Swapping Seats on the Flight: The Only Right Way to Do It

Are you stranded in a lone airplane seat away from your group of friends?

Are you feeling suffocated, sandwiched between two passengers taking up your armrests?

Do you have a short layover and your seat at the back of the plane is doing you no favors?

Fliers often resort to swapping plane seats for these reasons and many more. You might be one of those unlucky folks, one of these days. But, how do you overcome this crisis? How do you amicably swap seats with another passenger on an airplane?

The procedure you adopt will decide your success. Approach the wrong person with the wrong tone of voice and your coveted seat is gone. Make an enticing offer for the right reasons, and the seat you desire will be yours.

No need to get anxious just yet. We’ll guide you along the way.

Let’s run through these nine steps, which ensure that you won’t make an error while swapping plane seats.

Step 1: Do You Have a Legitimate Reason?

First off, realize that changing plane seats is not the same as switching bus seats. Everyone is assigned a specific seat that they paid for. Hence, they are well within their rights to deny your request.

This is why you shouldn’t make this request for trivial reasons like a better view of the clouds, escape from the lavatory stench, or just because you feel like it.

To be taken seriously, only make this request if:

  • You are separated from your child. Maybe they are not old enough to take care of themselves, and feel scared sitting next to strangers. You can try to sit next to them, or have them sit next to you.
  • You are a translator, chaperone to young students, or a caretaker.
  • You have a quick connection to make. Trade with someone in front of the plane who is not in the same predicament.
  • You have a medical condition that requires you to have quick access to the airplane lavatory.

Step 2: Two Ways You Can Switch Seats

If you are displeased with your seat, you will face one of these scenarios when trying to move:

  • On a relatively empty flight with open seats in economy class, changing seats shouldn’t be a problem. You can’t move to a premium seat, though, even if it’s empty. Either way, ask a flight attendant before moving.
  • If the plane is full, you will have to switch seats with another person. This is an inherently trickier alternative.

Step 3: Whom to Approach?

Even with the right intention, you might fail in your endeavor if you approach the wrong person. Unless you want a specific seat in the entire plane, you have quite a few options of people to swap seats with.

Only approach people who:

  • Have equivalent or worse seats than you. No one is going to leave their dreamy window seat to be squished into a middle seat somewhere at the back. Fair trades only, please.
  • They also want to switch, and happen to be sitting close to your desired spot. This way, both parties are happy.

Always approach people with a smile and an amicable tone of voice. Remember, you always catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Step 4: How to Make the Trade?

You can make the move either during boarding, or after the plane has reached a comfortable cruising altitude. Here’s how to proceed in either scenario:

  • If you manage to make a trade before the boarding gates have closed, you can just settle into your new seat as you normally would. No need to physically “move” from one seat to another.
  • If you make the trade mid-flight, you might have to move your luggage from the overhead bins to your new location. Although the decision is entirely up to you, keeping your luggage close to you is better.

Step 5: Is It Necessary to Involve the Flight Attendants?

Yes! Notifying them is important.

Here are some reasons why it might be necessary to inform a flight attendant that you are changing seats:

  • The balance of the aircraft might be thrown off due to shifting passenger weight. If too many people start swapping plane seats during the flight, it might pose a safety threat. Flight attendants will know more about this than you do.
  • Knowing which passenger is in which seat is an essential safety protocol for the flight crew.
  • Flight attendants might be confused during meal service if someone with food allergies who ordered a special meal has changed their seat.

If you fail to manage a seat by fair trade, yet changing your seat is absolutely necessary, you might need to ask for their help. Only do this with a legitimate reason, or be prepared to hear “you are not allowed to change assigned seats.”

Step 6: “No” Is a Plausible and Acceptable Answer

Chances are, you’ll hear “no” a few times before you hear “yes.” Don’t keep pestering the same person if they deny your request. There are plenty of other people on the flight to swap seats with.

It might seem rude if someone blatantly says “no” to your polite request, but your politeness is your prerogative. It doesn’t entitle you to a positive response from the other person.

People on flights are cranky as it is. Someone may have been traveling for 10 hours already, or someone may have received some bad news. You never know. Be respectful of their circumstances. Consider it a miracle if they say “yes.”

On the flip side, you too are allowed to say “no” if someone asks you to give up your seat. Don’t feel bad about it.

Step 7: You Can Change Your Plane Seat Online

The best way to avoid all of the ruckus of mid-air strategic seat trading is to simply have your seat changed online.

Here are some ways to do it:

  • Keep checking the airline’s website. Seats might open up closer to departure. That’s the perfect time to grab them.
  • Change seats during check-in, either online or at the airport counter. The gate agent can assist you. You might even be able to get an upgrade if you are a frequent flier.

Step 8: Never Resort To Shady Means

Come what may, employing unfair means for swapping plane seats is distasteful. Steer clear of the following unsavory ploys:

  • Taking someone else’s seat without permission. Sorting it out once the seat owner appears is not going to work, since they’ll probably be pretty upset with you.
  • Giving away someone else’s seat. This is something like asking the person you want to switch with to move to a supremely better seat (something they’ll be ready to do) when that seat wasn’t yours to give away. You can only trade your own seat!
  • Arguing with the person who denied your request. There is no need to rile up every passenger within earshot.

Step 9: Double Check Before Giving Up Your Cushy Seat

You might be the victim of a deceitful seat swap as well. Maybe they are pointing to a seat that isn’t theirs, or there is something wrong with their original seat. Maybe it doesn’t recline, or is dirty. Take everything people say in desperation with a grain of salt.

To avoid falling prey to such scams:

  • Ask for their boarding pass to ensure which is their real seat.
  • Go and inspect the seat for yourself.
  • Move your belongings only after you’re sure.
  • If you find something amiss after changing seats, go back and demand your original seat. Be confident and confront the requester.

How to Enjoy Your Flight

The fact is, the best way to ensure you get the seat you want on an airplane is to reserve it ahead of time. Most airlines publish seating charts for flights on their website. Don’t hesitate to call or email the airline when booking to make sure you get a seat in the part of the plane you want.

While you’re planning your trip, it would also be a good time to purchase your travel insurance. If your flight is delayed or cancelled, a travel insurance policy can help you recoup the costs of prepaid, nonrefundable bookings such as hotels, event tickets, and more.

However, if you simply must change seats on the plane, the tips in this article will give you the best chance to do so without the stress.

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