28 Comments

  1. Jody

    I’m not sure if this has been asked here before, but I thought I’d put it to the group.

    What is the etiquette for changing airline seats? I’m talking about a situation where you have your seat (for which you may have paid a premium) and then a later-boarding person, possibly part of a group or couple, asks you to change so that person can sit with his companion. Sometimes I have the feeling that I’m asked to switch because people see a single female and assume I’ll move. If I don’t care to move, I very politely say “I’m sorry, I really prefer to sit on the aisle” or “I’m sorry, I paid a premium for this seat and I prefer to stay here.” I keep things polite but the reactions range from “oh well, it was worth a try” to huffiness (usually from younger passengers) because I won’t automatically do what they want.

    I do want to say that I have changed seats before and the other passenger has been very pleasant.

    • As a person who flies a lot, I too have been asked to switch seats. Most of the time I have not paid for or been rewarded with a premium seat, and I don’t mind the switch. However, if I know I have an upcoming brief layover and I purposely picked an aisle seat to quickly de-plane, then I’ll let the person know my reason for declining to move. They shouldn’t be huffy. On all airlines I’ve flown in the past 2 years, passengers have the option to pick seats in the 24 hours leading up to a flight. If the passenger was too lazy to do it, or all seats were quickly taken, then surely the passenger can put up with being separated from his/her group for a few hours. I fail to see how this becomes your problem.

      One time I was flying DFW -> EWR, and I sat in my seat. Another gentleman got on the plane, and informed me I was in his seat. I showed him my ticket, and oddly enough, we were booked for the same seat. What happened next surprised me: The stewardess apologized to the man, and made me get up, get my things, and moved me to a less desirable seat. (Yes, I did show her my ticket as well.) I can only assume this was because I was young (19 or 20) and the gentleman looked like a business traveler. But what could I do? Arguing with a stewardess can be punishable, and one of us had to move anyway. But that is my only seat-switching tale of woe.

    • Nina

      Dear Jody,

      I believe that the only response required of a polite question is a polite answer–it’s not your responsibility to move, but you could certainly do so if you wanted.

      I used to have to take a very long train ride to visit my parents (half a day) and the trains did not have assigned seats. I would arrive at the station very early to get a seat facing forward, so I wouldn’t get motion sickness. I was always surprised when people asked me to switch to a less-pleasant seat–they could’ve come earlier if they’d wanted to–but unless a small child was involved I usually just said, “I’m sorry, I really want to sit here.” No one gave me a hard time, though of course I don’t know what they thought in their heads…

    • Winifred Rosenburg

      I agree with the previous posters. I would just like to add that I’ve been in situations where I was flying with my husband and we specifically booked seats together. Then when we got to the airport the airline had changed our seats so we were no longer sitting together. I’m not condoning the actions of the huffy passengers or saying you have to switch seats. My point is just that it’s possible these people are having a bad day and should have been able to sit together but the airline was rude and changed their seats without their permission.

    • Elizabeth

      I fly a few times a year, and luckily I’ve only ever been asked to switch once. I would only switch if the seat that’s offered is of similar quality (an aisle for an aisle). The thing to keep in mind is that there’s always another person they can ask – if the person wants you to move back so their friend can sit up front, they can just as easily ask someone from the back to move up front so they can sit together in the back. That would be the more compelling favor to ask, wouldn’t it? I would be much more likely to comply if I were going to get to move to the front of the plane than the other way around. Otherwise, the answer is usually “No thanks, I would rather not.” Earbuds go in, I go back to reading my book, end of conversation.

    • Jerry

      Jody: You are completely within your rights to retain your seat if that’s where you prefer to be. This is particularly if you paid a premium. If someone gets huffy, you can respond in kind.

      Laura: I suspect you were moved not because you looked young, but because the other person had some sort of elite status over you. It’s amazing and sad that frequent flier miles are the only way to make an airline respect you.

      • Jody

        Thanks everybody. The NY Times article that Elizabeth posted was what gave me the idea to post my question. I’m glad to see that my instincts were correct (I was entitled to keep my seat). It’s hard to stay polite sometimes but so far so good. :-)

        What I find interesting is that the huffiness or bad attitude seems to come more from younger adults (entitlement issues?) than with older passengers.

  2. Vanna Keiler

    I would say that since you have paid for your ticket and are comfortable in your seat, you are under no obligation to move, unless there are extenuating circumstances which require basic decency to do so (e.g. mother and small child on either side of you). Those situations are usually rare and are the result of last-minute bookings due to family emergencies, etc. If moving will inconvenience you in any way, politely decline. If you don’t care either way, getting up to accommodate someone else is a nice gesture. Regardless, the requestee should be gracious with their request and your response and accept any answer you give them, since they are the ones disturbing you in this situation.

    • Alicia

      It is perfectly polite to ask for a seat swap as long as a no is taken graciously.
      I know I asked for a seat swap recently traveling. My sister and I were traveling with my neice. The airline had rearranged our seats seating my 3 year old neice alone and my sister and I each in seperate parts of the plane. The airplane was full and they would not let and and we did not want my neice sitting alone. Those near my sister and neice refused to swap as they were traveling as groupsbut one kind lady in an aisle seat next to my middle seat was willing to swap with my neice for her middle seat. So yes we were greatful that my neice did not have to sit alone by having an adult next to her she was very good and just colored pictures the whole flight. ( including writing the words Thank You and coloring a picture of the nice lady who swapped with her and giving it to her as a thank you)

      • Elizabeth

        I’ve been reading around about this issue, and parents flying with children have a very difficult time. Unless you book early enough to get seats together (and even if you do, the place can be switched at the last minute and your seat assignments are void), the airlines are particularly unhelpful in seating families. It seems quite ridiculous to rely on the goodwill of individual passengers at a time when people are trying to board, they’re cranky, pressures are mounting and a parent with kids is feeling helpless and anxious. It’s not a good situation in which to ask for favors. There has to be a better way. The woman who gave you her seat was incredibly generous – I for one would not want to switch my aisle or window for a middle seat.

        • Vanna Keiler

          Elizabeth, I agree with you that it is not the best way for passengers to directly ask passengers to switch seats, but unfortunately when a person pays for and selects a seat (oftentimes we can choose our own seats during booking and payment) there is usually some psychological, comfort-level reason a seat was selected. I think airlines recognize that many people are afraid of flying in general, the spaces are small and they are simply trying to “stick to the rules” so that there is not a mutiny on their hands if they formally start asking people to move on behalf of other passengers. I agree something does need to be done: perhaps airlines could offer family seat groupings on their websites and/or ticket agents could be very clear that children who will need to be supervised, during booking, should be seated with their parents, and if no space is available they should try another date/time for scheduling. Of course, this cuts into their profit margins and raises the question of discrimination/accommodation, because some families just have to get there and they hope a generous soul will let them sit together. So in these situations, I ascertain that where possible, we set an example to others, show generosity if it is not incredibly discomforting, and do the seat-trading dance. :)

          • Elizabeth

            I agree completely and see both perspectives. I like to think that there is “a better way,” though I have no idea what that would be unfortunately.

          • Ashleigh

            The last time I took a flight, we were not able to choose our seats until we checked in at the ticket counter. By this point, there were no seats available together. Since I am an absolutely terrible flier (Alicia – I bet your niece would look at me and tell me to grow up lol) we asked at the gate if they could put us together. We were told that there is a queue starting with families who were separated then moving down to people who just want to change seats. They were very accomodating when we made our request, but I’m not sure how they approach possible switchers with the question.

          • Joanna

            I am a young woman with a rare neuromuscular disease that affects my ability to walk and rise from a seated position — ESPECIALLY if I have been cramped and unmoving for hours on end. I really need to be seated in certain seats if at all possible, and to not be separated from my traveling companions, who are well familiar with my issues and can assist as needed.

            That said, I know that sometimes my physical issues are not immediately apparent, especially if I’m already seated. But, on the other hand, I certainly don’t want to get into my entire medical story, especially with complete strangers. So I for one truly wish that people would respect a simple, “No, I’m sorry, I would prefer to sit here.” In my experience, many people tend to believe that their needs trump everyone else’s – especially (at the risk of stepping on some toes) parents of young children. Having a toddler does not automatically make your travel needs greater than other people’s. Also, elderly people tend to think that a younger person cannot possibly have a walking disability. But, alas.

          • Elizabeth

            I wonder if it wouldn’t be more effective to say, rather than I “prefer” to sit here, “I’m sorry, but I have mobility issues, so I need to sit here.” The parents who ask to switch seats are suggesting that their need has a greater claim than your “preference,” but you indeed do need to sit there as well. That way you reveal just enough information to let them know not to keep arguing or pleading with you, and that you appreciate their situation but also have your own to deal with.

  3. JRC

    please help me handle this situation! My teenage son and his girlfriend took his 2 person blowup rowboat to a nearby lake and ran into a (teenaged) neighbor at the park with several of his friends. The neighbor asked to borrow the boat and took it out on the lake with 3 or 4 other boys. My son thought it didn’t look safe to have so many kids on the boat and called them back to shore. As they were coming to shore one of the oars broke. The neighbor boy apologized, but his friends said “we’re not paying for it”, and “if you try to make us pay we’ll beat you up”. My son said he thought they owed him a new oar and left it at that. Should my son or I follow up with the neighbors and request a new oar? Or is this a lesson for my son in not lending his belongings?

    • Alicia

      Yes neighbor kid should have offered to buy a new oar. But no your son should not demand one. I would consider this a lesson in both picking better people to hang out with and cautious lending.

    • Jerry

      This goes beyond the bounds of normal etiquette. Your son was threatened in a three or four on one situation — there’s no way he could insist without putting himself (and potentially his date) in harms way.

      So what is he to do? He can certainly back off . . . but that reenforces helplessness and acquiescence to bullying. This is certainly not something you want to enforce. I’d consider sending a letter or an e-mail to the ring leader demanding money for a new oar. If that doesn’t get results right away, he should consider filing a claim in small claims court and have the sheriff serve them with the suit. That should get their attention that it’s wrong to break someone property and threaten violence.

      (Notice I didn’t say it’s rude to break someone’s property . . . I said it’s not right.)

      This is probably also one of those situations where you as a parent need to get involved and support him. (Force him to handle the situation, but back his play; you can talk to the neighbor’s parents if you have to.) If this were a one on one confrontation, let your son handle it on his own. But three or four on one is too much for anyone.

      Alicia: Why wouldn’t you have son demand one? There’s no relationship to preserve after neighbor’s friend threatened son in front of his date. And it’s not like son was hanging out with neighbor here.

      • Alicia

        The threat was after the property was loaned and used. He was not friend or should not have been friends with these kids and should not have let them use the row boat. When you loan something out you face the risk of it not comong back to you. Yes good people return things in same or better condition and repair broken bits but when you loan something you assume the risk. He should not have loaned it out and would have been in a stronger position to say no before the kids got in the boat. There was no threat at that point in time and standing your ground is valuable.

        • Jerry

          That son may have handled the situation differently with the benefit of hindsight does not inform the analysis as far as I am concerned. Who knows what happens if the son says no. Perhaps neighbor and his friends take the boat from him anyway.

          In any case, it is not a breach of etiquette to ask the person who broke your stuff to repair or replace what he broke. The only reason not to ask the borrower to repair or replace is to preserve a relationship. Based on the facts of this case, the relationship is irreconcilable.

          The principle of you break it, you bought it is the fundamental principle of American tort law. Unless you’re willing to say that anyone who invokes the tort system is per se rude, Alicia’s logic is faulty. When you loan something, you assume the risk that the borrower won’t be able to fix any damage, or that it won’t be practical to get the borrower to fix the damage. But borrower is still legally and morally obligated to return the borrowed property in the same condition he received it.

          Elizabeth and Alicia are both right that there’s a lesson: be careful about who you let use your stuff. But it’s just silly to suggest that learning this lesson requires the teenage son has to absorb the cost of the oar.

          Elizabeth is also right to suggest that mom can’t fight every battle. I think mom could teach son some ways about fighting back (such as using the small claims court system) without resorting to fisticuffs.

      • Elizabeth

        I think this is a real gray area. There are a lot of times in life when someone will ask to borrow something you don’t really want to lend out, and there are times when things will be returned in a damaged condition (even from friends). I think the lesson for this kid is: be careful who you lend things to – lend them only to people who care enough about you to take responsibility for them. This neighbor kid is obviously not a friend, and not a responsible person. I think there is a chance he might do the right thing, once his posse of friends have gone away. I think this kid could press for a new oar (and mom could go to the kid’s parents and do it for him, but what kind of lesson would that be? he’s 17, not 8.) but the value of the lesson is I think in how you avoid these situations, not how much of a stink you make in the aftermath. Today it’s a kid who threatens to beat him up, tomorrow it’s a boss who’ll retaliate if you challenge him. Best thing is to not get into these compromising situations in the first place and to know when to say no. Yes, an oar can be replaced, but valuable class notes cannot. How to judge the character of others is a seriously valuable skill, and I think this kid just learned something about it.

        • Rebecca

          I know nothing about rowboats and their equipment, so I’m wondering how much a new oar costs. Basically, that would dictate to me whether or not the pursuit of the replacement was worth it.

          But, yes, I agree with those above who said that basically it’s a lesson learned about lending and borrowing.

  4. Jerry

    Considering the discussion that JRC’s posting has generated, I was curious as to what the community thought about the etiquette of the approach a parent took in this linked article.

    To me, a parent does his child a great service by teaching him or her to stand up to bullies using appropriate process. Some might say dad was bullying the bullies. But don’t people have a right to apply pressure when a polite request is ignored? If you’re ok with what the dad did in the Houston case, are you also ok with JRC’s son taking on the neighbor?

    • Elizabeth

      Interesting article. To be honest, I’m not sure what to think of it. First it seems like overkill – filing a lawsuit in response to some middle-school cattiness? Surely there must be more appropriate channels (going through the school, etc). But perhaps they tried those things? However, when the guy asked for $5000 donation, that made it seem like he wasn’t serious about getting an apology, what he really wanted was to take them to court. I can see maybe a $100 donation, but none but the most wealthy could afford that larger sum.

      Just to clarify – I’m not against the kid pursuing restitution, I just think that the more useful lesson has to do with how to avoid difficult situations in the first place.

      • Jerry

        I don’t know that it’s just some cattiness once the bullies post to the web. That’s like saying that the boys engaged in the making the bus monitor cry video were just “being boys.”

        Etiquette is all about preserving relationships. Once the gauntlet has been thrown — be it a threat of physical violence or public shaming — there’s no real relationship to preserve, is there?

    • JRC

      this is interesting to think about. I am not sure I agree with demanding the “donation”, I think restitution might more reasonably be some sort of public retraction and/or apology. But the cease and desist letter is fantastic and would certainly (I hope) open their eyes to the seriousness of the situation.

  5. JRC

    thank you for the input, it definitely felt like a grey area to me as well, I think the “right” thing to do would have been for the boys to offer to replace the oar, especially since they were horsing around after being asked to stop (versus the breakage happening as part of normal use). Also my son in 15, not 17, so a little younger than some thought who responded. But although I do think that Jerry has valid points about the right to pursue it farther, neither my son or I wanted to escalate the situation (although we did discuss the pros and cons of doing so).

    I ran into the neighbor’s mother a day or so later and asked if her son had mentioned what happened at the lake. She (surprise!) said no, so I said her son and his friends ran into mine and that I wasn’t sure of the details but somehow my son’s oar got broken, and maybe she should ask her son about it. He came by later that afternoon with some cash and another apology. I don’t know if there was any follow up with the other boys we didn’t know, but I imagine the neighbor boy let them know he had to pay up (and probably wasn’t happy about taking the fall alone).

    And my son and I talked quite a bit about loaning things, especially things that are valuable, and how and when to say no.

    thank you again for all the responses!

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