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Reports From the Forum

Outrageous Seat Swap Requests From 30,000 Feet

Outrageous Seat Swap Requests From 30,000 Feet
Jeff Edwards

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There are plenty of valid reasons to ask a fellow air traveler to swap seats: an equipment change separates a child from their parent, or long-lost friends reunite in-flight and have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to reconnect. But there are also some pretty ridiculous reasons and you can find most of them in the “Would You Change Seats with Me?” thread.


What’s Yours is Mine

Should you be able to stay in your seat if someone else wants it? Not according to the other passengers on one FlyerTalker’s flights. “The last three requests I got were:

  1. Please trade your First Class seat for an Economy seat because my daughter prefers First Class.
  2. I upgraded my wife and thought she had a First Class seat, but it’s actually Main Cabin Extra. Can you switch with her?
  3. I don’t like sitting in the bulkhead row, so will you sit there instead?

“So I’ve adopted the ‘headphones go on immediately and we simply don’t talk to these people’ strategy. I genuinely think people should be kicked off the flight for making these types of requests.”


What’s Good for the Goose

“The version of this I experienced was the lady who was in First Class near me and said her husband was in Economy, had never been in First Class, and would sure like to experience it,” said another FlyerTalker. “I told her that it was okay if she switched with him.”


Chuck Berry

“I was flying St. Louis to LaGuardia. I was in the aisle of the last row in first, 6B. As I am walking down the jetbridge to board I discover that Chuck Berry is on my flight. He sits in the window, A seat in the first row in first, which I believe was row 3 (MD80). I’m sitting there and these two older women come down the aisle and one says, excuse me, sir, I am in 6A and my friend is in 3B, and I wonder…..

I didn’t even let her finish, I bolted for the front row, quickly exchanging tickets as I passed them. I had a brief but very pleasant and memorable conversation with the first member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”


Just Desserts

“I once was aboard a flight to Honolulu from Los Angeles in First Class,” explained a FlyerTalker and British Airways crew member. “I was a proper fare payer rather than deadheading or positioning.

“As we landed late, I had to race to get to what was the last flight of the day, so much so that I had no chance to change out of my BA uniform. I was tired and Nearly dozed after having the welcome aboard Bubbles as they now call them.

“This man suddenly laid into me. ‘What are you doing in First Class?! My wife didn’t get her upgrade because of the likes of you. You’re an airline employee so you should be in the back. I’m Executive Platinum and we should not have staff upgraded over us!’

“I was in no mood to start arguing so I just got one of the Flight Attendants who happened to be the lead to deal with this. He kicked off at her, his wife started screaming and yelling and by this time the Captain came back. Everyone went out on the jetway and I have no idea what was said, but they went past me again down to Economy.”

Go Ahead, Call the Cops!

“I just hate it when you arrive in your seat and someone has decided that they want to sit there. I just call the flight attendant and tell them to go eject them. I will not enter in to any discussion or talk.

“One time I delayed departure for an hour because no one would take the responsibility to remove the passenger sitting in my seat. They even brought the police.

“Actually, this was the masterstroke, the police told the passenger that if he did not vacate my seat he would be arrested and removed from the plane. At last, I had my seat.”

Never Trust a Seat Request From a Flight Attendant

This one comes from Seat Swap Request Horror Stories:

“The boarding process was almost complete when a flight attendant came up to me and started telling me about an elderly couple with separate seats who really wanted to sit together, so would I mind moving?

“I got seated in my new seat, and then my new seatmate showed up: an ex-NFL nose guard. He was about 6’7”, and as wide as both seats. It slowly dawned on me that I had been completely hoodwinked by the flight attendant and the whole story about the elderly couple was a lie.

“I was replacing the ex-NFL nose guard’s former seatmate who had complained loudly. I was the flight attendant’s solution to the seating problem: someone young, skinny, and stupid to put together with this guy. By the time I realized what had been done to me, we had pushed back and were headed for the runway.

“Even though I wasn’t very big, it was still a very bad match-up, as this guy needed both seats. I was smashed into the fuselage, bent like a pretzel. At one point we traded seats so I could get a break from kissing the window, and I ended up smashed against the aisle armrest, hit by every passing pax/FA/drink cart. It was the most miserable long-haul flight I’ve ever had.

I learned from that experience to NEVER, EVER agree to a same-cabin seat change request, especially if it comes from a FA. Like another poster in this thread, I refuse to be moved, even if the FA tries to order me to do so. If someone wants my seat, the crew will have to kick me off the plane.


Cry Me a River

“I just got to experience this on a flight from JFK to Heathrow on Virgin Atlantic… I board and settle in. The rows start to fill up. A woman sits down next to me, her friend seated the row behind her. The friend starts asking the aisle passengers if they’ll switch so that she can sit next to her friend. The aisle passengers decline to swap an aisle for a middle.

“I’m not really paying attention but gradually become aware of some drama on the other side of the woman next to me. It seems her friend has called the FA over to see if they can get seats together. The flight attendant is speaking to the gentleman sitting in the aisle seat on the other side of the woman next to me (who is now crying).

“The gentleman is calm and declines the flight attendant’s suggestion that he swap seats. He explained that he purchased an aisle seat because he prefers an aisle seat. The flight attendant then offers to get him an aisle seat in economy.

“He says that he purchased a seat in Premium Economy because that’s what he wanted. The flight attendant starts to argue with him. Seriously! This guy is in his rightful seat, remains calm and is totally cool about it but won’t be bullied. The flight attendant goes off in a huff and a second flight attendant comes over and apologizes for the first flight attendant.

“The gentleman says that he’s happy to move up to the front of the plane but not back and is pretty surprised that he was expected to move back to Economy when he hadn’t done anything but sit in the seat he paid for.

“At this point the first flight attendant came back AGAIN and tried to persuade him to move, saying that it would be uncomfortable for him to be seated next to someone that was upset for the entire flight. The gentleman says that it would be fine, he’d be asleep as soon as they hit cruising altitude. He was a total rock star… I only wish that I could think that fast. Kept his cool the entire time and did not give in.

“Both the crying woman and her friend were eventually seated elsewhere by the flight attendant which left me with an empty seat next to me in Premium Economy. And the original occupant of the aisle seat enjoying both the aisle and the extra space. I did suggest that he email Virgin’s customer service about the incident.”


The Right Way to Ask Someone to Swap Seats

There is always the chance anyone might find oneself in the uncomfortable position of having to ask a fellow passenger the favor of swapping seats. In these circumstances, the Flyertalk community of expert flyers has a few guidelines to help avoid becoming a nuisance. The rules of thumb involve asking nicely and never assuming a fellow flyer will agree to the deal, trying, whenever possible, not to put oneself in the position of having to beg for another passenger’s assigned seat, never expecting an ‘upgrade’ out of a seat swap, simply remembering to say “thank you” and perhaps most importantly, be ready to take “no” for an answer.

A few other observations?

  • People are kind to parents with small children and will often agree to swap.
  • Board early. The later you board the more likely you are to find someone squatting in your seat.


Do you have a strategy in place to avoid swapping seats with strangers or do you happen to believe that changing seats costs nothing but can make a fellow traveler’s life much easier. No matter which camp you belong to, the Flyertalk “Would You Change Seats with Me?” master-thread will help to make YOUR life easier.


View Comments (24)


  1. fotographer

    January 23, 2020 at 5:11 am

    just say no.. .

  2. johnwb

    January 23, 2020 at 2:08 pm

    The rule is don’t ask to swap your seat for a better one. Or trade aisle for window or vice versa. Being in 2A and asking to swap with the person in 3A is acceptable – but obviously only if they are travelling alone.

    I did have a strange case once. When my wife and I used to fly in economy on 3-3 config narrow bodies I used to try and book window and aisle seats in the hope that a middle seat would be less attractive and remain untaken. On one flight I was in 13A and my wife in 13C, a lady came in and said she was in 13B. We offered her window or aisle – her choice. But she said no, she’d rather just sit in the middle.

  3. J S

    January 23, 2020 at 2:08 pm

    Half the quotes on this thread are totally reasonable (declining to trade an F seat for Y, for example).

    The other half strike me as really unpleasant people (“So I’ve adopted the ‘headphones go on immediately and we simply don’t talk to these people’ strategy. I genuinely think people should be kicked off the flight for making these types of requests.” and “I will not enter in to any discussion or talk.”)

    I don’t ask people to switch very often, but if I do, I would appreciate it if you were not a complete a$$ and actually listened. The last time was 18 months ago when someone had reserved the only seat with a bassinet in J and I had a 2.5 month old child. I was offering the exact same seat, two rows back. It was more than an even trade for him: he got to be farther from the baby and the baby slept better in the bassinet, so was quiet nearly the entire flight. The guy was completely nice about it: just said, “Of course, no problem at all.”

  4. SpartyAir

    January 23, 2020 at 8:44 pm

    2J S, Just to let you know, switching for the first row with another row in First /Buisness is not equal It would only be acceptable if you traded a second row seat directly behind the desired first row seat and you agreed to never recline your seat. I would never trust anyone who said they would not recline, so I would never trade a front row seat for one behind, baby or not.

  5. The_Bouncer

    January 24, 2020 at 2:14 am

    No dice from me. I have been stung too many times.

  6. GaryLG

    January 24, 2020 at 4:51 am

    Surely it has to depend on the circumstances. Hasn’t happened to me very often but I do recall the time I was asked by a FA if I would swap as an anxious passenger really wanted a window seat. They offered me a whole row in the centre block and given it was a long flight I was more than happy to swap. The FA was so appreciative I was given better service, food and drink the whole flight (SIN -LHR) and snuck a bottle of excellent quality champagne as a thank you. Not of that was expected (other than the seats) but greatly appreciated.

  7. rubesl

    January 24, 2020 at 5:06 am

    On our flight MSP – YVR in September my wife and I were seated in aisles across in Y. All of a sudden a guy comes up to my wife and says “you’ve been upgraded to F”. It turns out he had been upgraded and his girlfriend was left in the middle next to my wife so he decided to give up his F seat. My wife was very happy and I thanked him with “happy wife, happy life”. We live together so we can certainly stand a few hours not sitting next to each other (although I realize others may not agree).

  8. mikem004

    January 24, 2020 at 5:39 am

    The thing is that some people are working the system, to try to get the seat that they want for free. Without paying extra for it, as many people have to do.

  9. MimiB22

    January 24, 2020 at 6:27 am

    I’ll listen to a seat change request but unless I am offered an equal or better seat location, the answer will be a polite but firm no. I reserve aisle seats because that’s where I want to sit and will not move to a window or middle seat just because you decided you’d be more comfortable in my seat, or want to sit with your friend or worst scenario of all, because you’re seated next to a fidgety or noisy baby or toddler and think that because I’m a mature woman I should be more willing to tolerate a bothersome tot than you are. Also, if you’re plus sized or seated next to a plus sized person, that doesn’t mean it’s OK to impose on me because you’re uncomfortable. People of extreme size should reserve the appropriate seat for their dimensions in advance. I’m not going to give up my seat or raise the armrest.

  10. IBJoel

    January 24, 2020 at 8:26 am

    Delayed takeoff for an hour because you didn’t get the seat you wanted and were too much of a coward to talk to the person straight-up? Geez, the level of entitlement. “The needs of the many…”

  11. DeltaFlyer123

    January 24, 2020 at 8:53 am

    In my 2+ million miles as a Delta frequent flyer, I’ve had my share of amicable seat swaps, but the most memorable was on a Northwest B747 (just prior to Delta’s acquisition of NWA) flight from Tokyo to Seattle.
    On one of my rare trips where I was not upgraded, I sat in an aisle seat in the bank of seats along the windows, and two Japanese ladies sat in the center and window. They did not speak English, nor I Japanese, but through some gestures I understood that they had a companion sitting a few rows down, in the center of the center section, and would like me to change places with her. Well, I’m a generous low-key, accommodating type of person, but this was beyond what even I was willing to trade. So I called an FA prior to departure, asked if she had a better seat for me somewhere so I can swap, and she said she’ll come back after take-off. So my seat mates understood that their request was being worked.
    After takeoff, the FA came back and offered me a seat at an exit row, opposite the FA jumpseats, and the three ladies were delighted to sit together. As was I, as the FA’s were very nice and chatty when they weren’t working, and I was the only one sitting in that row.
    The moral of this story is that from a passenger’s perspective, it’s better to defer such a swap to a “higher” authority if the swap is not in the original seat owner’s favor. It sort of “passes the buck”, and is likely to result in a win-win situation.

  12. NotSoFrequentColorado

    January 24, 2020 at 9:12 am

    On a recent flight a woman asked me to switch with her teenage daughter a few rows back so the daughter could sit with her. It was an equivalent seat so no problem. I went back and told the girl to go sit with her mother and she looked totally disgusted – LOL I think she was looking forward to NOT sitting with Mom!

  13. psusaver

    January 24, 2020 at 9:28 am

    @IBJoel really, the person who reserved the seat does not deserve to be called “coward”. If you have real bravery in you, you would not be resorting to cheap insults online. The pax who sat in the wrong seat on purpose is the entitled jerk here. Way to miss the forest while looking at one tree.

  14. knownothing

    January 24, 2020 at 9:50 am

    On flight on Delta from Mexico Delta’ “longest serving FA was lead. In first class. A couple came on and said returning from honey moon and both in first but not together. (on seat was last row by econ lav). They asked FA if she could get them together. She said NO. A passenger sitting next to one of them got up and offered his seat. FA screamed at him “I said no”. I wrote a letter to Delta regarding this and every passenger in first (including several of the FAs) signed itl Received a letter back from Delta stating she was no longer “flying” but a FA training instructor

  15. J S

    January 24, 2020 at 10:16 am

    @SpartyAir: It was a flatbed suite in international J. When the seat reclines it does not impact the person behind it. Sure, you can argue that the footwell in the bulkhead row is marginally larger, but we are splitting hairs. But, hey, if you want to go through life assuming that everyone is out to screw you, have at it my friend. It will be a self fulfilling prophecy. If you had been the person in the bassinet seat on my flight, your obstinate approach would have given you a whole lot less pleasant flight as the child–denied a bed–would have been crying in my arms sitting right across the aisle from you.

  16. PapaJack

    January 24, 2020 at 10:18 am

    I agree with Mimi. On one flight when I wasn’t in a particularly good mood, and someone requested they swap their internal seat for my aisle for a 12 hours flight, I said, I had food poisoning and would need to get up quickly if I had to go…I am sure they weren’t too impressed when they saw me quaffing wine and eating all I was offered later on. But, not my issue…I booked ahead and made sure I had the seat I wanted for this long haul flight.

  17. J S

    January 24, 2020 at 10:28 am

    @IBJoel: +1

  18. IBJoel

    January 24, 2020 at 10:31 am

    @psusaver, hey, at least I don’t inconvenience a planeful of people because I didn’t want to speak up for myself

  19. CEB

    January 24, 2020 at 2:43 pm

    I seat swap relatively often, always willing to help out so long at it is not too inconvenient. However, I must share the one and only story where it did not work out well.

    Flying TPE-ICN for a meeting. Not too long of a flight, but more than just a couple of hours. Older man (I’m catching up with him myself now!) asks if we can swap seats so he can sit with his wife. Happy to oblige as it is an aisle seat just one row in front of my assigned seat. Get up in the air and recline to get some zzzzs as the night before was a late one and this was an early morning flight. He has the gaul to start punching the back of my seat! Not a simple bump because of moving around, but actually punching the back of the seat to make me as uncomfortable as possible. So I call the FA and ask her to talk with him. As soon as she walks away he starts up again, so I call the FA and say I want my seat back. He gets irate and has it out in Chinese with the FA who then proceeds to force him to switch bask with me. I simply laid back and slept the rest of the flight while he stewed and yelled the flight attendant again when we arrive!

    Frankly, the only time I have ever really regretted swapping seats. For the most part, it’s just common courtesy and staying calm.

  20. J S

    January 24, 2020 at 2:50 pm

    @PapaJack: Nothing wrong with politely declining their request, but why lie? What great offense did they commit against you?

  21. IHBvet93

    January 25, 2020 at 9:30 am

    The comments I have read on seat swapping and poaching from my perspective seem to come from one general place: feeling put on the spot.

    The feedback I have read on this thread, and on others on this subject, is that most passengers book their flights in advance, and select a seat from those available. Other passengers book their flights closer to the departure date and/or select a fare class (or an airline like Southwest) not allowing advance seat reservations.

    My expectation (and, to be sure, yours, too) is that a seat I reserved be open for me to sit in. If another passenger was occupying what I believed to be my seat, I would ask an airline employee to sort it if I could not.

    If another passenger approached me to ask about swapping seats, and if I did not want to move, I would ask the other passenger to summon a flight attendant or another employee to sort their problem.

    On the job, I am required to solve problems that are clearly my responsibility. I cannot expect others to do my job or to suffer the consequences of my inaction, most especially customers. As a passenger, my (and your) fellow passengers cannot rightly expect me (or you) to solve their seating problems.

  22. jjmoore

    January 26, 2020 at 11:03 am

    There are a few instances where unfortunate seating circumstances occur (irrops rebookings, aircraft swaps)… but most of the time, people can avoid seating nightmares by doing due diligence and verifying seating assignments immediately upon booking a ticket. If this cannot be done on the website, you can always call the airline (I have never had an issue reserving seats on any airline in the past). In some cases, you will need to pay for seating assignments. If you are not willing to or capable of following these simple steps, you are not in a position to be upset at the gate when you and your companion are not seated together.

  23. Longtimefly

    January 26, 2020 at 12:39 pm

    As a Private Pilot, I have traveled with GPS since 96, before most people knew what it was. On one flight from BWI-SAN, I was one of the last people to board. The last available seat was next to a cute young lady in the window seat. I explained that the GPS needed to be near the window to work, and would she swap with me? After some consideration she said that she wanted to see the Grand Canyon, and if I would swap back so she could see it, then OK. During the Pilot announcement, he said that we would be passing by the grand Canyon, so things were looking good for her. Things were going great, I monitored our flight path and would point out the cities as we went by.Then somewhere around gallup, NM, we turned about 20 deg, south. At first I thought that it was for traffic, but after about 3 min. I told her that we had made a turn direct to San Diego and would not be able to see the Canyon after all. A male FA overheard me telling her this and heard how disappointed she was. He told her that we were going past the Canyon, because the pilot had said so, After some back and forth between the me FA about a possible route change, and the fact that we were now on a direct track to SAN, He said that he would check with the Pilot. After about 10 min. he came back and sheepishly confirmed what I had been saying.

  24. bdemchak

    January 29, 2020 at 3:46 pm

    I once snagged an upgrade from NYC to LAX … in first class, but on a bulkhead. As the doors closed, I spied an empty window seat one row back on the other side of the plane. There *was* someone sitting in the aisle seat, so I asked him if he minded whether I took the seat next to him. He must have misunderstood … instead he picked up and moved to the window seat, leaving me on the aisle. Fine.

    It wasn’t long before I started getting a *lot* of flight attendant attention — the good kind. (I recognized it only because it never happens to me.) It took about 10 minutes for me to realize the FAs thought I was with Mr. window seat. Who?? It turned out to be Brad Pitt … dressed head to toe in black leather, and as kind and accommodating as could be.

    Mr. Pitt fell asleep for most of the flight, leaving me to wonder how best to take advantage of my windfall. The more I thought, the more nervous I got … and twice had to stop my hand from spilling orange juice all over his suit — channeling Lucille Ball. The mind can be a terrible thing.

    In the end, I didn’t ask the questions I wanted to … and God bless him, Mr. Pitt was an absolute gentleman … and a great attractor of FA attention!

    One of the longest 6 hour flights of my life.

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