Is it weird to not sit by your traveling companion?

If you’re traveling with someone, does that mean you have to sit next to each other? Reader E says….airplane seat2

Had a weird situation yesterday, flying on Delta LAX to MSP.  I had a middle seat economy comfort and the guy on the aisle was big and overweight and took up a lot of my personal space.  He was also a nervous flyer and would grip the armrests and take up even more of my space when we hit bumps.  Plus he smelled bad, like he had a long day traveling and was nervous and needed to bathe.  So that’s all mostly pretty normal but happily rare.  What was weird is this – in the window seat was a thin woman.  Neither she nor the big man greeted me or each other and neither of them spoke a word the entire trip.  But when we got to MSP it turned out they were traveling together!  They started talking about arranging their ride, etc.  So – why in the world did I have to sit squashed against this big stinky guy, wasn’t that her job?  I guess they were hoping to have an empty seat between them but the flight was totally packed.  One of them should have asked me to switch don’t you think?

I’m a Diamond on Delta and seldom have to deal with this.  I had used my medallion privilege to switch to this flight for free and was glad to be getting home 12 hours earlier than expected, but that was one of the most unpleasant flights I’ve had in a long time. I needed a Silkwood shower when I got home.

Yeah this sounds pretty awful. And it’s not like LAX to MSP is a short flight. Yay for getting home early, but sometimes it doesn’t feel worth it. I have several thoughts about this.

I think your assumption that they were hoping for an empty middle seat is probably dead on. While it seems like people flying together should sit next to each other, I can think of a few scenarios where they would feel less obligated than otherwise. For example, in my experience work colleagues don’t often want to sit together. Another idea: maybe they are acquaintances going to a conference. I guess what I’m saying is that maybe they had met each other but didn’t actually know each other. I can totally get not wanting to sit by some guy I just met but am going to have to spend a week at a conference with, especially if he is a nervous flier. And even more so if he is smelly. Ugh, sounds awful.

The weirdest part about this is that they didn’t acknowledge each other during the flight. That’s just so awkward! I would chalk this up to “you see crazy stuff when you fly a lot” and leave it at that.

Readers, what do you think? Do you think the woman should have taken a hit for the team and sat next to the guy? Are there scenarios where you wouldn’t sit next to someone you’re traveling with?

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Comments

  1. My husband and I often book aisle seats just across from one another. I wouldn’t sit in a middle seat just to sit next to him! (But we’ve been married 40+ years, if that’s relevant!) We usually get upgraded, but if only one of us does, the other wants an aisle seat.

  2. I think it’s strange not to sit with someone your travelling with.

    That said, with some of the LCC and the additional cost to assign seating, i assume it happens quite often.

    I travelled with two friends on Air Asia a few years back from Australia to KL and then onto a number of local flights within Malaysia and Thailand. On most of those flights we sat either completely apart (as in three separate seats) or in two’s on a couple of flights.

    Generally i would stump up the extra to sit together as it’s more fun, and better to know who your sitting next to than risk the large smelly person. However in this instance, the sheer number of flights would have added up quickly, and as money was tight it was better spent elsewhere.

    It also helped that most of the flights were ~1 hour. I think if it were longer 5 hour + flights we probably would have paid up.

  3. I think this is more common than people realize. If she likes window and he prefers aisle, why should either have to be uncomfortable for several hours just because they happen to know each other? As you said, if they are co-workers, there’s no reason they would need to sit right next to each other. It’s probably a coincidence that they were in the same row at all.

    I also know spouses that book their tickets this way as well. The thinking is…I’m already spending the rest of my life with you, there’s no reason I need to endure a middle seat just to maximize our minutes of togetherness 🙂 [I personally have taken one for the team and sat in the middle when travelling with my husband but I can understand why some prefer not to]

  4. I travel frequently with a colleague. We never sit together. Both like the aisle. Neither likes to chat on the plane.

    We get along great, but would rather be comfortable on a plane than sit together.

  5. Why would you ever think that co-workers or, more likely, consultants would be required to sit together? I rarely sit next to colleagues, especially if we have different elite levels. LOL! Also, after spending 3 days or 5 days working with someone around the clock, we just want to be left alone. Sorry you got the middle seat and all it came with, but those are the breaks.

  6. Not weird at all to not sit next to each other but not talking nor acknowledging each other when you’re both sitting in the same row is a bit odd.

  7. When I travel with my parents, I never sit with them. If we’re going to spend a lot of time together on our trip, I sit either behind them or several rows away.

  8. My partner and I rarely sit next to each other in economy. He likes the window and I like the aisle. Many times we are lucky and the middle is open, but when its not why should either of us be uncomfortable?

  9. Funny story. Way way back, I (female) was going on my first overseas, overnight trip with my (male) boss. Our secretary (yes, it was a LONG TIME AGO) booked the flights, seats, etc. and put me next to him (in business class). I dreaded sleeping next to him on the plane, so I went and changed my seat. When we boarded the flight, he saw that I wasn’t sitting near him, and said, “How did that happen? I’ll see if I can change my seat.” And yes, he ended up next to me all night. Uggh.

    Anyway, on shuttle flights (open seating), I now will generally sit with a colleague who is also traveling, but we make no attempt to be seated near each other otherwise.

  10. Depending on the aircraft, my wife and I have booked adjacent aisle seats. Some of these newish 737’s are tight, and neither of us are middle seat fans.

    As for work – I have sought seats next to a colleague if we really needed to work on something during a flight. Otherwise, I avoid sitting with them. I’ve seen them all week or I’m about to see them all week. That’s enough togetherness with work people.

  11. Hubby and I often book and aisle and a window in the hopes that the middle will remain free. It’s worked several times now and makes for a MUCH more comfortable flight, especially on narrowbody planes such as 737s. We both prefer the window, but let’s face it, NOBODY likes the middle seat, and we are not small people, so if we can score a spare seat, that’s awesome (more common now he’s a high tier flyer).

    I don’t see why we shouldn’t be the lucky ones that have an empty seat next to us, rather than someone else. I don’t have some moral obligation to squash up with him just because we are married.

    Having said all that, always, in this scenario, if we do find the seat occupied, one of us will move to the middle because we like each other better than strangers. But I don’t see any reason why we should HAVE to.

    I think the problem the OPs friend has is that the aisle man in this case was quite a difficult seat companion. If he’d been a thin calm man, would he still have been bothered that they chose not to sit with each other?

  12. So I have been on both ends of this… As a travel Agent I have literally had clients in tears that HAD to sit next to each other for an overseas flight and none were available without heavy seat fees and then they would only be across the aisle. (Married for 40+ years) had a family of three that wanted to sit in three different rows because everyone preferred the window. Go figure! My third example is from my first business trip ever when a co-worker offered to show me the ropes. She had stays with SW and boarded before me taking the window. I boarded a little later and took the aisle in hopes of getting an empty middle seat. The doors are closed only to be reopened for a tardy inebriated couple who could find any seats together. So we got the pleasure of having the strung out sobby woman between us while her calm significant other had the middle seat behind us. She weeped, then ate chocolate cake, wormed her arm between the seats to hold his hand and repeatedly banged her head on the seat in front of her before finally falling asleep on my co-worker. Had I known that was going to be the case I would have happily moved my plus sized derrière into the middle seat but she wouldn’t have been any closer to her companion. So as you can see everyone has their quirks about seat selection. Just be careful when trying to score the bonus empty middle seat. It might come back to bite you in the butt!

  13. I think sitting apart a work colleague is pretty common. I personally dont like small talks or chats on flights, no matter who it is im travelling with. one of the perks of air travel (for me anyway) is getting to be in ‘your zone’

  14. The nervous flier’s travel companion (colleague?) had no obligation to move to the middle seat. And selfishly if that were my colleague I would be happy to have that seat/person buffer between us if it was truly that bad!

    They may not have acknowledged each other during the flight because they didn’t want to be rude by “talking across” the middle seat passenger. I know that I would be like that if it were me and a colleague! Plus, the woman by the window might have thought that middle seat passenger would have offered to switch if they had been overly communicative (which she probably didn’t want, given the situation)

    To the people above who have had to fly side by side with their boss (and overnight at that), part of me dies a little bit. I like my boss but that’s just a whole new level of awkward.

  15. My husband and I are both nervous flyers. I need an aisle seat with frequent access to the bathroom. He needs a window seat so he can close the blind and not see heights. We always sit aisle/window. Usually if we have a middle we say hello, note that we are together but that we prefer our arrangement and don’t want to switch. We try to avoid talking over the middle party. We will occasionally ask each other a quick question or pass a stick of gum or chapstick but mostly we ignore each other for the flight. Since we feed off of each other fears (if one of us gets nervous before the other) sometimes we sit far apart on purpose in completely different aisles.

  16. I used to travel quite a bit by air for business, and it was in our office “culture” that we never sat next to our coworker traveling companions on flights. The admins knew to book seats that way.

  17. I travel with Co workers regularly and prefer not to sit with them on the plane. If I have to spend a week in meetings and rental cars and meals with that person at least give me a few hours aline on the plane. That being said we normally don’t sit close on purpose as well.

  18. This is kind of a weird post, to me, with the assumption that 2 co-workers would automatically take either aisle/middle or window/ middle. If I’m traveling with my business partner, of course we’ll book aisle / window, hoping that no one takes the middle seat. If they don’t, then we either have more room to spread out, or one of us can move to the middle and we can talk or work together. If someone does take the middle seat, then if we want to work together we’ll offer to switch, and if we don’t, we’re certainly not going to talk over that middle person as RW seems to think would have been the norm. I hardly think a flight with people on either side chattering away to one another would have been preferable.

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