to keep a row to myself when the rest of the plane is basically full.

    This though, being an exit row is a piece of cake. If the FA wasn’t “done” (we’ve all seen that look lol) he/she probably could’ve asked 1-2 other people to move into the exit row with the OP and then move the family into their own row. But again, the downside to assigned seating, is it’s up to the users to assign themselves seats. Failure to do so, be it free, or pay, or waiting to the last minute may result in you not sitting with the people you’d like to. Your problem, not mine.

  34. Mr. Vker

    December 2, 2019 at 11:11 am

    Let’s pretend (for a min) these weren’t exit row seats. Still not wrong. Airlines now have set up so many “classes” of seats-far beyong Y, J, and F. MCE, charging for seats that can deboard sooner, exit rows etc. If you paid for that seat, its yours. And if an FA demands I move from a seat I paid to upgrade to-or got due to status-there better be a good reason that has something in it for me. Airlines made the rules. They need to enforce them-which they did here-due to the exit row qualifications.

  35. Allan38103

    December 2, 2019 at 2:27 pm

    This all happened on the ground?
    The plane did not take off with kids sitting in the exit row, right?
    Then the problem got resolved. There was no need to even post this. Apparently the passenger (and the writer of this article) didn’t realize that the crew would never take off with children in the exit row.

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