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 would be pissed if something like this happened with me. Maybe serves as a lesson, never give up a seat you have paid extra for, even for kids, because they may value $100 more than sitting with their family.

  2. This is plain wrong. As an analogy, it’s like someone take donor’s money for his child’s treatment and brought a Mercedes. Yes the donor is morally compensated, but there is also a cause behind it. It’s not something that you can say: oh okay, I got your money, it’s off your hands now, I can do whatever I want with it.

  3. Why not just get a flight attendant and show y our boarding pass, and say someone is in your seat. After all, the original seat holder didn’t authorize the business traveler to sit there. Then the business traveler can go try to get the $100 back from the girl, whose seat it wasn’t int he first place and who had no right to sell it. Boils down to – did the original seat holder offer full rights to the seat to the girl, or in effect a license agreement to use his assigned and paid up seat for the limited purpose of sitting next to her family? I would say the latter pretty clearly and I believe the above would be the ethical way to enforce the agreement.

  4. I would pull out my boarding pass and say “excuse me, this is my seat” and reclaim it.

  5. **Put another way, he wasn’t engaged in a purely selfless act. **

    And what would be an example of a purely selfless act?

  6. Gary,
    I started formulating an opinion before reading the entire article. You hit the nail on the head. He voluntarily gave up his seat. He did the right thing. The family took advantage of his generosity. He should still feel good that he did what he would have wanted someone to do for his family. You shouldn’t feel badly if you give money to someone in desperate need and they make a terrible decision with that money. You are the one that lives with your conscience. You might feel a little bit like a fool, but not outraged. I would voluntarily do it again after being burned. You will undoubtedly make an impact on someone else in the future. I know that it is the right thing to do and I am not going to let one bad apple spoil it.

  7. If the seat is across the aisle, how is it an inferior seat? because it is the aisle on the window side or does across mean something else from what I’m thinking? Anyway, wouldn’t all seats in the same row have the same legroom? And did the family also pay for the extra legroom seats? If so, then did the reader get an extra legroom seat as well? The solution would have been to trade the aisle seat with the other family member in the same row with an aisle seat, assuming it was a 2-3-2 configuration.

  8. First, I don’t give a rat’s ass what sob story someone has. My seat is mine.

    That said, in the unlikely event I did give up my seat and the person with the sob story then got greedy and sold the seat, I’d use my boarding pass and reclaim my seat.

  9. If the guy felt that screwed over, he should of stood up as soon as the girl said yes and said that was his seat, received the $100, and switched seats himself with the businessman. Girl learns a lesson, businessman gets his seat, and the man who gave up his seat gets a reward for his kindness.

  10. This is a tough one because there are many ways to tackle this and each one could be right. Not sure how I would be in the moment. I think what I may have done is give the girl $30 and take the $100 and say – I actually paid extra to sit in that seat but thought you as a family wanted to sit together, I will now take my portion back and you can have what you made…..I would make sure the dad and daughter were together. I feel sorry for the daughter. Obviously this behavior is condoned since the father said nothing at the start and has modeled such behavior before….but letting her get away scott free is not teaching her anything.

  11. This is precisely why I do not change seats any longer. It’s not about money at all it is about manners or lack thereof.

    Anyone has the ability to pick what seats they want or need. If the family really needs to sit together then they are reasonable to make sure that happens.

    I agree that once the seat was given up you can’t morally lay claim to it. But for the teen or the father to not even mention the fact that it was a gift of kindness from a stranger is reprehensible.

  12. Appalling situation!!! First of all, I would not move for a teenager. I fly with my kids a lot. Now that they are getting more mature, if we are separated so be it. ( except not trans con near a stranger for overnight) The parent should have sat away from the family. Not that they asked for the generosity. I’ve never heard of a cash transaction for a seat, but whatever…. I would NEVER move if I paid extra for my seat in the first place. NEVER!! Hopefully this man will not lose his generous spirit over this ugly situation.

  13. This story makes no sense.

    First, how is it that just across the aisle the seat is so much worse? It’s not like he switched out for a middle seat, or one with less legroom.

    Second, that “business traveler” waited until the two swapped to offer her $100? Why didn’t he just approach the original person and offer them $100?

    If I were to swap seats with some member of a family who wants to sit together, I would have asked them for compensation if the seats are of different quality. Sitting together is something that I’m willing to give away for free if all else is equal, but I won’t downgrade to something worse than what I paid for.

  14. I don’t understand why he didn’t try to reclaim his original seat. He has a boarding pass with the seat number. He offered to switch with the girl but no one else. He is still entitled to his original seat. He should take it with the business person who’s sitting in his seat, not the girl.

  15. Never would have given up my seat in the first place. I’m a little larger, I choose seats (aisle, etc) as to minimize the issue for myself and others.

    Figure dad should have told her, “no, you should stay here”….

    This is a bit timely, with what the possibility of “legislation” to require families to sit together that some others have talked about, and how does one work moving people to possibly make that happen.

  16. Im pretty sure they are not allowed to sell the seat per airline rules. It is one thing to switch seats so a family can sit together it is quite another to accept money for a seat. This is pretty slimy of the family. One thing i would note is it appears he offered the seat without being asked. Had i been in the situation i would be annoyed but wouldn’t take action. If the family asked me to switch and i did upon their request and then this happened i would certainly demand the seat back. Still either way i think the family is pretty low doing something like this and im not really a fan of business travelers who would pay off some kid who is sitting next to their family in order to get a better seat. I have switched with people so they can sit with their family but im not doing it when the seat i get in exchange is worth less. The family should have taken care of this earlier.

  17. I think the commentor is in the wrong. He volunteered his seat, unasked, intrudion on those peoples day with his white knight act. After he gave up the seat, for his own reasons, he can’t get mad about subsequent events. Now, if someone had asked him to do it and then sold it, I think it would be a different situation.

    I really hate passive aggressive people like the commentor.

  18. I never give up my seat for anyone, I go out of my way to make sure I have the seat I have unless it’s an upgrade, I am not moving.

  19. I’ve been in situations where we got the last four seats on the plane and they weren’t together. We have very young kids and most people don’t want to care for a two year old who isn’t their own for a couple of hours so they are willing to switch seats (I hate that the airline won’t just seat young children close to their parents but that’s another thing…)

    In this situation, I don’t know if I even would have offered up the seat in the first place. I might have considered had the dad or the girl asked me but I wouldn’t have been proactive about giving up my seat.

    If I would have been the parent in the situation, I would have considered sitting across the aisle while my kids sat together. They are teenagers so they should be able to handle a little distance.

    The only reason I would offer up my seat in this situation is if something came up in flight. If the daughter spent most of the flight talking to her dad across my seat, if she started to feel ill, things like that.

    I get why he feels the way he does (that $100 could have been his!) but I think it is better to just let it go.

  20. At first I was outraged when I read this, the way I fly now is similar to the flyer Adam P. I research and often pay for upgrades, I also occasionally trade seats to help out other travelers so my 1st thought was to feel like kindness was betrayed here. However then I read Chris g’s responce and realized that if this happened to me it wouldn’t stop me from swapping seats it in the future, but I also realised that this girl or her dad are not bad apples but rather people for whom the $69 seat fee was not worth it originally and $100 probably feels like a boon. I was reminded of my own childhood were $100 was a big chunk of money to my parents and a fortune to me…

    So I hope that Adam P. thinks of this as a way that he managed to turn a $69 donation to someone who needed money into $100 for them… I also hope I would be able to do this too if put in the same spot.

  21. Don’t play white knight next time. Enjoy your seat. But if u give up ur seat voluntarily u lost right to be further upset.

  22. Yea he got screwed in the deal but if it was me, I would have gotten back up, told that guy he was in my seat and taken it back. I would have the ticket stub to prove it and would let him and the family work it out from them. Who wouldn’t give up their seat for a kid to sit with their family? But be man enough to take it back if you realize you are getting screwed.

  23. I think this is pretty black and white. The girl / family was in the wrong. I would be pissed too.

  24. @thesilb precisely what I thought while reading this. Don’t like it, just present the boarding pass and teach them both a lesson!

  25. Of course it’s wrong, but parents are spoiling children today and teaching them “entitlement” mentality along with not having to pay for any consequences.

    I’m sure the Dad was afraid of having to ask his daughter for the money back out of fear she might not “like” him anymore.

  26. Simple solution: tell a flight attendant that there’s someone in your seat that you paid extra for.

  27. I’m not sure if I believe this happened as how it’s been laid out. I suspect that the story is either completely made up or heavily altered (for some of the reasons listed above).

    But giving your reader the benefit of the doubt, if this really happened he should be ticked off.

  28. I like the suggestions from Rambuster and John: I simply would have produced my boarding pass and reclaimed my original seat.

    The child and the child’s parent should be ashamed of themselves. The generous passenger likely learns a hard lesson here: take what you paid for and don’t be generous unless you’re willing to have to take back that generosity.

    The passenger donating his seat to a child is not without its own strings…and can be reversed. Screw the morality here…since the child and parent already did. If the businessman has an issue, he can take it up with the idiot child and parent. Screw them.

    Incidents like this are why people aren’t always as generous as they should be. It’s unfortunate, but that parent and child ruin it for everyone else. Other passengers should have shamed them. The original generous passenger should not have been so passive aggressive to enable such bad behavior and called them out and reclaimed his original seat.

    Bad behavior begets bad behavior. But you need to call it out to make sure everyone recognizes that it’s bad.

  29. No good deed goes unpunished. He then had a pissed off flight and nobody else will ever get the same favor from him.

  30. moral of the story: do not give up your seat unless someone asks… and when they ask, do think about it..

    secondly.. is this story even real?! just saying… i dont believe it. you shouldnt either!

  31. The villain here is the father.

    He had to understand that Adam’s gesture was predicated on a desire to keep his family together and not to commidify the seat. He encouraged his child to abuse the kindness of others.

    Perhaps one day he will find that his daughter will abuse the many kindnesses he has accorded her.

  32. If he’d been asked to give up his seat then outrage would be appropriate. Since he offered without prompting, it’s not. His subjective view that he got screwed is just that, subjective. Based on the evidence we have an unprompted offer to switch seats (which could have been viewed as a request). The seat was the girl’s to do with as she pleased.

    The girl valued sitting with her family more than sitting apart, but less than $100. Maybe the family should be offended!

  33. I never give up my seat, and I mean NEVER. I don’t care what the reason. If you didn’t take responsibility to make your own arrangements, sucks to be you – take some responsibility for your own actions. If your seating requirements were not available and you still bought the ticket, that was your decision. I also blame the airlines for allowing this kind of arbitrage in the first place. In my case the classic example was this… I made it a point to reserve an aisle seat, in the front of the cabin for a 12 hour international flight. There was a person in the middle seat in the row behind me who wanted my seat because “they had just had surgery and were in pain”. I said no, then the flight attendant asked me to move. I then said to the flight attendant, “business class is almost empty, you can move me up there, or better still move the complaining passenger”. The response… “sorry, we can’t do that.” So I simply told her I wasn’t moving… and some other sucker gave up their seat. The “ill” passenger ended up in the seat behind me and ending up kicking my seat the rest of the flight.

  34. If the story is accurate, it seems that taking back the seat would be the thing to do – except, now you’re sitting next to people who are perhaps pissed, embarrassed or in an otherwise emotionally uncomfortable state with you. Perhaps as the traveler who gave up the seat, you aren’t sure what their feelings are, but you are going to have to sit there next to them for the whole fight.That doesn’t seem ideal either.

    I like to try to feel relaxed on a flight, even if it has become almost impossible, and I don’t think I’m going to want to sit next to someone I’m pissed at. On the other hand, I’m going to be pissed they got away with it if I don’t take the seat back. So unless you really enjoy being pissed, you lose either way, don’t you?

  35. Wow – this is the first post in some time that’s left me speechless! My grandma would have called that Chutzpah…

    Good lesson on why you should never agree to exchange a good seat for an inferior one, particularly if you paid extra for the seat. More than one person has bought me a free drink after I agreed to exchange like-for-like.

  36. Teenagers don’t need to be sitting together with family. They’re of an age to be independent for a couple of hours, and probably prefer that in many cases anyway. If it were a five-year-old I probably would offer to trade seats, but that’s different. Yet, once the deal was made it does show a lack of class to go ahead and sell that seat to someone else.

  37. exactly to DaveS’s point
    A 13 years old is old enough to sit by him/her self, heck he/she would be old enough to fly alone. I flew on my own when I was 10.

    Also the dude never “gave up” his seat. He leased it to the girl and since it’s the girl that gave up the seat, he sure can reclaim it.

  38. Why are you doing the whole rambling thing about binding or verbal contracts and expectations? This IS an open and shut case. This is wrong on every culture, and whoever does it is a POS in most people’s book. People like this family are the reason why people don’t help each other anymore and everyone’s looking out for themselves, and before you know it, you end up with comments like poster J.C.’s.

  39. The moment he gave up his seat, he has no more say in the matter. That seat is no longer his, and she gets to do whatever she wishes–including selling it to the highest bidder. Very nice of him to offer, but there is no residual ownership.

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