Man Gives Up Seat So Family Can Sit Together, Family Sells the Seat. Would You Be Outraged?

Reader Adam P. paid $69 for an extra legroom economy seat. He researched the seat and chose the specific one intentionally. It’s a widebody aircraft, and an aisle seat in the middle section.

Onboard he encountered a family that was separated:

A dad and his 2 teen daughters are traveling – 2 of them to my left, and one daughter across the aisle by herself. Maybe she’s 13 or 14. She’s a little nervous I can tell. So I offer to switch seats with her, even tho[ugh] her seat is not as good as mine. This way she can sit with her sister and dad.

American Airlines Boeing 787 Economy

Here’s where it gets interesting and the conundrum arises.

Another passenger, described as “a business traveler” offers $100 to switch seats with the young girl who took his seat. She accepts, pockets the hundred, and sits farther away from her family.

Here’s the perspective of the reader:

No one says thank you to me. No one acknowledges that I got screwed in this deal. The lady knew it was my seat, the girl knew, but I’m most pissed at the dad.

I looked at him and he averted his eyes. He KNOWS that it’s wrong.

I don’t know that it’s an open and shut case. One counter would be: He agreed to change seats. He voluntarily took a different seat. So that’s the seat he was going to fly in, no matter who sat in his original seat.

The girl valued his seat and being near his family more than her original seat. She was happy to take it. But she didn’t value being with her family $100 more than being away from them.

American Airlines Extra Legroom ‘Main Cabin Extra’ Seats

The reader gave up his right to the seat and had no further expectation of anything from the seat. On the other hand he thought he was exchanging it so that a family could sit together, and the family didn’t sit together. Put another way, he wasn’t engaged in a purely selfless act. He was getting something in return, emotional satisfaction, and she didn’t fulfill her end of the bargain. He lost the moral compensation that was payment for his seat. And he resents that.

Meanwhile, the girl thought she was trading one seat for another. She got an even better seat that she was able to trade again for something even more more valuable — a hundred bucks.

Who is right here? Would you be angry if you gave up your seat to a family so they could sit together, and then they sold the seat to another passenger?

Should the family have acknowledged the gesture, perhaps offering $50 to the original occupant of the seat? Or did they give up all rights to the seat (and compensation for it) when they initially traded?

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, 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 had similar experience this week on TAP Portugal from Oporto-Newark. Although I had reserved bulkhead aisle (1H) months ago, two guys boarded at the very last minute, and asked me to switch so they could sit together. Their seat I took in mid-section of Business was broken and movie did not work. Had the Purser and far too numerous staff in Business Class been on their toes, they would have seated the two passengers together in an empty row in the middle section. Never again will I move from my specifically selected seat!

  2. Exactly as many said already, show your BP to the FA and the person who sits there and say this person is sitting in your seat and he has to move.

  3. the father in the above story should be ashamed that he is raising such a selfish little kaunt

  4. It’s abhorrent behavior to sell the seat without giving it to the original seat holder. NEVER change your seat. It sucks to be a jerk but it’s sometimes necessary.

  5. This falls under the old adage of “No good deed goes unpunished”. Agree with most of the posters: never switch seats.

  6. Suppose it was a fair trade, not a better seat for a worse one. Then, out of self interest, not compassion, the dude offers up his seat. Note that I say self-interest, because who wants to sit next to a family anyway. (This also sounds more plausible than what is described.)

    Now we’ve completely removed the garbage emotional/morality dimension.

    Is he still able to collect? Or to be angry?

  7. If I paid extra for the seat I’m not giving it up for anyone. I think the girl is in the right.

    It’s like those stories you hear about folks buying stuff at a garage sale for cheap only to discover later it’s worth a fortune. Is the original seller entitled to the proceeds? Of course not.

  8. I blame the airlines for putting their passengers in such a position. If the only differentiation was first class and coach, we wouldn’t have these dilemmas. And, yes, I realize the middle seat will always be the worst seat but, back in the day, it was accepted that the closer to departure date, the more likely you would get stuck in the middle.

  9. Pretty straightforward…….at that point the Good Samaritan should have immediately demanded his seat back . He had the boarding pass… closed.
    Also agree that the father deserves a wack in the head. Nice parenting!

  10. He still got to sit in the extra-legroom row, right? So he didn’t give up what he paid his extra $69 to the airline for. I agree it would have been nice for the girl to give at least some of the $100 to the guy, but she was under no obligation to do so.

    Next time he’s in that situation, I’d expect him to condition a seat swap on the other party’s promise not to do the same thing.

  11. Just because I’d be pissed doesn’t make the girl wrong.

    The others are right — save yourself that trouble and don’t change seats. Call it selfish, but I booked first, I paid for it, blah blah blah.

  12. Letters to the ethicists are littered with similar conundrums. They’re all basically: “I gave a gift to someone, who turned around and sold it”.

    The software industry solved this problem a long time ago, by licensing their products, i.e., you don’t buy software, you buy a license to use it. So next time, don’t just give up your seat, have them sign a contract stating that you are allowing them and only them to sit in your seat. And if another butt touches that seat, you are entitled to compensatory damages. Essentially you are leasing your seat, not giving it up.

  13. @losing trader
    I fly first a lot and am periodically asked to switch seats so a couple can sit together (or a window prefers the aisle).
    I usually say no, I chose my seat months ago, but they still go on about how the bulkhead is better or the window has a view.
    To them it doesn’t matter that I actually planned my trip!

  14. Just complain to the FA that he is in your seat. Show them boarding pass and case closed.

  15. People sometimes suck. That about sums it up. However, people are also sometimes amazing, and on the whole, I never want one jerk’s behavior to change ME and cause me to do anything different than I’d do if people weren’t sometimes jerks.

  16. Some people have no shame and clearly this person has an unhealthy relationship with money to stoop to this level.

  17. I would show my BP to a FA, and demand my seat. Let the greedy girl sort the transaction out with her ‘buyer’. Should be an entertaining spat to observe!

  18. That’s being a bit robotic about things, isn’t it Gary? That he had no expectation of benefiting from a subsequent transaction and so had no right to feel hard done by?

    So you need an economically rationalized expectation to something in order to be entitled to human decency?

  19. COMPLETELY made up anecdote. Never happened. But I guess you’re bored in the day to day so some active daydreaming disguised as onionesque news story is not only acceptable but expected.

    Anyone actually taking the time to read this. Think of it as a Dumb 1980’s Law school socratic method question where you create a fictional scenario to discuss the moral obligations of the individual actors.

    That’s why Mr. “T” has to win. We’re so sick of all your made up nonsense.

  20. As others have said, don’t give up your seat. This isn’t like giving up your seat to an elderly or disabled person on public transport (which I do in a heartbeat) – everyone has a seat, you’ve all paid for them, and quite frankly it’s just NOT that important to sit together.

    I was once asked to swap seats when I’d booked an aisle seat – the guy who asked me to swap claimed he had a bad stomach and would be getting up a lot. As I wanted to sleep, I agreed to swap, only to find he didn’t get up the entire flight! He just wanted the aisle seat. In retaliation I made him get up about 5 or 6 times throughout the (transatlantic) flight because f**k him.

    Ever since then, I will absolutely refuse to swap.

  21. This is very simple. I would call over the flight attendant, explain the situation and asked that I put back in my assigned seat. Screw that daughter! The emotional satisfaction is a crock! Believe me, that daughter played this guy and I would play her back. After hearing this one, I WILL NEVER CHANGE MY SEAT, unless the flight attendant asked me. Even then I have refused. On a United flight to Frankfurt, economy was half empty. We paid for bulkhead seats. We were in the rear section of economy as that was all that was available 6 months prior. The back section was almost full. The front section of economy had about 10 people and most seats were empty. The flight attendant said she needed our seats, no explanation as to why. I asked where we would be seated? She said in the last couple rows. I said no, we had paid extra for these seats and to ask someone else. Later I find out that a woman with a baby, asked to be moved. This was about an hour after takeoff. I later check the forward section of economy. There were dozens of empty rows! Yeah, there was a woman with a baby, in an empty center row. The baby was in baby carrier, that was strapped in the seat, like in a car. Truth is the flight attendants wanted the middle section empty so they didn’t have to service that section. They were trying to move all those passengers and many were put in BusinessFirst. We were not made that offer and I’m glad I said no!

  22. I certainly would not have traded seats unless the family approached and offered to PAY ME the money I had paid. And even then, I likely would not have sacrificed my comfort. The father is responsible for finding a flight and seats that suit his family’s needs. Likewise, he could have sat in the seat and allowed the kids to sit together. BUT NO, there is no issue here for this traveler who would have made the replacement flier’s flight most unpleasant… also if he traded seats, but did NOT trade his ticket, I think a complaint would be made and honored by the flight crew. He OWNED that seat and was merely allowing the girl to use it. Ridiculous.

  23. I agree with not changing seats…unless there is a good reason. Being a feelingless jerk just to be selfish doesn’t help (isn’t that why we are having this conversation in the first place??).

    My wife and I were in Australia and had to cut the trip short as my father went into a coma – this was a huge shock for us as he was only in his 50’s and very fit. We had to book last minute cross-country flights, and Virgin didn’t have seats next to each other. I tried to switch but no one would because they had ‘paid extra’. Damn you!! I had paid over $1K extra due to the changes, and wished i wasn’t flying at all! I’m not going to share my life story with someone just to get them to switch seats, but some compassion would go a long way.

  24. I believe in not losing sleep over things not under my control and karma. The guy who gave up his seat is still the winner in my view. If I were him I would trade seats again, just not to a teenager.

  25. Anytime you do anything nice for anyone, whether you know them well or they are complete strangers, you are liable to be disappointed by their subsequent actions. There is no “contract” in charity and altruism, and if you’re going to get mad when something like this happens, face-to-face charity is not for you.

    I decided years ago to contribute significantly to charities whose aims I approved and whose practices I had researched and approved. I give NOTHING of value in person, because I have found that these “personal” requests are very often scams that disappoint and infuriate me. So I DO give, but I let the pros face the disappointment that comes from ungrateful recipients of my charity.

    I have often switched EQUAL seats to let others sit together. But “donating” a superiors seat? Nope. Let the traveler pay for adjacent seats or just manage to sit in different parts of the palne for a few hours. It’s not like feeding starving orhpans.

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