Home World Swap or not to swap your paid-for seat on a plane?

Swap or not to swap your paid-for seat on a plane?

You've paid for your seat and someone rocks up and asks to swap. Would you?

by Sharron Livingston

Some people just have it. You know, that devilish cheek that’s tied up with a kind of self-entitlement that trumps the needs of others. There’s a word for it in Yiddish: chutzpah.

According to TikTok, Instagram and countless videos on Youtube, it’s rife among economy fliers who feel it’s ok to ask others to swap seats so they can sit together with other adult friends or family. Or worse, take up the seat even before you have boarded expecting you to concede. The backlash is unmistakable. 

Some would say that’s just bad etiquette a bit like knowing who has priority over the armrest but far worse and more and more are standing their ground over seating.

Here’s the thing. Those travellers who plan their seating often pay a fair whack perhaps for extra legroom, to be by a window or the aisle to eke out a bit more space.

Others prefer to wait till the last minute when it’s often the case you can choose your seat for free. However by this time, there is not much choice and it’s likely to be the least desirable – at the back or a middle seat – and unlikely to be one when you can sit with your partner. That can be bad planning, a hack to save money or a case of a solo traveller who doesn’t mind.

So what exactly is the etiquette? Though no one is under any obligation to swap seats, peer pressure can be the reason you agree when you don’t want to. I call it FOFA – the fear of feeling awkward.

A friend complained that she was pressured into giving up her window seat for an isle seat on a long-haul flight for some newlyweds. FOFA set in and she moved.

On the surface, it seemed a fair swap. However, what she gave up on was the anticipated enjoyment of the views as they neared Barbados, a place she had never visited. She felt resentful especially as she watched the love birds coo over the sights below. I’m not sure she has shaken that off yet.

Though I’ve never been asked to swap, I inadvertently became part of a swapping shenanigan. It was on a flight back from Singapore with Singapore Airlines three years ago.

I had paid for extra legroom on a seat that was part of a quartet just behind business class. My partner was to the right and a child on the left, whose mum wasn’t on the same row. She was sat on an aisle on a two-seater still close but just slightly set back with even more legroom.

She asked the guy sitting by the window next to her if he would give up his seat and swap with the child so she could sit with her “baby.” He said no precisely because he took great care to choose his seat. No FOFA on his part.

Being a mum I fancied myself as the cavalry and offered my seat. She refused preferring hers and even asked me to chat with her boy during the flight. I know!

So things I suggest that you can and should take into consideration while considering a heartfelt swap.

  1. Firstly is the seat you will be moving to the same calibre as yours or, if you get lucky, a little better?
  2. Does it take you away from a friend or family member?

If the answer to point 1 is a yes and point 2 is a no then make the move. Otherwise, unless there is a small child to consider I say don’t be a slave to FOFA. Stay put and enjoy your seat and relish in your ability to stand your ground in the face of someone else’s bad planning – let’s call it what it is – chutzpah.



1 comment

Shane Jul 2, 2024 - 9:22 am

My answer is always no,I’m not responsible for your bad planning.


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