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 feel that if the airline doesn’t give seats together for families, then it’s perfectly OK to ask. I fly solo all the time. I don’t mind changing seats for people with young children. I’ve even offered to change seats with someone who was obviously not ok with a crying baby next to them. I don’t mind that either. However, if the airline does allow to purchase adjoining seats, then the family needs to plan ahead, if possible. That said, emergencies happen. The flight attendant needs to get over it or get another job. The service industry is just that – servicing customers’ needs.

  2. My conditions for requests are as follows:
    1) Automatic no for seats that are paid upgrades without compensation (lower category, worse location, etc.) and if I need my seat for whatever reason (feeling off, tired, etc.)
    2) Maybe yes if seat is same category or higher, or if compensation is same or higher than I originally paid
    3) Auto yes if seat is higher class

  3. I used to travel professionally as a CPS worker & legally couldn’t be separated from the children I was transporting to/from another state, so IF/when it would have become an issue … I just would have stated that legal responsibility & let the FA’s handle it any further!!

    Personally, my own 2 sons always used to travel with my (now-ex) husband & I (1 seated w/ each one of us — planned ahead, of course as I did w/ my work kids) & there NEVER was a problem when we went anywhere like this on airlines!!

  4. First, it is these families when they make reservations or do on-line check-in, that absolutely refuse to pay for seats, so they can sit together. They expect the airline, the flight crew and other passengers to accommodate their needs!!! That is absolutely wrong!!! If one needs to have 2 seats together, pay for them! Or go fly Southwest!!!

    Second, if one pays extra for their seat, NO ONE should be asking them to move, to accommodate anyone else!!! I had this happen on a United flight, O’Hare to Frankfurt. We paid for bulkhead seats. The FA asked us to change, we said no, unless you can offer us something better. She refused! About 2 hours after take-off, I went to the lavatory. The whole Economy+ section was empty! There was one woman with a baby in an area of 40 empty seats!!! 40 EMPTY seats!!! Yeah I was pissed! This same flight had older male flight attendant who did absolutely nothing the whole flight! During boarding he stood at side of the aircraft and did ABSOLUTLY NOTHING!!! When the beverage and meal carts came down the aisle, he just stood by the cart. Never spoke to passengers, or even touch a beverage or meal tray. I did contact United about that. Never received a reply. That is why I moved most of travel to Delta.

    I believe that passengers are at fault, the majority of times when it to comes to sitting together. They refuse to pay seat fees and want to blame everyone else for this issue.

  5. I agree with much of what’s being said. But in defense of the complaining flight attendant, it’s not her job to assign seats. That’s the reservation/check-in/ gate attendants job. It should be sorted out BEFORE boarding so passengers and flight attendants are not disturbed. If a passenger wants to ask another to move, be polite and accept a no if that’s the case. It is NOT either the flight attendant’s or the passenger’s problem. Complain to the airline or call a supervisor to the gate. Handle your own problems when flying, and don’t cause problems for passengers or flight attendants doing their jobs. Flying stinks for everyone these days… passengers and.staff alike. It’s a sign of our cultural and economic times. Certainly not the fault of us ordinary people, so let’s grin and bear it together.

  6. Cool. They are entitled to their opinion. New rule. Place the infants and children next to the single travelers. Start calling flight sttendants the “nannies of the sky” since mom and dad are unable to do anything to help, as they are seated elsewhere. Some people complain just to vent instead of offering solutions or opportunities. No one wants to hear that negativity anymore. Offer a way to improve or if you have none please keep your complaoning to yourself.

  7. In response to the person saying that families should pay the extra to sit together, that is ridiculous. Families have already paid the outrageous amounts for plane tickets as it is, then to add the extra charge of choosing a seat is ridiculous. Everyone buying a plane ticket sold be allowed to choose their seat from what is available. Period. Otherwise, the same could be said about first class. If you don’t want someone asking you to switch, you spend the extra and go to first class. Or, simply say “No,” when asked, and let it go.

  8. There is no problem asking. I tell my children that the answer will always be no unless you ask. If the answer is still No after you ask then accept it and move on. No one is obligated to accommodate your request.

  9. 1KBrad I agree with you..ANything for votes..$10,000-$20,000 off school loans!!!Thx Joe

  10. When you purchase 2 or more airline tickets the seat information is on the ticket and if you see a ticket with seat #22 and another with seat #35 that should tell you that the seats are not together and you should try to get the ticket agent to get you seats that will be together if not, no people cannot switch seats once they are on board it’s a safety issue, if the there’s an emergency on the plane the ntsb and other government agencies are going to ask the airline for a list of passengers with the assigned seats for each passenger, and if something happens and there is a switch of seats on the plane the airline has no record of that and that could turn into a problem for the passengers that switched seats when is time to identify a passenger for restitution in case there’s an accident and the passengers are unidentifiable,
    A child an an adult do not get the same amount of money incase of a payout by an airline , there are lots of variables and the passengers seat assignments are a very crucial part of the prosses, ,,passenger’s must seat at they’re assigned seats no if and or buts about it, it’s a safety concern for all involved.
    What about if the person who switches seats with another is determined to be the cause of the accident and crash of said airplane , the airlines must turn over a detailed seating assignment list to government officials in case of any emergency

  11. How horrible the airlines have made people believe that asking to sit as a family is such a tragedy. It’s a flipping seat like a bus or a train big deal, be accommodating! Airlines have screwed their customers for decades sardine style and worse!!!

  12. You want my solo seat? Pay for my airfair. Otherwise, book you fukamly seats together. How stupid are you to book them apart?!

  13. I don’t want to be asked or harrassed unless I am getting a better seat. Your problems are not my concern. The airline staff doesn’t have to like it either. These request put them in the middle of a seat war. Attendants will not win this battle. CONSUMERS!! Buy the seat and don’t be cheap.

  14. I’ll switch seats seats anytime if I am flying solo – really, if you want my seat & you have a family or other circumstances, it’s yours

  15. NFW. If you are too freakin’ stupid, or lazy or cheap to get your seats together, it is definitely not my problem.

  16. Well, families are sick of selfish solo travelers taking up middle seats. Expecting people to pay extra to sit next to their child is ridiculous. Don’t be a dick…

  17. 100% disagree with the author.

    I am asked all the time to switch seats as a solo business traveler for families and I always decline.

    Buying me a drink or giving me $20 is in no way fair compensation for my time and discomfort on a flight.

    The examples given in the post my be poor, but I’m sorry families you should pay more for flying together.

  18. I was cabin crew for 35 years and never liked parents asking for help switching seats so that the family could all sit together. One guy said that “One person can’t take care of a toddler alone!”. To which I replied, “My mother flew with seven kids, all within 9 years and different seats.”
    It was easy. You behave or your father is going to hear about it. Of course that was in the 1970’s.

  19. I will be flying to Ohio from Colorado in May and have paid more for a front seat to stretch my legs. I had a total knee replacement that wasn’t perfect and unfortunately can’t keep my leg bent or straight for any length of time. I wear a brace and sometimes carry a cane. I am also a senior citizen. I surely hope no one asks to change seats with me.

  20. I was forced to pay for seats together when traveling with my 8 year old grandson on Allegiant Airlines. That should be the requirement on all airlines. This is how fights start on planes. When someone pays for a seat they want to sit there.

  21. I haven’t flown for about 5 years, but I didn’t know seat swapping was even an option after you board the plane. You’re assigned a seat at the gate if not before, and I thought that’s where the FAA will be looking for you if the plane goes down. I don’t think it’s right for these pax to dump this “problem” on people flying in the seat they purchased.

  22. Seat change, no problem, $100.00. If it involves children $150. Don’t like it? Either find someone else, shut up or pay up.

  23. As a mom of 4 who books everyone together regardless of cost (11, 8, 5, 3), sometimes I can’t control the airline and their issues. Like the airline, not being able to depart because of some mechanical issue. The plane’s departure was delayed, missed our connecting flight, so we had to reschedule and the next flight doesn’t have any seats together but 2, 2, and 1 option. I’m not asking for primo seats but I would like to seat with my 3 and 5 yo. I just passed snacks and stuff between everyone between us. We fly 2-3 times a year to visit family. The airline knew they were at fault for the issue but they wouldn’t help me get at least my 2 youngest with me. On the second leg of the flight, the attendant was amazing and got us all together in the very back of the plane. So I know it is possible, with someone who gives effort.

  24. The comment made by the flight attendant doesn’t make sense. Saying she had to ask single women to move from the emergency row so kids can sit there isn’t true. Kids can’t sit in the emergency row. Seems like someone just wanted some attention.

  25. Almost always it’s a bad seat they want to swap for a good seat.

    I’ve never had anyone want to trade their aisle seat for my middle, but they want to trade their middle for my aisle.

  26. Sorry,if families can’t afford to fly together that’s their problem. Plan ahead or drive your family to theiŕ destination.Don’t ask me because i will flat out tell you the truth. Your poor planning is not an emergency to me! Mark G.

  27. I recall once a guy was in my seat when I boarded, I told him he was in my seat. He said he wanted to sit next to his twin daughters, I looked at his girls and said ok. I asked him where his seat was, it turned out it was the last row (window) blocked in by two fat guys. Being claustrophobic, I couldn’t do it, fortunately, the flight attendant found me a middle seat between two small good looking women. If the guy wasn’t with his daughters, I would have demanded him to get up. I didn’t appreciate him taking my seat without asking.

  28. God forbid you have to do your job…. They have a right to ask people to change seats, and the person they’re asking has every right to say no. Why are you acting like it’s outrageous for someone to ask?! No one is being forced to say yes. If you don’t want to move then it’s very simple… Don’t freaking move! The world is an utter train wreck and here we have people bitching about being asked a simple question that they could have refused. FFS

  29. I once had to fly cross country with my two boys , my oldest who was 8 at the time with a day old casted broken arm and my youngest who was 2 years old and has autism. Nightmare situation for me because my wife was on a different flight meeting us there the next day. The only reason I managed to survive this ordeal was the fact that I had spent the extra money for a ticket for my 2 year old even though 2 year Olds fly for free . This way I guaranteed myself that my little one was seated right beside me. That’s what I needed to do as a responsible parent, no help needed. People are just cheap and expect things to just be given to them at other people expenses. Bs if you tell me.

  30. If you’re going to switch be sure to look at their ticket to make sure the seat they are switching out for is actually Theirs. People have no problem lying right to your face.

  31. There’s no reason to get upset over it. I’m a solo traveler and I’ve only been asked a couple times out of hundreds and hundreds of flights. I simply decline and put my headphones on. They’ve never persisted.

  32. #1 I will (and have) ALWAYS volunteer (without being asked) to offer my aisle for a middle to accommodate what I feel is a reasonable accommodation (single parent traveling with two seven year olds in different rows)

    #2 Flight attendents are shirking their union-negotiated responsibilities by not enforcing many airline rules and guidelines – such as allowing passengers to “carry on” grossly oversized bags – and this is a big contributor to the overall flying problem.

  33. We usually fly Southwest because it is the carrier that has non-stop flights to the destinations we want to go. I recently read an article that described a new policy idea that Southwest might implement. It will allow families to board before everyone else but they have to sit in the back of the plane. That sounds like a reasonable way to solve the issue.

  34. Maybe the airlines can make more money by selling flights as standing room only. Pay a surcharge to actually sit down. That and, all airplanes should have only pay toilets.

    What a delightful industry.

  35. This problem would not even exist if airlines stopped monetizing every aspect of a flight and go back to the original business model of the flight including the cost of the seats and luggage. Then people would be able to pick their seats at time of booking and the seat swap issue would go away.

  36. If I pay extra for a seat I don’t care about you or ur kids. Fuck u and those kids. Are you going to reimburse me the extra money to get this seat. If not FUCK OFF.

  37. You know u traveling with kids. Buy ur dam seats together or resedule your flight. Don’t be an inconvenience for someone else because you didn’t do your due diligence.

  38. A lot of comments here… “It’s ok if they ask and it’s ok if they say no”

    You’re absolutely right, the problem is I’ve been in situations where saying no left the person being hostile or nasty, or the person next to me they were trying to sit next to being rude and nasty. That’s totally out of line, it was my right to say no for the seat I paid extra for.

    Ultimately, unless you’re flying southwest, when you book your tickets book them together. If you don’t, it’s you’re fault and can’t be guaranteed.

  39. I always fly with my husband. I always plan ahead and pay extra to ensure that we sit together. We have had someone ask us to switch seats with them on almost every flight we had. Our seats were always in economy section and a window seat and middle seat. We always let these people know that we paid to have our seats together and it’s not our fault that you didn’t do the same. To play on other people’s heart strings to give up their seats that they paid for is bullhockey. One person said they had better seats and i went to check only to find out they were next to the bulkhead in the back. When i came back, two kids were our seats. I promptly lifted both of them out of my seat when they refused to move. The flight attendant ce back and saud i needed go back to my assigned seats.When I showed her my tickets and after explaining what had happened, she apologized. So after that experience
    Unless your going to upgrade both of us to first class, don’t ask.

  40. As a frequent flyer, if I paid extra for a seat with extra legroom I prefer not to change seats if asked. Now there were times me and my husband sat in different rows and we did not ask anyone to switch seats so we can be together. I know its different for families with small children, but this really should be taken care of with the gate agent and not when you board the flight. My pet peeve is people taking your seat when you get on the plane and then ask you if it is alright so they can sit next to loved one or family now THAT IS RUDE!!

  41. Everyone in one way or another pays for the seat on most airlines from main economy up. it’s either part of the cost of the class you choose, you’ve choose to upgrade, etc.
    Parents it sucks you have to pay for X # of tickets and seats, but everyone does. You don’t get to skip that option if sitting together is important, and it should be. Under x age your kid sits on your lap unless you pay for a seat. Over that age you are required to buy a seat.
    Plan better and stop expecting anyone to make concessions for you. You are not special. You are a group. Book together or don’t and deal with the outcomes.
    Sure ask, because you never know, but don’t assume.
    For instance, you get on and just decide to sit in the seat knowing it’s not yours. then when the person arrives you ask. now that is entitlement and privilege at its finest. Wait for the person to arrive then ask. give them the respect of not feeling forced because you and your family decided to take over the seat.
    Note, I don’t care you will move or be paying for my upgrade.

  42. It’s common sense for airlines to sit families together the best they can with the crazy things happening now days it’s just the normal right thing to do especially if there is teens or children if the flight attendants find this disturbing they need to get out of this profession and find a job they really like. Coming from a customer service background , this is a customer service role I suggest they get the option always when booking the flight.

  43. Hmmm. I might have to call bs on this article. The only time(s) my family didn’t get seated together was on flights where I’ve pre-selected the seats together when I booked it and the airline changed them and separated us. It’s happened at least twice. And eff yes, I’m always going to start with the flight crew/gate because it’s their responsibility.

  44. I believe this issue boils down to whether a passenger wants to give up their seat. If they say no , then that is fine. Flights are long and uncomfortable, I like the window seat with extra leg room so I most likely will not give up my seat. Families should not ask passengers when they get on the plane, ask the gate beforehand.

  45. 100 dollar bills work wonders…don’t have one? Better hope it’s cause you paid for seats together…do not bother me because I will not be bothering you or anyone else while I am traveling…you had the right to leave your house intentionally and now you want to act surprised at how the real world works? You just look stupid in front of your kids…get over it. And leave people alone

  46. Wow people – it’s like folks forget what’s it’s like to travel.
    I am ALL about planning ahead. And we have 4 kids. I do NOT try to cheap out. I book way ahead to get seats together and pay extra if I need to.
    HOWEVER, what about missed connections and then the family gets scattered across 6 different aisles? I do not think it is too much to ask for help for someone to sit next to my youngest child. The teens can handle themselves in a middle seat or wherever but it’s common decency to at least TRY to help the youngest travelers. OMG why does everyone assume that everyone looking to swap seats was just being cheap? Heck, they could have even paid for upgraded seats and been screwed out of them because of a missed connection which is the fault of the airline. How about having an iota of compassion?
    Quite honestly, the complaining flight attendant sounds entitled and lazy. As does the other commenter here who says they were a flight attendant for 35 years and didn’t like to help families. It is employees like you that make flying a miserable experience.
    Some common decency would be nice.

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