Would You Have Changed Seats With This Passenger?

Last month I wrote about a reader who changed seats on a flight so a family could sit together — and they proceeded to sell his seat to another passenger for $100. Extra legroom seats come at a premium!

Last week I was waiting to board my flight from Dallas to DC and I was called up to the podium. I had an aisle seat in the third row of first class. Would I mind switching to the bulkhead? A husband and wife wanted to sit together.

American Airlines New 737 Domestic First Class

Now I really do dislike the bulkhead. I need to board quickly to ensure I get the overhead space that I need, though that wouldn’t be a problem for this flight as I was already at the gate before boarding commenced. I also don’t like having to store my laptop in the overhead.

But I’ve occasionally been the beneficiary of a seat switch, for instance on the flight home from my honeymoon I was bumped out of sitting next to my wife by an air marshal and happily other passengers changed with us. So I agreed.

While the agent was processing the switch, she told me that these people had already been seated together in the bulkhead and just didn’t like the bulkhead. There was an empty seat in row 3 next to me, so she moved one of them. And now by moving me she’d have them back together.

Wait a second…

They were already together, and I was being asked to move to the bulkhead (which I do not like) because they prefer not to have the bulkhead? She had to be kidding.

American Airlines Airbus A319 First Class

My jaw dropped and my neck crooked. The gate agent said, “you don’t have to do it.” I shrugged my shoulders and said you’re busy trying to get us out on time and you’ve already printed the new boarding passes, I’ll go ahead and take the bulkhead. It wasn’t worth ‘standing on principle’ over, the principle being are you kidding me??

I should have slipped this couple a note inflight directing them on how to make sure you can sit together on a plane. Except I realized they had already figured the answer out — just get a sucker to switch.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I think if I heard they just didn’t like it, I wouldn’t have done it after all.

  2. Gary…stand up for yourself. Seriously. You just empowered that agent to keep doing it to future flyers.

  3. I would switch seats. I don’t understand why the couple would not want the bulkhead. I thought the bulkhead seats are better as nobody will be reclining into you. Also in the bulkhead you are closer to the flight attendant, and are more likely to get a refill on your drink or better service. Also in the bulkhead you get to be the first row to disembark the plane.

    I generally try to be accommodating and move seats. I have been separated from my travelling companions because of disrupted travel plans and have had to ask for generosity from others if they would switch seats. So even best intended plans of purchasing seats together can sometime not work.

    I have also purchased first class seats only to find out after that the first class cabin does not have two seats together because of the limited number of seats.

    I think switching seats is a kind gesture, and will at least bring some good karma your way.

  4. I wouldn’t have as the agent lied to you. I would have told the agent that’s why I wanted my original seat after all. Then I would have told the couple after I got on the plane that I made the agent switch them back because the agent lied to you. If the seat next to me was still empty I would then offer to switch with them.

  5. I don’t like the bulkhead either & I’m usually flexible and willing to accommodate, but these people seemed ungrateful and overly-entitled, so Nope. I would have said “sorry I don’t like the bulkhead, that’s why I chose this seat and I’m settled”. I’m sure they would choose bulkhead in F over sitting together in E+.

  6. 14 1/2 hour flight HKG-DFW this month. obnoxious couple had ALREADY taken my seat when i boarded. as i pulled out my phone to double check my seat, the young ‘lady’ said they wanted to sit together, but i could have her seat (in the last row of MCE, that has reduced recline). i told her if it was a 2 hour flight, no problem, but that i chose my seat for a reason and, sorry, i’m not going to move. both her and her husband shot me death eyes and then basically guilted the guy on the aisle into changing even after he told them same as i did. then they told the couple behind that she prefers an aisle seat and asked them to move up next to me. before the couple could answer, she said ‘thanks’ and ‘helped’ them move. the SECOND she got in her seat behind me, she kicked the seat very hard without a word and continued to kick it purposely throughout the flight (the lady next to me, who was forced moved y this bitch, even commented to me that she’s doing it on purpose). self entitled pricks.

  7. I try to be accommodating to seat-switch requests, as long as they don’t negatively impact me. I have long legs, so a bulkhead seat is my least-desirable seat. In fact, I usually inform the gate agent of this fact ahead of time when there is a selection of seats available for upgrades. (As a Delta Diamond Million Miler, I’m usually at or near the top of the upgrade list.). I prefer an aisle seat to be able to easily get up during the flight, but am willing to switch to a window seat on flights less than five hours.

  8. @Greg – I along with many others detest the bulkhead for a number of reasons:
    1. no under-seat storage space
    2. space overhead often taken up by FA luggage, medical equipment, etc.
    3. less room to stretch your legs out
    4. wall-mounted pocket is usually a flimsy thing that has less space than a seat-back one

    Not having anyone reclining into you is nice, but to me is outweighed by the negatives

  9. No problem for me, as long as I’m still seated in the same cabin. Maybe in agreeing, the agent and the couple will have a better day.

    I certainly have bigger ‘fish to fry’ than be in the middle of a dust up like that!

  10. Same thing, walked up to my seat to find an entitled (middle aged) couple all smiles with one of them ALREADY sitting in my aisle seat. This is the first time I encountered this and the seat I got was further up and still an aisle so I let it go. Then I found out more shifting was happening behind me, maybe the couple wanted to be on the right side of the plane instead of the left. There were no changes in boarding passes, so I suppose I could have asked her to move at any moment.

    Of course the flight attendants are supposed to be practically obsequious to 1st class passengers, so this went on. Now how will she keep track of which passenger is where and call them by name?

    On another flight a couple was obviously sitting on opposite ends of the same row trying to communicate politely to each other. I offered to switch as I was traveling alone. They didn’t ask to be switched.

    From now on, if some one is rude enough to take my seat I will take it back, with a smile if I could be so sophisticated. Otherwise it seems the lesson learned is asking where the couple’s original boarding passes were and then make a decision

  11. I don’t reward lying. The request to change so they could sit together was a lie as they were already sitting together. The truth was they wanted you to switch seats so that wouldn’t be in the bulkhead seats. If you had been told that from the beginning you probably wouldn’t have agreed, right? Hence the lie! Don’t reward lying, it just encourages the behavior!

  12. Not a prayer in hells chance without a very good reason. I’ve suffered through this too but the GA mentioned they were already together. I then refused as I couldn’t see any benefit to me other than goodwill. Sorry but they should plan further ahead as I did.

  13. Abby….you can be certain, I would have contacted the senior flight attendant and had the matter resolved very early into that flight. If necessary, I would have the matter brought to the attention of the captain for a resolution. Lastly, I would have secured the name of the passenger and written a ‘steaming’ letter to the president of the airline.

    No reasonable person need accept that type of treatment from another passenger!

  14. “They just don’t like it”??? REALLY???? Sorry, that’s not a good enough reason for me to give up the seat I chose to sit somewhere I don’t like.
    I fly a lot, not as much as Gary, but a lot and I know that with a little planning you can almost always end up with a seat in your top 3. These spoiled children need to do a better job at learning to ropes or maybe try private lift where you get the plane to yourself.

  15. I would have followed through with switch, but would have told the gate agent that misrepresenting the couple’s problem as not being able to sit together rather than not liking the seat she put you in was inappropriate the second her words past her lips.

    And, WTF with this couple – did they not know that they were requesting that someone else submit themselves to the unpleasantness they were trying to avoid? I wudda taken my shoes and socks off and planted my bare feet high enough on the bulkhead to ensure that they would have had to look upon those feet for the entire trip.

  16. The problem is that there are always scammers that think they will manipulate their way into the seats they want at others expense and have no guilt about it, in fact, I think they are proud of their “achievement.” Then there are those who have been seated apart by genuine misfortune and only want to sit together. For most of us the problem is that there is no way to tell these people apart before we decide to be or not to be magnanimous. There is also the consideration of the people denied their “achievement” getting revenge in some way as well, as the seat kicker Abby experienced. It is a tricky decision and there is no guaranteed outcome.

    I once managed to get a 1st class cabin on a German ICE for myself and my kids, only to find some american tourists in our seats. They were eating and I didn’t want to ruin their trip by making them move in the middle of their meal. They sat by the big picture window I had promised my kids for their entire journey, even though I had politely informed them the train had reserved seating and they were in our seats. They never offered to move and we have never had a first class cabin since. When I think about this, I regret having not having asked the conductor to take care of the matter.

    For me, the moral of the story is that if someone is in our seats, I will ask them to move. If another person’s misfortune becomes apparent after we are all seated in our proper seats and I can help without shifting the misfortune to my family, I will then do so, but not before. I want to know I am not being scammed and if I do something nice for someone, they might do the same in return and not laugh about how they got to sit next to the window where my kids were supposed to be.

  17. I suspect it was a late upgrade of a couple who is not a frequent flyer. And then the antics ensure.

    “Oh, we’re upgraded? Wow, cool! Wait….. I don’t want to sit in the bulkhead.”

    Gate agent curses under her breath, “I gotta get this plane out…”

  18. Abby –

    What you describe is the definition of an assault, and in front of a witness. Call the captain and say you wish to press charges and perp will be arrested at destination.

  19. These people are self serving scammers and Gary fell for it hook, line and sinker. I have been in the position of having to ask someone to switch seats so I could sit next to the person I was traveling with but never would I ask someone to switch if we already had two seats together. It’s obvious the scammers read Trumps The art of the deal and Gary was just suckered into giving up his preferred seat so two selfish individuals could scam their way out of their miserable bulk head seats.

  20. It seems like I’m reading a lot of stories about questionable behavior from people, coupled with the increasing regularity of airlines to price many seats, even in regular economy, with a surcharge because they are either single seats or near the front of the plane.

    My default thought would be to say NO unless offered an inducement that is acceptable, whatever that might be (better seat, upgrade, bonus miles, cash?) Most people will figure out how to get each other seated next to each other long before the boarding process, if it’s really important to them. I know that might seem callous, but some impetus has to be put back on both fellow travelers and the airlines themselves for creating these situations.

  21. How about taking a BREAK from one another and sitting apart? Unless there is a child or a medical/physical need to sit together, I just don’t get it…

  22. All these useless comments from self righteous make me laugh.
    For three hour flights or less, just change the seats if it’s not substantially worse.
    For international flights, just get first class with flatbeds by itself. Then no reason to move at all then.

  23. +1Julua!
    People, a few hours away from the love of your life (or child over10) will not cause you any irrevocable harm.
    Absence makes the heart grow fonder, etc., etc.

  24. Since AA made the request on their behalf to switch seats AA should offer you a free global upgrade to compensate for the inconvenience. To be honest the gate agent should have told the people to try and switch on the airplane if they don’t like bulk head seats. The two people were already sitting together and I’m sure the gate agent had better and more important things to take care of before the flight departed. It was a complete waste of the agents time. Chances are these two people were just freeloaders anyway with free upgrades. They should be taken off all future upgrade lists.

  25. this thread reinforces my feelings from that day. next time I will just go to the FA and tell them someone is in my seat. if they retaliate again, I will turn, ask them if they are also ExP and fly >250000 miles per year with the airline and then address it with the FA with no attention to their answer. both their seats were open 8 hours before the flight admit I had the route to myself. I imagine they social engineered the GA into the free upgrade…

  26. My husband tells a story about a time when, shortly after 9/11 and planes were flying virtually empty, he walked onto a plane and, while looking at his boarding pass, told a guy that he was sitting in my husbands’ seat. The guy looked around at the empty plane and said, “seriously, you want me to move?” My husband laughed and told him that he was just screwing with him and, no, he didn’t have to move.

  27. I usually don’t move. I apologize and blame medication and the potential to make frequent trips to the lav. That’s usually the end of it.

  28. I don’t ask to change seats, ever. All it takes is planning and hopefully nothing goes wrong. I’m not inclined to honor a seat change request for the aforementioned reasons. Also, how do I know the posts/seat recline isn’t compromised?

  29. In the past, when I traveled with my daughter in coach, I would politely request a seat switch but offering the same aisle seat, and providing several drinks on me as a thank you.

    But I have learned never again will I switch in First/Business! Years ago on a Delta Houston-Chcago dinner flight, some business jock asked me to switch to his seat in the rear of the cabin so he could join his pal. However, when it came time for dinner, I was informed they had run out of first dinner trays.

    Last month, I had booked in advance a preferable bulkhead seat in Business on TAP Portugal from Oporto-Newark. At the last minute, two pals got on board and asked if I would switch so they could sit together. Although I agreed, where was the Purser not to intervene and direct them to a completely empty row of seats behind me in Business? Instead, the new seat and movie were broken; I had to move yet a third time.

    Shame on that gate agent for manipulating the facts!

  30. Some freeloaders have no shame. I was once asked by a person who received a last minute free upgrade if I would be willing to switch my first class seat for his friends bulkhead seat in economy so they could sit together. I could not believe someone would try and pull such a ridiculous stunt.

  31. Tough call.

    I actually like the bulkhead in First because, even in First, there’s better service in the first row, as another reader pointed out. And, on US Air flights masquerading as American Airlines flights when the FA thinks a pre-departure beverage is not his job, it’s easier to prevail upon the FA to choose otherwise if you’re in the first row. The absence of storage at your feet and the smaller storage overhead isn’t a hassle in First, since the FA will get you what you want from overhead when you want it.

    Aside from my personal preference for first row in First, airline staff hate lying and manipulative passengers. So I don’t think you would have irked the GA one little bit if you had stood your ground and kept your seat. She might have even secretly savored the moment . And the lying passenger probably would’ve suckered someone else into her dishonest proposition once aboard, as other readers have witnessed.

  32. @Abby – before I had status I was on a flight (way back in nose-bleed economy) where a 65-year-old man and his wife were kicking and punching the back of my seat cause I was moving around too much. I’m 5’3″ /105 lbs. So I don’t think I was moving that much, but in tight quarters, they didn’t like it. I asked him to stop doing it, told him he was acting like a 5-year-old and that he should be ashamed of himself.

    Then I went to the FA and explained what was happening, and I said in truth, the guy was displaying signs of air-rage. Within 5 minutes she moved me to first class (thankfully an empty seat.)

    Sorry you had to go thru that, but next time for sure say something!

  33. Nope. It’s like tipping: the more you do it, the more other occupations start askimg for tips.

  34. I do not sit next to my spouse for 8+ hours a day and I do notable separation anxiety. It is called work. Do you really need to be with your spouse 7 24 ? Even on holiday it is good to get some away time. We sit in aisle seats but me in the left side and him on the right. Then you can talk to the people next to you and compare notes later to see who has the more crazy one. On is phl to lax flight I had a first time flyer who would not shut up!

    But we do not give up our seats to ANYONE if the ask we tell the we USD the bathroom a lot due to medication

  35. Never in a million flights of fancy would I have given them the seats! Are you kidding? And I would have made my disgust known to all.

  36. I’ve learned the hard way the decision should be by individual case.

    1) When my daughter and I traveled together in coach on United in the 1990s before my F days, and if we were not seated together, I would sit next to her and offer the individual whose seat I took the same aisle seat on a 2+5+2 arrangement; plus I would send over 2 cocktails as a thank you with meaning.
    2) Once in 1979 on a Delta 1011 between IAH-ORD traveling in F bulkhead, I was asked to switch seats to the last row to facilitate 2 hotshot business guys to sit together. When the dinner service reached me, the FA pronounced that F meals were ’86.’
    3) Traveling in 2016 between Oporto-Newark in business on TAP, the purser asked I change my long ago pre-selected bulkhead aisle to several rows back so two loud pals could sit together. I should have refused, as the seat I received was broken, as well as the entertainment system. They could have taken 2 open seats in the back of Business.

    Frankly, I would never accommodate business travelers; I would contemplate if it involved a parent and child, as people these days are incredibly rude and assume you’ll just jump for them and their self-important aura.

  37. NOPE, not if they were already sitting together. I choose my seat months ahead of my trip. I know exactly where I want to sit, that’s why I book early. No, I would not move.

  38. NOPE, not if they were already sitting together. I choose my seat months ahead of my trip. I know exactly where I want to sit, that’s why I book early. No, I would not move.

  39. @sam it’s not self righteous to plan ahead, especially since I have to take meds to fly, plus I am in unbelievable pain most of the flight. I need someone with me that knows how to care for me, so no we would never switch. I don’t fly that often for this reason.

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