Nigerian Social Media is on Fire Over a Man Who Refused to Switch Seats With an Elder

Seat switching etiquette is – I think – fairly well established, at least here in the United States. You’re entitled to the seat on your boarding pass. If someone prefers a seat other than the one to which they’re assigned they should ask politely, but it’s entirely up to the person with the desired seat whether or not to switch. They can say no for any reason, or no reason.

If you want to switch seats it pays to have a generally desirable seat. Don’t offer me a bulkhead window seat in first class, or a middle seat by the lavatory in coach. If you have a poor seat and you’re asking to switch be extra nice, have an extra good reason, and even consider offering something (find a Coasian solution: offer your worse seat plus cash).

Nigerian social media is lit up about this question. Does a seat you’re assigned to belong to you, or does it belong to older passengers out of respect? What if the passenger who wants your seat is especially honored and respected?

Wole Soyinka was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature. He’s a well-respected Nigerian man, the first person from Africa to win that prize. He boards a plane and sits down in a window seat. Another passenger boards and finds the Nobel laureate sitting in his assigned seat. He’d like to sit there. Solinka moves.

A Nigerian politician sitting in the cabin snapped a photo and caused a stir online,

Met one of the greatest Nigerians walking the earth today and as with other times, he was genteel, witty, forthright and humble. My smile gives me away as he permitted the picture whereas he would have preferred to get back to his newspapers. Then we boarded the flight and after assisting him with his bags, he took the window seat and promptly started reading again.

A few minutes later this young man, baseball cap, t-shirt to show his muscled chest and tattooed biceps boards the plane and tells Prof he is on his seat (which he was).

Those of us including the cabin crew tried to reason with Bobo Fine to let the old man be but the chap refused. He insisted Prof should vacate his window seat, which the old man quietly did for his original aisle seat next to him.

I couldn’t understand how we got to this point where we no longer have respect for elders, even if we are so ignorant of the great global personalities in our midst. Is it too much to ask that an elderly man be allowed to remain in a seat allotted to you in the same business class cabin and the same row?

It seems to me that if the politician thought an injustice was being done, he might have offered to top off the seat change request himself. But it’s easier to stir outrage than to solve problems.

An aisle seat is superior to a window seat. perhaps what was needed here was simply helping the passenger with the assigned aisle seat understand that the deal being offered made him better off?

There are a number of strategies to employ to get a seat you prefer even if what you want isn’t available when you book. They’re all actionable, and not all of them are obvious.

However I don’t think age alone, nor Nobel Prizes, entitle anyone to something that belongs to someone else. I have to side with the passenger who didn’t want to give up his seat. And everyone was in business class so even in Nigeria we’re talking about first world problems.

(HT: Marginal Revolution)

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. Gee Gary not everyone has the same values as you. I highly prefer a window seat to an aisle and your assumption that:
    “An aisle seat is superior to a window seat. ” or not” to offer you a bulkhead window seat in F” is not true for everyone – if we’re ever on the same plane I’d happily change with you to get that bulkhead.
    Although it is not the point of this post exactly I’m pretty tired of your blanket assumptions that what you value is the universal “correct” valuation 😉
    Perhaps a few more IMO might be in order!

  2. Politician running his mouth for votes / PR. But the seat you want and learn to read your boarding pass. Old fella needs remedial lessons in his own basic behavior.

  3. Recently, a passenger said I was in her seat, pointing to what she thought was her seat number, 12F. Actually, I was in 12D (the aisle seat), she was pointing at the gate number, and her assigned seat (in economy plus) was better than mine. Sometimes seat switchers aren’t trying to get something they’re not entiled to. They just can’t read a boarding pass.

  4. The Nobel Prize comes with a million dollar award. The man is well educated. If he wants a window seat, he can go online and select it for himself.
    In addition, it is rather presumptuous of a traveller to sit in a seat that is not assigned to them in hopes of guilting the actual ticket holder.

  5. I once had an idiot gamer-boy who refused to switch with me and then some airhead blonde who refused to switch with my wife on the same flight so that we could sit together – we were offering the exact same seat and a window seat (depending on who went where – no middle seats at all) just with two rows’ difference. These two were real pieces of work (especially the man-child 30-something gamer-boy who could barely look up from his device (“I always sit in the aisle.”) but the flight attendants, also disgusted with them, somehow came up with a solution. I would have loved to start something and then eventually lay into that pudgy gamer-boy and considered it, but I didn’t want to be kicked off the flight. Had the wife not been there I might have tried to get him to mouth off and then popped him one quickly.

    That’s my solution anyway!

  6. Yep, Billy Bob, a quick sucker punch solves everything, except when that pudgy gamer boy stands up and you see an angry 7 footer in front of you. Better to swallow angry words than having to eat them.

  7. Billy Bob, that’s an impressively immature and obnoxious view. Your sense of entitlement is mind boggling.

  8. It is not clear to me which airline was involved. The nationality of the airline makes a difference to me, because the nationality infuses the airline with at least some of the cultural mores of that society. Even in the air, there are differences. Flying LH, SU or ET is very different from flying AA or AC.

    If this was Nigeria’s national airline, I would tend to agree with the post. If it was KL, then not.

  9. @Billy Bob – Nothing like injuring somebody when you don’t get your way to show how much of an adult you are.

    @estnet – +1. The window seat is better, IMO. Unfortunately, my wife thinks so too, so I get the middle seat.

    Maybe the kid was that elusive Nigerian Prince who sends out all those emails.

    Also, this is in first class, so my sympathy is a little mitigated.

  10. This respect for elders shit allows older people to literally get away with what they want.

  11. “It seems to me that if the politician thought an injustice was being done, he might have offered to top off the seat change request himself.”

    Exactly. This politician had a solution to what he thought was an instagram worthy outrage in hand . . . . and failed to implement it.

  12. So many assumptions in the posting.

    The Nobel Laureate may not have even wanted the window. He may have accidentally sat in the wrong seat. I see it all the time

    The young man may be “important” too, and not just some muscle bound creep. Maybe he was the Prince of Bahrain in his way to deliver medicine to Syrian refugees. Who knows?

    Maybe the youngster was flight phobic. Many such people need the window to look out and calm themselves (my Dad is like that)

    Many people prefer the window. This is obvious when booking seats with surcharges. The aisles are priced equally to the window. If aisles were superior they’d cost more

    In sum, people have too much free time, and the world must be a calm and gentle experience if this can cause such outrage

  13. Believe it or not, getting older is not easy. It take luck, work and (hopefully learning). As one ages hopefully one learns tolerance.
    Most traditional societies that have lasted for a long time venerate age. Perhaps there is a reason.

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