Tip: Check your seat assignment before your flight

I know what you’re probably thinking. “Duh, Road Warriorette, I check my seat before every single flight. More than middle seat

In fact, if you’re anything like me, you check your seat so often it borders on slight obsession. Maybe this will be the time that ideal aisle seat in the Main Cabin Extra section appears!  But as much as it surprises me I find that there are still passengers who don’t look at their seat assignment prior to their flight, and are shocked—shocked, I tell you!—that they are sitting in the middle. Or in the last row. Or next to a lav. Or—the horrors!—they’re not sitting next to their significant other.

What happens then? They ask to switch seats with someone. I witness it on almost every flight—the traveler pauses by their row, looks surprised, double checks with their boarding pass, and then the wheels start turning. Who around here is the biggest sucker? they wonder as the look at the nearby rows. I’ve even heard of people deliberately sitting in the wrong seat and refusing to move!

I’m actually lucky—while I see people asking to switch seats all the time, I don’t get asked that often. (Although when I do it’s a doozy, like the post linked above.) In fact the Home Warrior and I were discussing seat switching this weekend. He assumed that because Southwest doesn’t have assigned seats that people would ask to switch more—maybe they have less respect for the non-assigned seats? But in my experience it’s actually been the opposite—people know that Southwest has a slightly chaotic boarding system and almost expect to get a bad seat. But on American and other airlines that assign seats people expect good seats and then are surprised when they don’t get them.

The last time I flew, I saw at least three people ask to switch seats with someone. The main reason given was that they wanted to sit with their traveling companion. I totally understand wanting to sit by your friends or family, but people have ample opportunity to make sure they are sitting where they want before their flight. So for those who don’t fly often, please check your seat assignment before you get to the airport. If it’s not a seat you’re happy with, you have a few options. You can change your seat yourself (often times this requires a fee) or you can contact customer support and see if they can help you.

If you are traveling with small children and you aren’t seated together, please ask a flight attendant or gate agent for assistance. (Although obviously it’s best if you check your seat assignment ahead of time!)

Remember, once you get on the plane it’s a terrible time to ask someone to switch with you. Chances are good the person in that aisle seat you’re coveting paid a premium for it, whether in cash or time. And if someone asks you to switch with them, you are perfectly within your rights to say, “No thank you. I’m comfortable here.” If someone harasses you or refuses to move out of your seat get a flight attendant to help you.

Readers, do you witness people attempting to switch seats often? Do you see it more on airlines that don’t assign seats or those that do?

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  1. It happens often, and I try to be sympathetic. Especially with most airlines now charging people without status for “preferred” seating which doesn’t offer legroom or boarding benefits, but just paying for an aisle or window. Especially annoying when parents and children are separated. I try to help and will usually make a lateral move if it helps someone.

    BUT you poor planning is not my emergency. Im sorry you are not next to your husband, but no I wont give up my window to move 10 rows back to a middle, so stop getting upset as if it is my fault.

  2. +1 what Noah said. I spend more time than I should trying to get the exact seat I want. If you ask me to switch you better have an equally good seat for trade or be a uniformed military person or 9 months pregnant.

  3. Two big causes here.
    1) Families unable to get seats together. In coach, everybody in the cabin will have a better flight if you help parents and small children sit together. Sometimes the separated families are from outside the US and simply don’t understand the U.S. system.
    2) Upgrades to first class. My wife and I are ALWAYS assigned separated seats even when adjacent pairs of seats are plentiful. This has happened maybe 100 times in a row now (yes – that many upgrades over many years). I remember a flight with 5 couples upgraded and no one seated with a spouse (all reunited with some seat trading).

  4. I think this falls into 3 different categories: Families that can’t get seats together, people that fail to plan, and people that lost their original seats due to equipment changes, flight cancellations, etc.
    I have little sympathy for those that don’t plan. Most people have been on planes before.
    I believe the family problem could be solved by having “family seating” at the rear of the plane (near the toilets). This area would be reserved for someone accompanying a child under 12 or so. It would only be used for other passengers if other sections of the plane were totally full.
    As for the unfortunates that lost their seats due to other circumstances? It depends. If someone is helping another family member due to medical issues then they should be accommodated by the airline (not the passengers). That’s an ADA issue. Everyone else? Sometimes stuff happens. You’ll get my sympathy and a listening ear Vs the people who couldn’t plan.

  5. I disagree with the premise. My husband and I are seasoned travelers, and know how to book flights and pick seats. However, there have been many occasions when we have had to pick seats in different rows. When that’s the case, we would pick a window and aisle, for example, in nearby rows. We do ask people to switch, but we make sure that the trader is offered a equivalent or better seat. If our aisle seat is forward from our window seat, we’d ask the aisle person in our “window” row to switch with our aisle seat in the forward row. What’s wrong with doing that? We would never ask someone to move to a less desirable seat. Also, I agree with the commenter who said that when upgraded, the airlines never seem to put couples together. This happened on both legs of last weekend’s trip, and we rearranged without issue.

  6. I disagree as well. There have been many times where I have tried to select seats together well in advance of the flight and cannot get them. I continue to check and check to no avail. If you call up and ask for assistance (i.e. I had flights where I could not get seats together when I was traveling with my 4 year old) they cannot and usually will not help you. So you cannot ASSUME that because someone is trying to switch seats that it is poor planning on their part. Why can’t we all just display a little more grace?

  7. First, I am much too busy to keep checking my seat and am happy to go with the flow. In SIXTY years of flying, I cannot recall an inadvertent seat change-and I fly regularly. I like an aisle/bulkhead seat, but as I am also a pilot (private) I enjoy window seats too. I can watch the takeoff process that way. However, I am very much against all the seat bargaining I see, after an extremely nasty experience about 7 years ago on a flight to Hawaii. I had a bad migraine that day in the office, with aura, but somehow got myself to LAX and on the plane with a splitting headache, nausea and all the sequelae of migraine. I was seated with a woman and her kid. We were in the air when she TOLD me (not asked me, TOLD me) to move as SHE wanted to sit with her husband, in the row behind. I said NO-frankly, I have the option to say NO. I paid for my seat, booked the flight well ahead of time, and happened to have a good aisle seat. At this point, she starts kicking me (she drew blood), swearing at me, and calling me names. I stuck to my guns. This is a 25-30 year old woman, I’m in my mid 50s. What about being respectful? The more I resisted the more abusive she got. But you know-I am not under any obligation to switch my seat to remedy her bad planning. Finally she gets a flight attendant to switch them. The husband gets up, passes me, and calls me an “effing gonzo bitch” (what does that mean?), as if somehow it was their RIGHT to sit together and my DUTY to defer to them. Well, no, it isn’t. Since that day, I don’t switch seats on principle. If you plan badly that is your problem. It is NOT THE END OF THE WORLD if you cannot sit with your spouse. Grow up. As for kids-if they are not seated with parents it is the flight crew’s problem to deal with. Unless they are less than about 8 years old, they are OK. We used to travel to India regularly as a family (6 people) from the time I was 8 and were always in different rows. We knew how to behave in public and if we needed anything the flight crew helped us. We didn’t necessarily have to sit with our parents. If its an issue, plan better, but don’t make it my problem and please get over yourselves.

  8. That’s well and good in theory, but every time I’ve been separated from my traveling companion at boarding it’s because there were no seats available together when we chose them in advance. I used to just go to the airport early and ask at the front check-in or at the gate if there was any way they could move us around (using seats we couldn’t select), and this used to work out just fine.

    Used to. Every time I’ve had this issue in the last few years, the airline staff have *instructed* us to board the plane and then ask someone to switch with one of us. I hate doing this because it causes delays and sometimes people are excessively grumpy about it, but apparently this is what some airlines want you to do.

    I always make a point, if I can’t get seats next to each other, to get a window and an aisle in the closest rows possible. Then we can offer the people in the middle of both rows to take one of those, and normally one middle seat-er is excited to get an upgrade to their preferred seat type.

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