When Asking To Switch Seats, You Need To Offer Something Better To The Other Passenger

Finally someone understands and has accepted a lesson I have been preaching for years. Stop complaining that passengers won’t trade seats with you when you’re offering a middle seat in the back, and asking for an extra legroom aisle seat. If you are looking to trade, you need to come up with the best trade bait possible. Don’t expect someone to downgrade their flight experience for your convenience. At a minimum, offer like-for-like.


I would never ask anyone to switch seats unless I could offer them a better option. If they didn’t want to, I’d happily except that. Also – we ALWAYS pay extra to select our seats if we have the option. But sometimes things happen and it doesn’t work out. This guy was so nice and it was a win/win👍🏼

♬ original sound – Anna Lyn Cook

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. However if there aren’t seats together, or you lose your seats together for operational reasons (my wife and I were split apart on our honeymoon by an air marshal so we asked another passenger to switch), then it’s reasonable to make the request.

It is also reasonable for the other passenger to refuse that request. They have a property right (or, really, a usufructuary right) in the seat to which they’re assigned – at least in Western societies. (In Nigeria your seat may be considered to belong to your elders out of respect.)

If the passenger won’t switch for free, what about paying them for their seat? I once paid a young teenager $5 not to recline on a Cleveland – Los Angeles flight so I could work on my laptop (I had their parents’ permission). That’s a straightforward Coasian solution to the problem.

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. Would you walk up to someone at a rock concert and offer them your seat a couple rows back? How about at a ballgame? No, of course not. Because those are better seats and those people sitting there likely paid more for them. No difference on a plane. People are shameless.

  2. I recently ended up assigned to a middle seat on a full flight. When I arrived, the person on the aisle moved to the middle. Apparently he and his wife had selected seats A and C, hoping that nobody would want B and they would have the row to themselves.

    Naturally, I took the aisle, but in retrospect part of me wishes I would have insisted on my assigned seat, just to see how they responded.

  3. I met a girl in the sky club and we hit it off. Turned out we were both on the same flight to atl. But I was in first and she was in comfort in a 2-2 configuration. When I saw the guy that wud be sitting next to her I swung into action and asked him if wanted my first class seat. He jumped at the offer. Worst mistake he ever made!

  4. Trading seats is not just about having a similar or even marginally better seat to offer. It is also important to ask to trade before the person you want to trade with sits down and stores their luggage and personal items. Once my carry on and back pack are overhead and I’ve secured stuff like cell phone, charger, reading glasses, wallet ion whatever storage the seat offers, the chance I’ll agree to switch seats is slim to none.

  5. A T T I T U D E! PETTY, PETTY. Crybabies

    My, my. What stories. Amazing.

    I especially like the one, “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.”.

    That’s a stretch towards the truth. Changing seats on airplanes, happens 99.999%, ON the airplane. I would be interested, on how someone could accomplish this. We need to get a CSI to help.

    I don’t pay for reserved seats. It has nothing to do with the cost. It’s purely principle. You buy a seat, and the airline, 100%, has a seat. In all my travels, I can count on one hand, the times I was uncomfortable.

    Further, I am 6’5″ tall, and weight 267#s. On numerous occasions, I have asked the flight attendants, providing I was not in an aisle seat, if it would be possible, to move to a bulkhead, if empty, and/or, an aisle seat?

    Multiple times, without talking with any passenger, the person sitting on the aisle, offered to switch.

    No one, who doesn’t select or pay for the type of seat they want, tough crap. YOU have nothing to bitch about. If you ask someone, to change seats, and they say no, how could anyone get upset? YOU decided and selected your seat. Just because, YOU want to change, that’s on YOU!

    NEVER, expect anything from others, due to YOUR decisions.

    SOLUTION? That’s an easy one
    Make your reservation EARLY, and “PAY” for the seat that will make you happy, and nothing to cry about.

    YOU are the problem,!

    Problem solved.

  6. @ Gary — If I was the reader that had my seat sold, I would have called the FA, shown by BP and gotten my seat back.

  7. @Robert-being so fat has killed your attitude towards life. Time to diet and see a “shrink” ( use the term both ways ).

  8. Ray is it?

    Everyone can always tell, a loser, like you, when they overload their ass, with their mouth especially with insults. They never have anything intelligent to say..

    You wouldn’t know the difference, between chicken shit from chicken salad, after consuming them both.

    You’re a real class act!

    Ciao loser

  9. Once…I met a girl at the bar in the Sky Club. Turns out, we were on the same flight to ATL. But, she was in Comfort and I was in First. We made a plan to talk after we arrived.

    Then, I saw the guy that had the seat next to her. I immediately offered up my FC seat to him if he would switch. He jumped at the opportunity for an easy upgrade. Gotta tell ya…worst decision he ever made!

  10. @ Ray — It would be incorrect to assume that someone 6’5″, 267 is “so fat”. That person’s BMI would be the same as Shaquille O’Neal’s.

  11. Gene.

    Thanks for speaking out. Ray doesn’t know a real man, when he sees one. His comment/insult, didn’t deserve a retort regarding my weight.

    I am certainly, not fat! Big man, yes. Most professional football players, my height, have big bellies and weigh more. I don’t! But, it’s wimps like Ray, who are empowered to make accusations “online”, who would never say that to my face, in person. What a pu$$y.

    Thank you again for speaking out. There are few on this site, who would have stepped up.

  12. Gene.

    I went online, to check Hulk Hogans height and weight.

    Here is what I found online.

    Hulk Hogan
    Billed height 6 ft 7 in (201 cm)
    Billed weight 302 lb (137 kg

    He is 2″ taller, 35#s heavier than me.

    I would love to see wimp Ray, call the Hulk, or me “too fat” to our face.

    It’s unfortunate, this a$$hole Ray, took this blog, that has nothing to do with the narrative, to vent his ridiculous accusations.

    Consider the source!

    My apologies to Gary.

  13. Gene.

    In checking, online, I found the following on Lou Ferrigno, Jr., aka “The Hulk”.

    Herewith his stats, found online.

    6 ft 5 in (1.96 m)[1]
    315 lb (143 kg) [1]

    Which means, we are the same height, however, he outweighs me by 48#s.

    Pu$$y Ray, would feel brave to call him, “really fat “, online of course.

    Nuff for Ray and his insults. He’s not worth, acknowledging his being. It’s obvious, you and I, have proved our case. Interested readers, can draw their own conclusions.

  14. BTW all…I’m the Ray with the Sky Club story above. Totally different guy…same name…I couldn’t figure out why everyone was hating on me. I guess I need to add a last name initial!

  15. “Ray with the Sky Club” story. The negative comments, were obviously, not directed at you. There obviously, is, more than one Ray on this site.

    The ignorant Ray, who these comments were directed to, knows he is the one. Obviously, the verbiage in our texts, reference to the asinine comments, from the ignorant Ray. Not your post.

  16. @Robert: Got it! Thanks.

    I think the main point of the post(s) make sense…if you want to trade your seat…you’ve got to offer something better to the person you’re asking. Saying, “Hi, I see you’re on the aisle in Comfort…would you like to switch me? I’ve got a middle seat in row 34″…just isn’t gonna get it done…LOL.

    Cheers…happy travels all!

  17. RayW.

    Asking someone in an airplane, you don’t know, to switch seats, at that time, it becomes personal. You are asking for a favor.

    Personally, in my opinion, if anyone will not accept the seat the airlines assign them, or don’t want to purchase a ticket, they have no reason to complain. This is between the passenger and the airline. Business!

    Passengers, who make no attempt to secure a seat, prior to boarding, have no right, to ask any passenger, to switch. When you put your foot in the plane, business with the airline stops. It then becomes personal.

    In most situations, anyone thinking about asking someone to switch, doesn’t think, that first, must have a very good reason. Remember, the reason in the mind of the one wanting to switch, is selfish. They have made no attempt to get their seat. Why should anyone they ask, automatically say yes?

    The requester, is basing his/her request, on sympathy. But unless there is any benefit for the individual asked, there is no incentive, but most will say yes, if the requester has what would be considered, a valid reason.

    If there is no valid reason, the decision will fall on sympathy. And some people, are not sympathetic.

    There is absolutely NO excuse for the requester to complain. If they do, then shame on them. You cannot, consciously, not secure your seat with the airline, and then get upset if the passenger asked, says no.

    You have no one to get angry with, anyone but yourself. Many of the offenders, feel entitled, and bet the passenger they ask, will say yes. But, a small % will say NO. Then, they get mad. Incredible!

  18. A lot of people seem to forget that sometimes people DID reserve a specific seating arrangement, only to have either the aircraft type change (and the auto-seat assigning mucked everything up), or the original flight got cancelled and they were rebooked onto the next available flight and thus the seats weren’t available. We had that happen once. Fortunately, as I was approaching my new seat, a gentleman was sitting there and said he had the window (I had the aisle, but he was sitting in the aisle) and wanted to know if I would switch seats so him and his wife could sit together. his wife was sitting next to my partner, so we both happily swapped seats. He was not rude about asking and no seat poaching going on.

  19. mjonis.

    Typically, most people will switch, providing the individual who wants to switch, have a valid reason. Unfortunately, some believe, everyone should say yes.

    It is THEIR decision. It is only unreasonable people, who complain, if the individual says no.

    As I stated in an earlier post, secure the seat you want, BEFORE getting on the airplane. And, accept the facts, if you book late, and none are available. Common sense, that some people don’t have, goes a long way.

  20. I refuse all swaps on principle, except for those that get me into first or biz class.
    These days people pay extra to select a seat and not all seats cost the same. So
    in asking someone to give up their seat you are asking someone to give up their money too.

    Couples don’t have a higher need than solo travelers. Your children are not as important to others as they are to you.

    I think it’s rude to impose your wants on others. Marriages will survive if people don’t get to sit together for a few hours.

    Book your seats in advance. And if you get hosed by the airline, take it up with the airline, not other passengers.

  21. Is this really a topic worth cheering soneone about? Maybe she just needs validation. Maybe you all do!

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