Flight Attendant Declares She’s Sick Of Families Asking Solo Travelers To Switch Seats

The Department of Transportation has been pressuring airlines to accommodate seat assignments for families free of charge. Previously groups of passengers that wanted to sit together might have to pay extra for seat assignments, or negotiate swaps at the gate. This effort has been largely successful.

However airline policies aren’t going to require other passengers with assigned seats to give up their seats so that families can sit together. If a family books onto a mostly full flight, there may not be available seats together. And when a flight gets cancelled, that new flight may not have seats together.

This usually gets sorted out, at the gate or on board the aircraft. Nobody actually wants to sit next to your children. Still, it’s best to get as good a seat as you can to offer up in trade. Don’t expect someone to give up their extra legroom aisle seat for your middle in the back of the aircraft, for instance.

One woman, though, is telling the world via an opinion piece in The Guardian that she’s sick and tired of being asked as a passenger to switch seats to accommodate families.

She’s also a flight attendant, so she’s also asked to accommodate the seat switchers, and she hates family travelers regardless of their seating needs, because they have other needs too (which presumably interrupt galley gossip or the latest issue of People or OK!).

Cabin crew have a term for these kinds of passengers – the Mary and Josephs; parents who act like they were the very first people on the planet to have children. You can often spot them loitering in the galley or carrying way too much luggage. They ask cabin crew to heat their baby bottles and food; they complain about the temperature.

The argument against switching seats is that the passenger has paid more for a better seat that they’re being asked to give up – and also that that passenger is always a woman so it’s sexist. But this simply doesn’t ring true:

The woman travelling alone is seated in the emergency exit row with extra legroom. Moving her to the seat behind would mean a less comfortable flight for her. Why should she have to give up her comfort for someone else’s children? I am fed up of solo passengers having to accommodate other travellers just because they have kids in tow.

The example of being pressured to give up an exit row seat makes no sense, because passengers are not asked to move from exit row seats in order to provide them to children:

  • In the U.S. the specific age to sit in an exit row seat is 15.

  • In Europe you must be an adult, and families traveling with children are expressly not permitted in exit rows.

The author references “a recent flight to Los Angeles,” where “one parent even told me to be quiet because their baby was sensitive to noise.” So let’s assume she’s talking about the United States. There is no reason to move to accommodate a family so that a 15 year old can sit with their parents. A 15 year old is allowed to travel on a plane in the U.S. by themselves, without being in unaccompanied minor status.

Moving seats to ensure families sit with children evokes images of parents separated from their five year olds, not their fifteen year olds. The Guardian should be fact checking their opinion pieces. When I’ve written op-eds for major newspapers there has been a rigorous fact check process.

You do not have to give up your seat. If you’re indifferent between seats that are on offer, it’s the nice thing to do. It’s even better when you’re offered a superior seat for your trouble. Consider offering $20 or at least buy the passenger that’s moving a drink on board as a thank you.

At the same time don’t resent someone for asking, of worry that someone might be getting something for free that you had to pay for. Too much of our politics is about giving things to specific groups when it benefits the giver politically. But that’s a problem of our politics, not the harried traveler who also wants their baby’s bottled warmed, and who needs to sit with their three year old to supervise them responsibly.

(HT: Michael C.)

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’m perfectly happy to switch seats for a couple or family, just so long as its at least an equivalent seat. I’m also perfectly happy to say no if it means switching a window or an aisle for a middle seat. I have experienced many families who have asked to switch seats but will only switch if THEY can keep their aisle or window, but wouldn’t find it important enough to sit together if it means they would have to give you their window or aisle seat and seat.

  2. I have been seeing A LOT of requests lately. Given very infrequent flyers are reading garbage “travel hacks” on tiktok and thinking this is a legitimate way to get a better seat. (Ive seen the articles stating as such).

    I have been averaging a request every trip (roundtrip) or about 50% of the time now. Its even in F class between companions. I am a window guy….most requests are never like for like….its always two aisle seats wanting to get a window…..i even had a couple insist on me moving when they are seated in the aisle seats directly across from each other (2C and 2D for example). I agree it should be like for like and no one should be upset for not moving….

    The latest was on AA when i had the window booked for months (paid F class even) and there was upgraded passengers insisting on the request i move back so they can have two seats together in row 1. Ugh nope! When im upgraded to F class on AS – if i can get my window – awesome….but i do realize if aisle is all there is….im lucky to be there as i paid for Y class…..and i act like it!
    My counter argument for families….you should be paying for seats….you chose to have families and to travel. Why should i subsidize you seat assignments when i have to pay for them?

  3. My cousin recently flew with her 2yo and they were separate, in two middle seats, on United. Luckily, a nice young man switched with them, but that person had to give up a window/aisle seat to exchange for a middle seat in this case. The plane was full. She felt bad that he had to be stuck in the middle seat but in this case, what else could we have done?

  4. I’m a dad with one older daughter. I’m a very frequent flyer as well… All the reasons in the article make sense to me, but they are, in my opinion, the exception. I’ve never asked anyone to switch a seat to something that is a lesser location. And, once my daughter was old enough, if seats together was not possible, one of us would go alone as long as someone was near our kid. What’s missing here is the fault of the airlines themselves. On United, I’m a million miler, have purchased tickets, and assigned the seats together, only to have _United split the family_ AFTER we’ve paid. This is beyond obnoxious. Now they are talking about how “families can book together” – sure, after United said this, they promptly changed our seating as they changed the equipment on our flight (over a month in advance, so not too surprising) and separated the family again. By the way – no messaging was provided for this change. I figured it out while reviewing the reservation. That’s an even worse practice on their part.

    So, while many customers may be at fault, clearly, airlines are as well. With so many flights and people, there will always be examples like the ones described in this article, but what’s the average day-to-day situation? From my several million miles of flying, I’ve largely seen parents offering the same or better seat to switch, and many families that just put one parent next to a child, and one ends up somewhere else. I have seen one request over the years of someone asking to move from a better seat to a worse seat, and in that case, the person refused, and no one seemed to get too upset.

  5. A few years back, I was flying WN on a confirmed ticket, and checked in early, specifically so I could board in A group and snag myself a window seat towards the rear to get a bit more sleep (0530 LAS – LAX flight). Towards the end of boarding a man taps me on the shoulder and not asks but states that I could sit over “there” point to an aisle seat. I point out, why not take the two seats next to me, and have your other daughter take the aisle seat (which was one row in front or behind on the same side).

    Guy responds with, “no, we sit together”. Working crew even sided with me on this. Unfortunately, a uniformed commuting pilot with my company kinda stepped in and eventually I did move seats.

    The kicker, in the area I moved to, three people around me got sick on landing. But at the end of the day, after explaining what happened to the CSM, they gave me a $50 voucher for future travel.

    Bottom line, the entitlement factor is ridiculous, but at the same time, yes, the airlines do need to work on a ssystem that preassignes seats together upon booking for families.

  6. It seems the time has come for airlines to create some automation for this in their apps. When reservations are made with children in them, the system can identify passengers with worse seats and systemically offer them the “upgrade” that would automatically change everyone’s seats if accepted. In cases where it’s not possible (only middle seats left, for example), it can offer the family rebooking options.

    While a pretty big development effort, the issue is only getting more attention and the first airline to implement this would have some market advantage for families.

  7. What surprised me is that on many airlines, like United, you can pick your seats before you pay for your ticket. Why would you book a flight and book seats apart and then pay while expecting someone to switch with you on the day of flight..
    If your travel agency booked you either without seat assignments or seats apart without telling you then shame on them.
    Lastly, if you did book seats apart, keep checking your booking on the web site or app as there are almost always cancellations that open up seats together. Be proactive and save yourself possible disappointment when your board.

  8. Exactly. It’s what I do. But, like United, they re-assigned myself and family with no notice and separated us – even after paying for the seats I had. That was an unexpected surprise and, again, they did not notify me even though I have alerts, emails, etc… all turned on for the flight and for my United account.

  9. Glenn —-
    recently someone requested that we switch tables after we had been seated. Seems they needed an electrical outlet for a medical device and our table was nearest the required outlet. We had no issue switching given the obvious circumstances.

    Later near the end of our meal they sent us a free desert at their expense – an unnecessary but generous gesture.

  10. Gary, have you sat in an exit row recently?
    I saw a very pregnant lady there. And remain there. There are no restrictions for the exit row.

  11. And I’m sick and tired of reading articles were flight. Attendants are sick and tired of customers! They have truly forgot what their purposes. Don’t tell me it’s for our safety, because looking at the size of most flight attendants today, they’re definitely not there for my safety! That is a fact.

  12. I have two criteria for agreeing to switch seats:
    1) I will not switch to sit in a middle seat
    2) I will not switch at all if the other person is demanding and pushy

    I’ve traveled all over the world and I understand these “traveling hacks”. Sorry…your lack of planning is not my problem.

  13. There are always exceptions. Wife and I were upgraded to F on a CR7. I got 1C, she got 2D. I asked at the gate if they could move us together. He said no, but to ask a passanger. I did, and the gentleman in 2C switched.
    The lady in 1D asked the same gentleman if he could switch with her under 10yr old son in 1A (I’m guessing they got upgraded also). He did again. So he got 1A, and the two families were happy. He seemed ok with it….a solo seat with a window and aisle!

  14. @James,

    There are clear restrictions for the exit row. The article outlined them. Do not opine when you don’t know what you are talking about.

  15. One way you can diffuse the question when you don’t want to move is to answer the passenger asking you to switch: Yes, I will switch, … for $100!
    So, now the decision is in the hand of the passenger, and if he/she is cheap with his/her family (that is 99% of the cases) then they will decline and go try to bully another passenger.

  16. I pay for early boarding to get the seat I need. Then to be asked to change my seat is offensive. They expect you to change automatically but shame on us to ask if the are going to reimburse my early boarding fee.

  17. I always book an aisle…nearer the lavatory…for “medical reasons.” I have been asked to change a seat a few times, but if it not for an equivalent aisle, I politely decline (without explanation; no one’s business), as I need access to the lav more than the average passenger. If, by chance another passenger got “pushy” about it, I’d simply ring the FA button, refer it over, and stop talking.

  18. I saw No to all requests. When that doesn’t work and they want to try to argue, I tell them for me to move it is going to cost $5000. I find that gets them to move on. Families can easily check the seating chart in advance for the flight(s) they are considering to see what seats are open. It is on them to book a flight where they can sit together. They seem to book flights at the last second and think and expect the other passengers to bow down to them. Also if they want to sit together they can always fly private.

  19. When flying as a family, you just have to plan farther in advance if you need seats together. Flight cancellations and other circumstances can foul up the best plan, but you have to start there.

    Also, airlines can, and do, unilaterally change your pre-selected seats. My wife and I will often book two aisle seats, across the aisle from each other. Neither of us wants to be stuck in a middle seat. On a recent flight, Delta moved us from our chosen aisle-aisle seats to an aisle-middle pair of seats. When we inquired about why they would do that, the agent told us she saw we were booked together and tried to “help” us out so we could sit together. It turns out she was really just trying to accommodate another couple on the flight (probably with higher status) who wanted to sit together, and grabbed one of our seats to make it happen. Total B.S.

  20. Simple: do as it used to be where people could select their seat free of charge. Airlines create a problem and then complain about it. Same for overhead storage: no issue in the 80’s and 90’s when people were checking their bags.

  21. More requests because the airlines (United last time I experienced it), try to get you to upgrade your tickets because they threaten you’re not flying to Hawaii with you wife unless you fork over $50.

    This article is so one sided. States all of these passengers are entitled. Assumes all seat trades are a worse choice for the person giving up their seat.

    I have only once seen a family not work it out a few times. Always on full flights but if that’s the case move on.

    These employees are overworked, everyone else is overpaying. This article seems to stoke fires that don’t need to be flamed.

  22. Pro tip- if someone won’t move because they are an asshole and your kid has to sit alone, find someone nearby willing to switch and proceed to pass food and snacks and talk over that person for the remainder of the flight. Even better get up and stand in the aisle right next to the person every chance you get.

  23. I travel frequently with my family of 4 ( kids 1 and 7). We always book early and our seats are always together-until the airline decides to split us up at the gate. This is especially true when we make a transfer. This happens 50% of the time and for reasons that are never fully explained. We ask, politely, to be seated together, and you would’ve thought we asked for someone’s kidney. On an international flight to Vienna this happened and the flight wasn’t full. Many people occupying the middle seats were camped out to stretch their legs after takeoff. No one would accommodate us, even though we had booked seats together initially. My 1 year old, whom I purchased their own seat, was now in my lap for a ten hour trip. The seven year old sat next to a creepy man who wouldn’t stop trying to talk to her, and my partner was somewhere out of eyesight. The airline would not refund us the extra seat. I’m not sure how this was the fault of my family, who planned the trip 6 months in advance. Am I entitled?

  24. Flight attendance have no other job but to help passengers. What is to be tired off?
    Before the Pandemia, flight attendance workers were helpful and kind to passengers. Now, they look more like dictators than attendance.

  25. I don’t understand the anger this brings up in so many people towards their fellow travellers. Why wouldn’t you trade for an equivalent or better seat if it helps someone else out? Conversely why would you even bother asking someone else to move from aisle/window to a middle seat? But you never know if someone might rather sit somewhere else anyways unless you ask. If I’m stuck in an aisle seat even in premium I’ll happily move back to coach for a window on longer flights. I would never even book a ticket where my minor child was separated from me, but I have had the airlines seperate us after the fact, usually for upgrades. Every time I’ve promptly brought this to the airline’s attention and they’ve fixed it. I’ve found they’re usually happy to move around all those travellers who didn’t select seats or give someone else a free upgrade to keep families together. Of course I actually value my family enough that I’ll give up upgrades to sit with them.

  26. The hatred for children on this thread is ridiculous.
    Young children need to be seated by a caregiver. There should not be a charge for this. Being under the age of 10 should not cause you or your caregiver to have to spend extra money reserving seats for BOTH passengers (reservations, meanwhile, that will not be honored even though your money is gone if you are forced onto a different flight due to cancelation or delay).
    As another commentator said, though, the airlines could easily automate this. And while a young child should be entitled to sit by a caregiver, that is not an entitlement for a whole family to sit together or to a desirable set of seats. (Still, on most domestic flights, this will mean one of them will get a window or aisle while the other gets a middle seat).

  27. When we purchase 3 tickets 6 months in advance please put them together. You purposely separate the 3 seats and charge us to sit together. That will stop all this. Don’t blame the family for the airlines greed.

  28. @minos…exactly right. I get 3 free checked bags as a Delta DM (I check 2 bags every week..one is personal stuff, one is work stuff). But, if airlines allowed 1 free checked bag, everything would be better…

  29. Don – I’d put you down.

    I wouldn’t move for Mother Teresa. What chance do you think an entitled nobbit like you is going to have?

  30. To the person who says if a person wouldn’t move their seat , let your kid and you pass food back and forth in front of them, you’d be pretty hungry . If you did it in front of me your food would be on the floor. It’s not my problem you’re to cheap to pay to sit with your kid, I’m thinking your the a__hole.

  31. Bhahaaa. The Mary and Joseph’s… what does that make the grown adult; or flight attendant who’s upset about keeping a family together? Satan?
    I propose we discuss/ protest the size of seats on an aircraft… While my daughter and I fit comfortably in said chairs, most Americans don’t! I had a guy, pouring over into my chair whilst snoring..Not cool. Like wtf.
    We need weight and size restrictions. Not a debate about splitting up kids from their parents.

  32. I almost always say no. If asked to go to middle, no exceptions to the “no”.
    If the other person is pushy or demanding, I ignore them.

    I have been asked an FA once to accommodate. I complied, only because the FA was nice about it.

  33. Flying in general SUCKS…..I drive when possible even if it’s a 24 hours run to avoid flying. I’m old enough to remember when flying was a good experience over all. No I would rather go to the dentist.

  34. Been flying for work for 25 years. In all that time, I’ve never been asked to trade seats where I got one even equal to the one I was sitting in. Pound sand.

  35. I have gave up my seat to accommodate more than one traveler before but I refused to do this anymore. I usually paid additional to get my seat assigned ahead of trips, so I will not under any circumstances give up my seat. People have all types of excuses for sitting together, they can do as I, pay for the seat. That’s my take on this issue, pay for what you want.

  36. As a flight attendant for the love of God just book your seats as far in advance as you can if you’re traveling with family but especially kids. We get lots of people who think it’s required that airlines sit families together, this is false as the DOT has it as a recommendation to the airlines. If your child is less than 10 years old that’s the only way I’m happy to accommodate you, otherwise your a burden on the flight crew just trying to get that door closed on time. Also ask for accommodation towards the end of boarding, it’s irritating to get requests from 5 families when we still have an entire plane to board (most of the time they just all decide to sit together despite their assign seats and just expect us and the other guests to just figure it out). I’m a ULCC FA so 90% of the time it’s just a family being to frugal to pay extra to book the seats together, don’t make that someone else’s problem!

  37. I don’t ask to change seats last flight I took we had a lack of planning so we didn’t get seats together we were separated the entire trip but I never complained if I want to switch I am willing yo.offer up a 100 dollar bill for the switch but like I said I don’t ask to switch

  38. Flying sucks the seats are to small. The people were ok for the most part, a family wanted me and my wife to move so they could sit together but never asked
    I heard them whispering
    I would have said NO .!!

  39. I was asked to give up my bulk head-aisle seat so a disabled mom & her son could sit together. I was told I could be comped a glass of red wine – I don’t drink.
    I was switched to a seat in the middle of the plane. My back was screaming at me once we landed 90 minutes later & it was hours before I could get to sleep when I got home. Never again.

  40. I was on a Air New Zealand flight recently. To pick a seat you need to pay. I paid and picked a window seat a month before the flight. Well when I was boarding I realized the airline changed me to a middle seat in the back next to the bathroom. They had put a family in my paid seat!!! I talked to a flight attendant who said she could not do anything but to call up the airline and get a refund!!!


    After the flight I called them up and after being on hold for a hour I talked to a rep. To get my money back they want me to send a email with all these requirements. Jerks!

  41. My fantasy….enlarge the hold area. Put the families that are obnoxious and entitled there. They get to be together and the rest of us get peace! Especially if there’s a screaming baby.

  42. As a flight attendant I gave up asking people to move long ago. I had a woman with a 3 y.o. seated apart and couldn’t get anyone to change. I exist for people to say NO to. But stand there with your kid and ask for a switch and no one will tell you no.
    I let the passengers handle it themselves.

  43. I have well in excess of 1million travel miles. In all my years of traveling. I have given up my seat a small number of times. Everytime those asking have been exceedingly polite. I honestly think most of this “discussion” stems from a few obnoxious people (both the asker and the askee) who now can now broadcast there “righteous” complaint to the world. I have traveled extensively with family and have ALWAYS been able to make my seat accommodations for all family when buying my tickets. A little planning goes a long way. For those who do not get seated together have simply made poor preplanning so they are at the mercy of those around them and may just have to deal with it.

  44. I had a father who was sitting in an aisle row try to get me to give up my window seat which I requested 6 months in advance. I told him no. So he swore at me, harassed me, and made my life miserable for the flight. Attendants didnt do anything about him. I will never give up my seat to anyone on principle now.

  45. I agree… but, the fact is, if there is an emergency a child should be seated next to a parent. We don’t want to give up seats for comfort, but we forget we are 30k feet in the air. We were all once kids, don’t forget that.

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