Parents Frantic Over 16 Year Old Daughter Sitting Alone On A Plane, Would You Switch Seats?

An airline passenger reports that they were asked to change seats to help parents sit with their daughter on a long haul flight.

  • He was with his wife, they were in the window and middle.
  • One parent was next to him in the aisle seat, and the other parent in the adjacent aisle.
  • Their daughter was in a completely different row, and they wanted her moved next to them.

He really didn’t want to give up his seat with his wife – they had split up their stuff optimized for travel together, for instance they planned to watch shows together on his laptop. But the parents were “frantic” over their daughter sitting alone.

I think I normally would’ve stood my ground, but these people were clearly panicked. There were some airline protests going on at the time, so I figured they were in an unfortunate situation with a little girl.

So I agree, gather my stuff, and start start walking down the aisle to my new seat.

The man changing seats discovers that the girl he’s changing seats with is… 16? “[S]he was literally taller than my wife. In typical teenage fashion, she seemed uninterested in the whole ordeal.”

Was asked to give up my seat on plane so they could sit next to their daughter..
by u/QuabityAsuance in mildlyinfuriating

The poster says they moved to an exit row seat, where the teenager had been seated – and this was miserable rather than an upgrade because they wound up next to a toddler.

[T]here is a ~16 year old girl playing with her phone in the exit row. That is when I realize she is the daughter the parents were panicking about.. I was moved to a seat next to a toddler

While re-seating situations like this happen all the time, I don’t believe that the story is genuine – because of the exit row toddler. The U.S, Australia and China require children to be 15 to sit in an exit row. Europe requires a child to be 12.

Interestingly, while as a general matter flight attendants can require re-seating of anyone they believe to be unable or unwilling to assist in an emergency. However I’ve never heard of, for instance, an 80 year old or someone that is overweight being denied an exit row seat.

I was once asked to change seats so that a couple could sit together, only to learn that they were already seated together, they just didn’t like the bulkhead, and they stuck me with the bulkhead (I don’t like the bulkhead either!).

A reader once gave up his premium seat so that a family could sit together only to have the family sell that seat to another passenger and not actually sit together.

You should book seats together if it is at all possible, even if it’s more costly to do so. You shouldn’t impose a cost on other passengers to save yourself money, though sometimes you can get away with it. Don’t be guilted into switching, you have a (usufructuary) right in your seat. If someone wants it, they can buy you out of it. Though you can certainly be kind and generous if you wish, just do your due diligence about what you’d be getting before you agree.

(HT: Jonathan W)

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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. I once saw a US Airways flight attendant remove a guy from his exit-row seat because she saw that he had a cane with him. He complained loudly, trying to demonstrate that he was “qualified” by jumping up and down. The flight attendant was unimpressed and took him out of the exit row.

    Upon arrival in PHX, the same guy had an electric cart waiting for him!

  2. Personally, I would be okay with the airlines not allowing anyone to switch seats. You have searched for the lowest price in your category and if it does not include free seat selection, you get whatever seat you get assigned at check-in. If it is that important that you all sit together then you need to purchase a ticket that includes seat selection or pay extra to select the seats you want. I am not giving up my purchased aisle seat under any circumstances. You get what you pay for.

  3. This would be an easy one – the parents are in aisle seats across from each other. If they were so worried about their daughter flying alone one of them should switch with her. Problem solved. Frankly I wouldn’t have given up my seat under this situation.

    I turned down a guy once asking to switch seats. He was traveling with his daughter (around 10 or so). I was in a AA MCE aisle seat near the front. His daughter was in the middle seat next to me and he was in the middle seat across the aisle. If he had been in the aisle or even the window I would have switched but not for a middle. Also, they could see each other and pass anything over she may need so didn’t think it was that big a deal (but did feel a little bad). Turned out she watched videos on her phone (with headphones on so no problem at all) most of the flight and he had a long conversation with the woman sitting next to him so think it worked out in the end. BTW, he wasn’t insistent – just asked once and said “no problem” when I said I didn’t want the middle seat.

  4. “No thank you, I’m going to stay in my current seat, next to my wife” it really isn’t that hard.
    Now if it escalates suggest that one of them switches with the “child”. Simple solution.

    Also a toddler in an exit row? This is where I call shenanigans on the whole story, maybe they meant the toddler was seated behind them screaming and kicking…?

  5. I would’ve told these parents to kick rocks. A 16 year old can look after themselves for a few hours.

  6. I have no sympathy for people who refused to buy seats together at booking, then at boarding, try wheedling others into giving up good seats to improve their situation or just comfort level. I have some sympathy for families in a rebook / reboot situation who, through no fault of their own, have been assigned single middles all over the cabin — but those cases are few and far between.

    Bedrock etiquette for these situations: the recipient of the please-switch-with-me plea had better be offered something better in trade, not sent to 39E. You’ll note that most of the pleaders do not ever contemplate accepting a worse seating situation in the name of family togetherness; they want YOU to accept one.

    The notion that a 16-year-old girl cannot survive by herself in an exit row for a few hours is hilarious; the kld probably wanted it that way. Also hilarious: the parents wouldn’t think of compromising their watch-videos-together plans — they wanted some stranger to compromise THEIR comfort instead.

  7. I switched once. In the right hand business bulk head single to Fiji. Lady was in left hand single. Husband was in right center aisle. No biggie to swap. But you’d going they could have planned better.

    Since then, my response is a resounding, NO, thank you. Plan better, I did.

  8. I’m not sure how many versions of seat change stories need to be covered but the bottom line is the same.
    If a passenger asks another passenger to switch, the answer should almost always be “no” unless both sides legitimately agree – such as for money or the potential for a better seat for the one that changed.
    If a crew member asks a passenger to switch, then it best be only for a safety reason – someone sitting in an exit that is not qualified – and the airline should provide compensation to the person who is asked to switch.

  9. @Patti – I have switched many times but always same or better seat (and in first have gone from aisle to window or vice versa) but has to been comparable in my opinion. Also, like many it makes a huge difference if I’m asked politely versus someone demanding it or just plopping down in my seat. Example I gave above of not switching was aisle for a middle and that is a hard “hell no” everytime.

  10. This makes no sense. As others have said, one of them can easily switch with the daughter rather than inconveniencing both a flight attendant and another passenger. Sixteen is way different from 6. 16-year-olds do all sorts of things without their parents, and indeed airlines allow kids a lot younger than that to fly as unaccompanied minors. I’m going to say “No thank you, I chose this seat and it’s the one I prefer. Why don’t one of you switch with your daughter?”

  11. Two observations: if you’re considering switching seats, at least have the presence of mind to examine the seat you might be switching to. The other is that a 16 yr-old girl might have a hidden disability that made it more comfortable for everyone if she were right beside a parent. But, as usual, overriding all the unknowns is the fact that people are able to pay for seat assignments, so nobody needs to feel guilty when they announce that they don’t want to move. No reason to assume that you need to cover someone else’s responsibility.

  12. Tomorrow, you are going to get another email.

    “Hi Gary, I wanted to complain about being forced to change seats. I am a 16-year old girl, and I finally managed to get a couple of hours away from my parents. Originally, we were all seated together, but I called the airline and asked them to move me as far away as they could. Imagine my surprise…”

  13. If I pay for seat selection, why should a passenger who refused to pay that fee, or chose basic economy to save money, feel entitled to my seat,

    ie , why should I forfiet the money I pay for my seat , & instead pay for their seat selection

  14. Perhaps airlines should consider a “pop up” when (final) purchasing “Basic” level airfares or unassigned seating airfares which states “we cannot guarantee that all members of your party will be seated together as seat assignments are made”. Perhaps this would reduce or eliminate such parental requests. It seems it would at least provide those being asked to move—a solid leg (objective) to stand on when responding “no”. While it does not repair the root cause, it may be an option.

  15. Replying about visibly obvious, or not, reasons for walking sticks and carts/wheelchairs. My wife and I just returned from a very long international trip that involved connecting, both ways, through LHR T5. My wife had a ruptured Achilles tendon repaired, surgically, a few months ago. She can now walk fine for short distances. She uses a cane when traveling just for some extra stability. However, she cannot walk hundreds of meters without damaging the freshly repaired tendon, so we requested wheelchair/cart assistance for the otherwise very long walks through Heathrow. She would have been perfectly well able to open and toss an over wing exit door, so still would have been exit row qualified. (We weren’t seated in an exit row in any event.)

  16. Nope, I would not have moved. I work for an airline and people just expect to take care of seating problems “on the plane”. All seating issues should be taken care of with the agent in the boarding area. This is just rude to ask them to do it.

  17. Easy solution, one of the parents switches. If the child can’t sit across the aisle from the parent then there are other issues to address

  18. The parents cared sooooooo much about their daughter they were unwilling to be separated in their better located seats. 1) Parents are entitled POS thinking others should move for them especially on a long haul flight. 2) Your 16 year old can’t sit by herself.

    In most cases , these types of situations happen because the passenger is too CHEAP to pay for seats together and want to be seated free of charge in what are better seats

  19. I was on a BA shorthaul flight last year. I was booked in Club Europe connecting to longhaul in First. We later booked my then 8 year old son on an award booking and BA never offered a Club Europe seat in the six months leading up to the flight.

    He was not interested in sitting even one row away for 45 min, so I asked BA to rebook me in the aisle in the last row of Club Europe. My son had the window seat in the next row.

    I then offered my seat to the passenger in the middle seat next to my son. It was “too good to be true” for him so he gladly accepted the upgrade, and everyone was happy.

    So yes I would have preferred to handle this before boarding and would have gladly booked my son in Club Europe if BA would have made space available, but that never happened.

    I don’t think anyone will complain though that I offered someone a decent upgrade in exchange for their seat next to my son.

  20. @Dylan – you handled it perfectly! Changed your original seat to be closer to son and then exchanged your aisle for a middle. No problem at all and person, as you noted, was glad to switch to aisle only a row away. If others handled it this well there wouldn’t be an issue. However, the parents insisting people move or, even worse, airlines unilaterally changing seats to a less desirable one so a family can sit together is just wrong.

  21. No. 1. 16 y.o.’s normally are embarrassed by their parents and refuse to admit that they have any. (I, for one, would refuse to admit to being any relation to those two vidiots.)
    No. 2. A toddler in exit row? This story is a falsehood. VFTW should have ignored this poster’s story and not repeated it here.

  22. I agree with Robert. If I go through the trouble of paying for the seat I want ahead of time, no way in hell am I gonna switch. If they persisted in trying to get me to switch seats, one of us won’t be flying that day.

  23. I don’t need a solid leg to stand on when I say no to switching seats. No means no period.

  24. I’m a little mystified at all the comments about how people “chose those seats and need to live with it.” Has our family had particularly bad luck with getting moved around by the airline? (I’m genuinely curious — does that happen to others?) We always pick seats together, but at least 30% of the time, the airline loves us to seats other than the ones we chose. That frequently includes splitting up our family of three, though usually two are together so one parent can sit with our kid and we just roll with it. But twice we’ve even paid extra for small upgrades like bulkhead and then gotten moved to a regular seat without apology or compensation. By this point I have no firm expectation that I’m going to end up in the seat I chose, because that hasn’t been out experience in practice. We’ve even confirmed our chosen seats at airport check-in and then been handed paper slips at boarding telling us new seat numbers. That one happened twice this summer.

    Last time my husband and daughter flew together, they ended up split after yet another last-minute change and our 14-year-old was stuck on her own between two big, unpleasant adult males on a cross-country flight. She was absolutely miserable, but she was mature enough to handle it. 16 should be fine.

  25. Not gonna happen. Wouldn’t be prudent. I bought my seat…I’m not gonna move unless the airline offered me an upgrade to 1st/business.

  26. @tara – you must have horrible luck. I have around 8 million air miles and have flown quite a bit w my wife and daughters (now in 20s). Outside of the rare time there was an equipment change or missed connection (never happened w family traveling so no big deal of just me) I have NEVER been moved from the seats I selected unless an upgrade to first cleared so just don’t buy that people are constantly being moved to seats other than the ones they selected.

  27. I flew solo when I was 12 and let my sons sit in different parts of the plane after I met their seat mates
    Let the kid grow up and learn to interact with others

  28. This is turning into a long thread…

    Not to sound like one of those “old guys” (although I guess I am), but I flew UAM *internationally*, to get back and forth to boarding school, so several times a year, starting at age 11. The idea that a teenager can’t sit a few rows away from their parent(s) in an enclosed aircraft is absurd.

    I’ll also echo @AC’s comments. I’ve got over 4 mm miles and haven’t ever been involuntarily moved to another seat unless there was an equipment change that made my previous seat assignment literally impossible. Even this has been rare—maybe 3 or 4 times in hundreds of flights. Of course, it should go without saying you cannot purchase the fare basis now often called “basic economy” and expect anything. If you do this, you can and should expect all manner of upheaval in your travel, but that’s just a silly choice. Caveat emptor.

  29. Was the girl reasonable attractive? The father is a douche bag for leaving her alone in any case. Happy Labor Day!

  30. I can count on 1 hand and have 4 fingers and a thumb left over the number of times I’ve shown up for a flight to find my seats changed.

    That includes domestic and international.

    Now I’ve had a flight change and the seats changed with it, but contacted the airline and got my original or better seats back.

  31. For the mother and father, sitting next to each other across the aisle was obviously more important than one switching with the daughter. Their decision.

  32. My nephews have been flying their whole lives and the day the oldest nephew turned 15, he flew on his own to Europe. At 15 years old you do not need unaccompanied minor paperwork. The boys sat separate from my sister and her husband since the kids were 7.

    These parents need to get over it. Your teenager will be just fine a few rows from you. To me, it is just an excuse for these parents to get better seats.

  33. I traveled alone at 16. So did virtually I know. A parent’s job is to educate the child for the world. At 16, I’d say these parents failed miserably.

  34. I have never seen airlines change seating assignments when pax has paid for the seat. At a minimum, this means the pax will be entitled to a refund, and no airline wants to give up the revenue when plenty of others have NOT paid for seating assignments. Frankly, in all my flying, I’ve never had my assignment change when my ticket entitled me to free seat assignment except with obvious problems like equipment changes. All bets are off when a flight is canceled, but this is also the only time I think most people would have some sympathy. Of course, as long as the US is a country, there will be people here complaining that they bought the cheapest thing and found out… that it’s the cheapest thing.

  35. Sounds like a fake story and don’t see why it needs to be published here. Toddler in exit row? Maybe don’t do articles on questionable stories like this to begin with.also if people want to sit together then they should pay to sit together. It is absurd that people are cheap then expect others to accommodate them..

  36. So, if true, the husband and wife didn’t want to be separated, but were fine asking another couple to separate for their benefit. NO THANK YOU!

  37. Another day, another family of self-important entitled people who think their needs outweigh the needs of others. IF YOU EXPECT YOUR CHILD TO SIT NEXT TO YOU ON AN AIRPLANE, YOU NEED TO PLAN ACCORDINGLY AND NOT EXPECT “GENEROSITY” FROM PEOPLE BEING EXPECTED TO HELP OUT.

    This absolute selfishness and sense of entitlement is destroying American society. IF you have a legitimate reason to ask for a seat change then provide legitimate context, not my sixteen-year old daughter requires direct supervision by mommy and daddy on an airplane. That’s just f-ing absurd.

Comments are closed.