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. Gary, it’s time to ban ‘corporate wage slave’ (he/she isn’t the cws from FT).

  2. “The Department of Transportation has been pressuring airlines to accommodate seat assignments for families FREE OF CHARGE.”

    Typical democratic party narrative. Give people stuff for free so they’ll continue to vote democrat.

    Most people would call that buying votes.

  3. I count my lucky stars that I haven’t been asked to switch seats. Yet.
    On a side note: anyone else read the headline and think “I do declare, Scarlet!”

  4. I always get a window seat as I take meds and before takeoff I am zonked. I never use the onboard bathroom and don’t want anyone bothering me to get thru. Good luck getting someone zonked out to move. I consider flying this way to be like time travel without jet lag.

  5. If polite and of equal accommodation – YES…..
    If pushy, arrogant, entitled, or rude – HELL NO….
    If over 2 hr flight – DON’T BOTHER ASKING!!

  6. I travel weekly and am often asked to switch. My rules are simple. The seat being offered must be a window in an equal class or a window / aisle in an upgraded class. I will never move to a middle seat and I will never move down in class. Also, don’t bother asking anyone in an exit row to switch unless you are offering a non middle class upgraded seat. You’re wasting your time.

  7. This whole topic is really pretty simple. If you are the one doing the asking here are the rules:

    1) Be polite
    2) Be offering at minimum an equivalent seat and “equivalent” is up to the discretion of the person being asked. It doesn’t hurt to throw in a “here’s $50” or “I’ll buy your drinks” where appropriate.
    3) Be prepared for a “no” and don’t act entitled. The person you are asking might just not want to move period and that’s their right.

    Having said that when it’s a case of a minor child who needs (doesn’t just prefer) a parent sitting with them the airline should sort that out before boarding. If it’s your spouse/boyfriend/17 year old son sorry there is no need for you to be sitting together.

    Every time there is a discussion on this there a million sob stories and individual incidents. I am sorry for the mixups and I know that sometimes it really isn’t your fault. Having said that the people who abuse this (like mentioned in the article) or simply don’t plan ahead and expect you to pay for their lack of preparation are simply too frequent and I CAN’T TELL WHICH ONE YOU ARE. So I’m forced to assume you can/will lie to me and are trying to exploit me. Sorry.

  8. I get asked often to move (as a solo traveler) and it’s annoying as heck. I pay close attention to where I sit on a plane, for various reasons. And I’m almost always asked to trade for my better seat. (I’ve had the bulkhead scenario happen to me as well.). I have noticed the airlines – specifically Delta – moving me around without asking me. When I board I find Im in a different seat so they can seat a couple together (even for just an hour flight). Pisses me off when they do that.

    Botton line. Suck it up and don’t ask people to move.

  9. Too damn bad if they don’t book their flight early enough to get seats together. I’ve seen arguments on planes over this and people who refuse to swap seats are shamed.

  10. As a frequent flyer I could care less about switching seats, I even offer to. If I don’t, I know the parent with the baby will sit next to me and I’ll be stuck with a crying baby.
    We were very lucky, our kids were great on flights. Literally every time we flew people would comment on how great they did.
    I feel sorry for the parents who didn’t get that lucky and try to help them as much as I can. I even let a lady use my laptop once to play a cartoon for her son.
    Happy baby, happy flight.

  11. I was asked to move twice by a flight attendant on an international flight. I was traveling alone so no big deal, I complied. The third time she came and said grab your bag and come with me. First class baby.

  12. Don’t ask me to trade my extra legroom seat with you to sit with your family, GO OFFER your extra legroom seat to the person in the back next to your family. I won’t give up for your needs, but you should.

  13. I always travel First Class or Premium and plan my travel accordingly, even when my children were young and they traveled with me. I will never give up my seat nor would I expect someone to give up their seat for me due to poor planning or an inconvenient unforeseen issue. Should be no one else’s problem.

  14. I’m an old Gen Xer. I’m confused at the entitlement of some people. I guess the generation I grew up in, you took what you got. I have standards, but I don’t inconvenience people and expect the same in return. These jackals who always expect their way, I don’t get it. Where’s civility and respect?

  15. Flying Qantis Airlines from Seattle to Sydney I asked to switch seats with the pilot, told him I was a pilot also (didn’t tell him it was model airplane’s I piloted) and he accompanied me. Well if course I let the Co-Pilot take off because I forgot to bring my remote controller, Hell I don’t think it has enough channels anyway. Well after we took off we got clearance to cruise at 37,000 feet so we set the auto pilot for that height and as soon as we reached altitude the Co-Pilot said he over ate a crapload of Mexican food last night, drank several pitchers of Pineapple Margaritas and that he needed to go take a humongous shit and find some hangover medicine and a half dozen aspirin, he was desperately hoping for a restroom to be vacant because he was about to shit himself, I told him if he did not to come back, (Im not sure what I was thinking because I have no idea hot to fly this European piece of shit) anywho so with nothing I could say I said okay go and Good Luck. Well after that I woke up and had to go to the bathroom so I have no idea how my dream ended. Kind of glad I did wake up though because I don’t want to ever be involved in any Airline Disasters!!
    Have a nice day everyone…..

  16. Flying Qantis Airlines from Seattle to Sydney I asked to switch seats with the pilot, told him I was a pilot also (didn’t tell him it was model airplane’s I piloted) and he accompanied me. Well if course I let the Co-Pilot take off because I forgot to bring my remote controller, Hell I don’t think it has enough channels anyway. Well after we took off we got clearance to cruise at 37,000 feet so we set the auto pilot for that height and as soon as we reached altitude the Co-Pilot said he over ate a crapload of Mexican food last night, drank several pitchers of Pineapple Margaritas and that he needed to go take a humongous shit and find some hangover medicine and a half dozen aspirin, he was desperately hoping for a restroom to be vacant because he was about to shit himself, I told him if he did not to come back, (Im not sure what I was thinking because I have no idea how to fly this European piece of shit) anywho so with nothing I could say I said okay go and Good Luck. Well after that I woke up and had to go to the bathroom so I have no idea how my dream ended. Kind of glad I did wake up though because I don’t want to ever be involved in any Airline Disasters!!
    Have a nice day everyone…..

  17. I don’t fly enough to really have an opinion but just wanted to throw my 2¢ worth of comedy in because laughter is the best medicine!!

  18. I’m sick of reading articles about what service workers are sick of.
    Is it just me or does anyone else notice the decline in service in way too many businesses?

  19. I was on a flight DFW/LAS. I was in my chosen, always, aisle seat. Next to me was a father and young 5/6 yo daughter. The father asked me to change seats with mom two rows back. I replied “as long as it was an aisle seat” The mother was sitting in the aisle seat. We exchanged. The aircraft was still boarding. Another women stood over me and indicated I was in her seat. Mom was assigned the middle seat. I returned to my original assigned seat and told the mother I wanted my assigned aisle seat back. She complied.

    The father began telling the young daughter “the man is not nice enough to change seat with mommy” My first reaction was to say mentally, “F**k you” I maintained my composure.

    The father began requesting the cabin crew to make switches. One crew made a snarky comment about passengers not accommodating. Another mental expletive for him. I told him I would happily accept another aisle seat in coach, even a window seat in first class.

    After playing musical chairs with about five participants; I got an aisle seat, the family sat together. A positive unintended consequence, another non complaining couple got to sit together.

  20. People try to punk you all of the time. Don’t fall for it. A woman and her adult daughter tried to get me give up my selected window seat for the daughter’s middle seat further back. If it had worked, they would have had a free seat between them and I would have been stuck in a tight fit between to other people and would have had to get out at least several times for the window person back there. I didn’t figure out their plan until later but I was not going easily to a middle seat so I refused. As it was, the daughter moved up to the open middle seat next to me and the two of them traded seats several times. A lot of people really don’t mind screwing accommodating good people.

  21. As a parent with 2 special needs kids, I can tell you, I’ve never wanted to get anybody’s premium seat. I always book far in advance, unless there is an emergency (someone is dying or died).

    Airlines are horrific about changing people’s seating, even when you book in advance and while I always pay premium to seat all of us together, it doesn’t always work out perfectly. Not because I’m lazy, or didn’t plan… That’s just the way flying is these days. If I ask someone to switch, I always try to make sure the seat I’m offering is the same type of seat (aisle for aisle, window for window, etc).

    I agree that you should never give up your seat for other grown people to be happy, you might consider that with teenage girls (who are often sexually assaulted during flights) and kids with special needs or even small kids who need attending, your flight might be a helluva lot worse than not getting the first seat you chose. I always try to be near the person who is being asked during the request, so they can see we are not requesting this just because of preference.

    There is no one size all that fits here, but: people who ask to change seats when they don’t really need it are arseholes and people who don’t change seats for people who truly need it are also arseholes.

  22. Poor little flight attendant
    Thought they were there, amongst other things, to assist the passengers to make the customer’s travel experience a pleasant one
    And that is CUSTOMER as in the person paying their salary. Hate is a strong word.

  23. Every single airline allows you to purchase specific seats when you book your flight. It’s usually no more than a few dollars. If you care so much about sitting as a family pre select your seats. Otherwise you are the unaccommodating, entitled jerk causing issues for yourselves and also others. No one OWES anyone anything and that’s the point of articles that discuss this. Yes occasionally if it’s convenient and the plane is crowded its a nice thing to accommodate a family the issue is that people now a days expect and demand that others just give them what they want no matter the inconvenience. Again it’s not anyone else’s problem you did not properly prepare for your flight and the world does not owe you anything!

  24. Firstlast…you should have told the father to go “F” himself in a tactful way. It was his lying sneak of a wife that tried to pass off someone else’s seat in the switch. The daughter needed to hear that it was daddy and mommy that were not nice! Entitled pieces of cr@p…

  25. It is extraordinarily rude to ask someone to switch seats on an airline. If I go into a restaurant and order a filet mignon and someone asks me to trade it for a hamburger, the answer is always NO. Neither will I change my aisle seat or window seat for a middle seat.

  26. When I fly, it is for company business. When families fly, they are typically off to meet family or friends, or off on a vacation. I need my aisle seat and have never given it up for a family as they are headed to Disney or other, whereas I am headed to work as soon as I get off the plane.
    Besides, all that switching around creates further unwanted confusion when everyone else is trying to board with luggage that should have been checked or left at home which is another sore topic.

  27. Maybe after years of this kind of nuisance I only fly 1st class because of this issue and a couple other issues with flying. I will never change seats. Plan ahead and get what you pay for.

  28. People that fly are not usually very friendly in the first place or so has been my experience.
    My daughter and son in law missed a flight coming home from Florida to Philly. They were able to book a flight for two later that evening and another flight the next day. They had a toddler and an infant. My son in Law took the first flight with the three year old. Unfortunately the seats were not together. They were about 3 or 4 rows apart. My sonin law asked a couple of ladies if they would mind moving over a seat just for takeoff so that he could sit close to my grandson. They refused and then complained to him when my grandson screamed bloody murder when the flight took off. He wasn’t asking for them to give up their seat for the entire flight just for takeoff.

  29. If families want to sit together, pay for tickets together. Don’t ask me to swap my 10C for 20A. The answer is a hard NO. When our children were young we typically sat together but sometimes a reschedule or equipment change had us apart. No big. Explain to the child (we have two girls) what is happening. Buck up, buttercup. The level of entitlement is astounding.

  30. @K8tee:

    “teenage girls (who are often sexually assaulted during flights)”

    Exaggerate much?

  31. I have the best solution to this entire problem. All children under the age of 15 should not be allowed to Fly at all. Period. Take a friggin bus or train.

    And I always pay to upgrade and sit in the seat I want, and have never agreed to move seats to accommodate anyone.

  32. My answer in never again unless it is an upgrade. I gave up my row 2A seat (on Spirit) to a mother with two small children. They were booked in 1A,B,and C. Spirit doesn’t allow small children in Row 1. So I moved to 1A, and my fellow row mate moved to 1C. I got to spend the rest of my flight with a little boy kicking the back of my seat. Mom was ambivalent.

  33. Last year we booked flights to HI 7 months in advanced. Traveling with a two year old. Had seating all selected so families sat together. 3 months later flight change with everyone scrambled. Called cust service at AA. She was fantastic. Put notes in to say keep kids with parents and made new seat assignments. Three weeks before flight changed again. Tried calling again and was told talk to gate agent. Gate agent said you’ll have to ask people to move. Our two year old was sitting between two strangers for a 6 hour flight.

  34. Believe it or not, i was supposed to be seated in a seat next to a 350 lb. fatso. She had had to put up the armrest and I explained I could no way sit in the little space left. She demanded the flight attended to put her else where and the bright United attendant put her in an exit row. I am not sure she could have fit through that door. If one cannot push away from the table, try buying two seats. It is like a fat disabled? person parking by the front of a store. For obese people with no reason other than eating too much, they should have special parking places at the end of the parking lot so they can walk off some of that blubber.

  35. I prowl the seating charts before I push ‘pay’. I need an aisle seat, not near the toilets. Not at the back of the plane. Period. I am willing to pay for it and/or book a different flight. When flying alone I look like ‘the nice lady’ who will switch and it is hard for me to say no…but I explain that I need that particular flavor aisle for my own personal comfort, I paid for it, planned it carefully and that if it is not equivalent seat… I am sorry, but no. Also I agree that ‘entitled’ has infected the cabins. On recent Tokyo-LA flight was flying biz with my husband. Family got on. The UAL middle biz seats have 2 configurations – facing in or facing away from one another but still together. A woman flying with a 4 year old was up in arms bc her seats were not the facing in ones and basically demanded from the flight attendant that she be able to switch with us because ‘I can’t take care of my child properly’ …really!? You are like literally 6 inches away. In business class. I have flown to 6 continents with my son starting when he was 7 weeks (he’s 19 now) and so that was def a bull$^% reason. Also her hubby was in same aisle as her in the ‘throne’ seat. So they wanted him to be able to move as well to same row. She was super pushy and demanding. And loud. Finally a couple a couple of rows up relented and said ‘ok we’ll switch’ – got their stuff, etc. and then the lady changed her mind!?!? I can’t imagine what it would be like to be married to her. LOL

  36. It is the responsibility of a parent to do the due diligence and pay the price to travel with their family in a manner that is satisfactory to them. It is not a stranger’s responsibility.
    If they can’t handle that simple duty, get an RV and travel by yourselves!

  37. I agree with you. I traveled internationally and domestically for my job for 34 years. I have real horror stories about other people’s “entitled ” attitudes. Such as the 350 pound smelly woman who couldn’t fit in one seat, crying babies, passengers who smelled like goats, etc. I would have loved to change seats. But, I had to ‘suck it up’ and put up with it.

  38. Nope. If you didn’t book your seats together and you can’t, tough titty. Besides having most of you separated from one another could be helpful to the other passengers, because together you might be loud, vulgar, rambunctious and disturbing of other people’s peace. No one with a confirmed seat is obligated to give their seat up for you. Deal with it. I 0kjyryt k

  39. My reply is very simple:”You decided to have kids, so live with any and all consequences!”.

  40. Don’t assign kids seats away from their parents. I was one of the annoying ones that had to ask because United assigned my 4 year old to a seat 6 rows behind us by himself when our flight got changed. That only happened to us once but I see it happen to families often. I totally get it tho if someone paid more for their seats, why are those people even being asked to move? That’s not right. Other than that, I practice common (not so common, I guess) courtesy by getting out of the way so others can pass and organizing my bags and kid’s bags after people go by. It’s not the majority of families. I love how this person “hates families”. Awesome. I see just as much entitlement with other travelers. Like the ones who are talking loudly on their phone until take off, wheels up, or the ones that don’t care to use headphones and think we all want to hear the games they’re playing or videos they’re watching. People suck in general. Don’t just blame those with kids. Adults without children are just as annoying.

  41. My kids are now 16 and 13 and have been flying since the day they were born – both with >150 segments. They have flown WN, AS, AA/US, UA, LH, DL, EK, NZ, QF, MX and TAP and not once – repeat never – have we asked another passenger to change seats. If you book in advance it is not difficult to reserve adjacent seats or at worst 2+2. Even when flights are cancelled we have not had a problem with reseating. WN has an easy solution – buy EBCI and you will have no trouble getting adjacent seats.

    So I have zero sympathy for the families that decided to roll the dice instead of paying for seat assignments. Suck it up, or be prepared to be separated from your kids.

  42. The writer of this article no doubt flies a lot. I’m a flight attendant, so he doesn’t fly more than I do. Parents with teenage children do solicit seat changes for various reasons. And it’s not just families who hustle seat changes to be together. It’s couple, friends colleagues and the like. When I do travel, I travel alone. And when asked to give up my seat for those reasons stated above, I take out my AirPods, inform them that I’m keeping my assigned seat and put my AirPods back in and go on about my business. End of story. People may be entitled, but I’m not there to feed their entitlement.

  43. Book early online when possible.
    Last minute/stand by passengers be glad you even have a seat. I would never ask you so don’t ever ask me. Remember to ask your guardians why they raised a jerk after you land.

  44. I’ve been a flight attendant nearly 46 years. I never heard of a “Mary & Joseph”. So, no…. it’s not a universal term. Your long suffering needs to learn, (a.) people have always asked others to trade seats to seat families together. (b.) working in the public requires a certain ability to look at the human condition and not take human (there’s that word again) nature personally. (c.) air safety notwithstanding, you’re in a SERVICE business.

    As many interesting things as there are in aviation, I wonder about this writer’s proclivity to chase such non-stories.

  45. @K8tee:

    “teenage girls (who are often sexually assaulted during flights)”

    Love your “Alternative facts” . The things some “people” say on here are total Kellyanne Conway. Making up stuff just makes your entire point false.

    did your mom die in the towers too?

  46. Poor planning by others is their own problem, not anyone else’s, So is being cheap and not upgrading to sit with your family.

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