I’m an etiquette expert – here’s how to convince passengers to swap seats with you on a flight
Asking someone to swap seats with you on a flight is never ideal, but certain circumstances call for it.
Perhaps you failed to plan ahead and pay for reserved seating, or you checked in too late to get seats next to your family.
Whatever the reason, your only course of action is to rely on the kindness of strangers, hoping a fellow passenger will forgo their seat so you can sit next to your loved one.
How do you go about framing the seat-swapping question? Speaking to MailOnline Travel, etiquette expert Diane Gottsman has revealed the best ways to persuade someone to give up their seat on a flight.
Gottsman, who is the founder of The Protocol School of Texas, said: ‘When it comes to switching seats on a plane, it’s always best to plan ahead so you can sit next to each other when you book your flight. If that is not possible, it’s a delicate situation to ask someone who has selected their seat in advance to switch.’
Etiquette expert Diane Gottsman has revealed the best ways to persuade someone to swap seats with you on a flight
First and foremost, Gottsman recommends exchanging an equal seat with the passenger. She says: ‘For example, an aisle for an aisle seat, or a window for a window. It’s inappropriate to ask a person in an aisle seat to switch to a middle seat so you can sit next to a friend or loved one.’
Most airlines will prioritise seating families together. British Airways, for instance, ensures each child under 12 years sits next to a guardian from the same booking. What’s more, if you’re flying British Airways with an infant under two, you can choose a seat for you and everyone in your booking, free of charge. Ryanair, meanwhile, allows a free allocated seat to a maximum of four children per adult that purchases a seat.
With this in mind, cabin crew might be able to lend a helping hand if you’re travelling with family, Gottsman reveals. She says: ‘If the situation is that you would like to sit next to a younger child, [or] family member, of course, it’s understandable, and you might even ask the flight attendant for assistance.’
Regardless of how you ask, you should prepare for rejection, according to Gottsman.
She says: ‘When asking a fellow passenger if they would mind switching seats, always expect the answer may possibly be “no” and be prepared to accept the answer gracefully. Smile and assure them you understand. Avoid showing frustration because they will not give up their seat – they may have paid an additional fee for extra legroom.’
Sometimes, fellow passengers might surprise you with a kind deed, Gottsman reveals, saying: ‘There are times when someone sees that you are not seated next to your loved ones, and they volunteer their seat without you asking. By all means, thank them graciously and show appreciation for their kindness.’
One thing you should never do, according to Gottsman, is to plonk yourself down in the seat you want, waiting for the passenger to arrive. She explains: ‘It is immediately off-putting!’
The cabin crew might be able to assist you in moving seats if you’re travelling with family
What are the do’s and don’ts of seat swapping? Nicky Kelvin, head of The Points Guy UK travel site, recently offered some advice on an Instagram video
Summing up her advice, Gottsman says: ‘There are understandable circumstances where you may request a change, but it’s best to do it with a ticket agent, and not put fellow passengers in an awkward situation.’
It’s worth noting that not all airlines charge for seat selection, but many do. A fee typically applies when you’ve booked the cheapest ticket type – for example, Ryanair charges from £3 to select a seat, while British Airways charges around £7, according to frequent flyer site Head For Points.
The hotly debated subject of seat-swapping was also touched on by Nicky Kelvin, head of travel site The Points Guy UK, in a recent Instagram video.
In the clip, he says: ‘If you want to sit near your spouse, or you have a tight layover, it’s okay to ask for a comparable seat, but if the swap isn’t equal, it’s best to only request it on special situations i.e, caring for a companion or reuniting a family with young children. But even then, it’s still a heated debate.’
The topic was also broached by Reddit user ‘sumimigaquatchi’ on the forum, prompting fellow Reddit users to explain when they’d be willing to sacrifice their seat.
Reddit user ‘themeparkinsider’ said that they’d ‘absolutely’ be willing to swap if the person offered a better seat than they already have.
They added: ‘If they offer me a seat of the same quality, it depends upon how nicely they ask, or if they offer me anything else in return. A bag of chips [crisps] or a peanut butter cup probably would be more than enough to move me. Heck, just a nice “please” might do it.’
User Redcorns weighed in: ‘If they’re nice and it’s an equal or improved seat, I’m always down to trade if travelling alone in economy.’
And user ‘PeteyNice’ remarked: ‘It has to be at least an even trade. Otherwise, I accept cash.’
While user ‘Gt_ap’ said: ‘I always do it when requested. Life is too short to quibble about things like this. The flight is over in a few hours, and I’ve made someone’s day.’
For more etiquette tips from Diane Gottsman, international etiquette expert and founder of The Protocol School of Texas, visit her Instagram profile or her website – dianegottsman.com.