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Should you change seats if asked by a flight attendant? What about another passenger? What if you PAID for THAT seat “upgrade”?

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Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

I guess I would trade with that guy! 😉

Remember back in July when media talking head Ann Coulter had, ah hem, a tiny bit of an exit row seat issue with Delta. Delta fought back and smacked her down. While not taking sides one way or the other on that issue (and even calling it an issue is pushing it, IMO) there is an issue here. That issue is that Delta is really and I mean really pushing what they call “branded fares” – that is, you are shelling out your hard earned money for a better seat. It may not “really” be a better seat (cuz it’s the same seat as the rest of coach) you may believe it is a better seat and you want just that seat you paid for and chose.

And that brings me to my question of the day that is, just when should you change seats? Should you change seats if asked by a flight attendant? What about another passenger?

The first one is not as simple as it sounds. A flight attendant may come up to you and ask if you would be willing to switch seats (for whatever reason). While this sounds benign, it really is not because:

1) You maybe like this seat!
2) You may have paid for that “exact” seat!
3) Will you get worse service if you say no?
4) What will others around you think of you?
5) Could the crew get nasty and not let you fly for not helping?

OK, that last one is clearly a stretch but in this crazy day of flying I think just about anything is possible. I mean, to me, if the seat you are moving to is about the same or in the same cabin of service then fine. If it is not, i.e. A downgrade, then well it really is not fair to ask. Then again, if you do agree maybe there could be other perks like free SkyMiles from the FA handset or free drinks you could have got in the other cabin of service you willingly moved from. So, maybe not all bad being nice.

Well what if another passenger asks to trade seats with you. What then? Clearly no one wants to be “that guy/gal”. Again here I think the major consideration should be what will you end up with if you agree. Then again, depending on the length of the flight and how much you fly it may just be worth it as it really does not matter that much in the grand scheme of things and you will feel much better about yourself for the day!

But what if it means a middle seat? Personally that is where I would draw the line. I have even publicly stated if Delta moved me to a middle seat, against my will, I would refuse to fly and take a later flight. I have never had to test that fact yet but I would stand my ground if it happened.

So you tell me. Under what conditions would you or would you not switch seats. Would you be afraid of repercussions if you refused from an FA or a fellow passenger. What if it meant a middle seat? You tell me! – René



Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

René de Lambert is a contributing writer and the founder of RenesPoints. He is an avid Delta and SkyTeam flyer who has held Delta’s top Diamond Medallion status for many years and flown millions of miles.


  1. I’ve noticed that there is a lot less of people even requesting seat switches. In turn, that has made me less inclined to want to ask someone to switch. But, I also don’t fly with children and my spouse and I both prefer aisle seats so we sit across from each other anyway.

  2. The situation with Ann Coulture was rediculous. If she indeed paid for a better seat, she should have been kept in that seat. I get it that she went overboard posting pictures of people, but she was right and Delta was wrong. I have zero doubt that her politics played a role in how they treated her, which really is insane. The Rules should be the same regardless of how you choose to exercise your freedom of speech.

    If you pay for a better seat, they better have a really good reason (that they share with you) for moving you. And you should be compensated either financially or through points, similar to a bump but less $$$. Simply refunding the cost of the seat upgrade is not an acceptable response.

  3. Yes we are afraid of FAs. Also anyone asking you to switch is throwing out a question to you that has few good responses. Odds are if you are asked to switch it wont be a better seat. When you say no it makes you a jerk when you didnt ask to be put in that situation.

  4. Michael Karpiel Reply

    Rene – I have to agree that moving to a middle seat from either a window or aisle is not happening. Also if I have an exit row seat and being moved to a regular seat is not happening.

    I have moved a few times when requested if I’m asked nicely and if the seat is equivalent. Also if requested by an FA you are given special treatment for helping them out.

    Now I have actually asked another passenger to move but let me explain. A few of my co-workers and I were flying in business from EWR to WAW. We were all over the place in the front cabin. I happened to notice that my seat mate was talking to another gentleman who was sitting by one of my co-workers. So I asked them if they would want to switch and yes they did. Equivalent seats and got people sitting together. If the person next to me did not want to switch that would have been fine as well.

    I would never consider asking someone to downgrade their seat e.g.(Aisle for Middle) as that is not something I would accept.

  5. That is a loaded question to many variables, but to try to tackle it:
    1. Change like seat for another like seat whether flight attendant or other passenger no big deal.
    2. Downgrade seat exit row, bulk head etc. in economy for regular row or C+ downgrade for regular economy would probably call them out on what I am giving up and ask how I will be compensated and try to get some Delta sky dollars, this would only be for domestic flights international probably would not do it and take another flight.
    3. Premium cabin to economy I would take another flight and ask for vouchers for hotel stay, or discount voucher etc. If I needed to get somewhere I would tell them I want full compensation which they might or might not due or compensation from the average price difference, if they refused, I would probably call my CC company and dispute the charge, if it was miles would ask for the difference back.

    No matter what I would always be polite, not scream or yell and be civil but I would definitely hold my ground, again while being very polite, ask for the names of who I am interacting with and confirm with them what they are willing not to do if that was the situation. At the end of the day there is no reason to disrupt the flight, other passengers and just be a jerk.

  6. Once on a flight from SLC to ATL, I was gate upgraded to a nice window comfort seat. A very aggressive and demanding lady ordered me to trade seats with her husband so they could be together.

    Turned out he had been upgraded to first class but she hadn’t so she refused to let him enjoy first without her. Poor guy. I meekly went to my new seat happily.

  7. As long as I am asked if I’ll trade for an equal or better seat and I’m travelling solo I’ll usually agree (i.e. 2nd row aisle for 2nd row aisle).

    If someone just poaches my seats all bets are off and I’m taking my assigned seat. If it’s a worse seat (i.e. aisle for window or non-bulkhead for bulkhead or for last row in first on aircraft that doesn’t decline). If I’m with my wife I will always decline.

    Most people are fine when I decline but I’ve had a couple people get rude. I figure if someone can’t go 3 hours without sitting by their spouse they should decline the upgrades and keep their seats together in coach.

  8. Charles NOT MD Reply

    I would think it through similar to your thoughts.
    If asked by a fellow passenger I would realize that all passsengers had the same options or could have paid for the same options.
    If asked by a cabin attendent I would clarify if this was a demand or request and ask for clarification of what was being offered, both as an alternative and/or miles.

  9. On a overseas flight to Korea a couple of years ago I had purchased the Economy Plus upgrade (for the legroom) and got myself an aisle seat, which I prefer. After boarding the nice lady on the middle seat directly asked me if we could switch seats, as she would be getting up a lot to use the bathroom. I declined but made sure to let her know that I can’t sleep on these flights, so it wouldn’t be a problem to get up whenever needed. She barely used the bathroom and didn’t speak to me for the entire 13+ hours we were in the air…. 😉

  10. Nathaniel Nate Reply

    I don’t think that they should ask you to move. Sometimes customers try to game the system. They’ll buy two seats but will have a baby. They want to get that third seat for free and then ask you to move. If it’s your seat you keep it unless you are being upgraded to Business class or First Class (coach to premium econ could work too). So if there’s no upgrade then don’t move.

  11. If a Delta employee asks me to change economy seats, I politely tell them I have a $300 change fee. I know its a little more than the airline charges for a flight change fee but I don’t “reprice my ticket” as well – just $300, no vouchers or SkyPesos accepted. That usually ends the discussion pretty quickly.

    If I can accommodate a family traveling together, no problem as long as its not a middle seat.

  12. I make sure to get a ticket early and book a window seat because then I can sleep a little. I’ve had a few people ask me to switch and if it’s a like seat I will. Otherwise, I smile nicely and say, “I”m sorry I booked the seat so I can get some sleep and would like to keep it.” I find the people who usually want to exchange seats are people who book late and I don’t feel having to sit apart a few hours is the end of the world.

  13. Frankie Morgan Reply

    Yesterday I got the only 2 gate upgrades to FC but as they were the last 2 seats available in FC they were 2 windows piggybacking behind each other (1D and 2D). I was traveling with my young son so when the guy in the aisle refused to switch to a window so we could sit together I said no problem but my son vomits regularly on flights and gave him a sick bag. He then switched with me. Works every time 🙂

  14. Dear Rene

    Good morning. Those are good questions. Here are my answers:
    1. I would definitely switch seats if a flight attendant asked me to do so (for whatever reason). I would even volunteer this comment: “I LOVE Delta!” I sincerely appreciate the professionalism, hard work, and efficiency of Delta flight attendants, gate agents, pilots, and ground crew–the entire team, as a matter of fact. It is an amazing team. These are the best professionals in the industry. Delta is by far the best US legacy airline. (I hear great things about Southwest, too.)
    2. I would change seats for a young child to be near parents (no doubt about that), and perhaps even for couples who wanted to sit next to each other. It is a matter of courtesy, thoughtfulness, and kindness to fellow travelers.

    I love Delta, and want everyone to have a pleasant flying experience.

  15. I’m an FA fpr a major long haul airline. I very rarely have to ask passengers to change seats but if I do I always explain why I would like them to change seats and state that it is absolutely no problem if they do not wish to change. I would alwo only ever move somebody to an equal or better seat (eg extra legroom seat or seat with an empty seat next to them)so they would never be worse off. I would also offer them a complimentary glass of champagne if seated in coach as a thank you. In all the times I have asked people to change seats only 1 person has ever said no and that was the end of it. No hard feelings. If you’re a passenger and you’re asked by another passenger to change seats and you don’t want to, just say that you paid extra to pre book that particular seat so you would rather not. It’s really not the big problem that this article is trying to suggest.

  16. i will trade equal..but never to a middle seat!! i was in middle seat between a husband and wife and i said i would swap one of them ..they said no she likes the window he the aisle but the talked over me and passed stuff the entire trip…NUTS

  17. Years ago my wife and I flying back to DTW. I was in 4C and my wife was in 4A. We were going to ask the first PAX in either 4D or 4B to switch. Guy in 4D gets on Board and agrees to switch for 4A – problem solved. A couple minutes later, Rosa Parks comes on board and sits in 4B. I am not sure we would have asked Rosa Parks to move seats. My wife regrets switching seats to sit with me.

  18. I would not change seats unless it was going to help a child or someone with special needs. In the aforementioned cases I would be happy to change seats.
    However, if a FA asked me to change seats, especially one that was a downgrade I would say no immediately, but I would do so politely. If he or she continued to question me about changing seats I would start recording the FA with the camera on my phone. You would be surprised how fast things change when someone is very aware they are being filmed. Suddenly a world of other options are now available that weren’t before.

  19. I was asked to move from a comfort seat (which I had actually paid for in this instance) to a standard seat, while in the middle of a movie I was enjoying. I didn’t think the reason was fair so I said no. No less than 5 minutes later, my entertainment center stopped working. Funny how that works.

  20. Detroit Runner Reply

    Flight from MCO to DTW, young girl first tries to board with the family boarding, even though clearly she is just trying to piggy back with her friends and the small child they have. Gate agent sends her back.
    Get settled on the plane in my C+ Aisle seat, right next to her friends and baby. She is sitting window bulk in comfort plus one row ahead with no seat in front of her so she has to put her bags overhead. She asks if i could switch with her and when i give her the quick no she turns red and starts complaining. I put my head phones on and didn’t care. When you clearly are trying to game the system, people notice and will respond accordingly.

  21. I was flying BA, like no daytime flight, and got asked if I would trade my seat. I had paid to select it and paid for economy plus. They were offering a middle seat for my aisle, so the discussion went no further. The FA was unpleasant the whole trip, but I think that’s just BA. Under normal circumstances (trade for an equivalent seat elsewhere), sure, I do it and the plane takes off on time. Offer me a major downgrade and no compensation? No brainer, it’s a polite no.

  22. I usually switch within the same cabin except not from an exit row in main cabin. The chances of a switch are increased if someone asks before I stow my gear and all the bins are full.

  23. As you have mentioned, numerous times, the Delta FA’s have their little handheld devices that know everything about us. As such, if they see we are Diamond or Platinum, they should be able to see our history, seats chosen, preferred seat etc etc. I would hope they would take the time to ask me to follow them to a private area to ask me this type of question so I am not made too embarrass myself or others. Chances are, they are not going to ask a Diamond to move from a first class seat to anything less. They will choose someone else to ask.
    As far as someone else asking, the simple answer is “no” if you are in said seat for a reason, paid for it, waited for it and are now in it. You can listen to their story of “woe” and if you see an equal swap, then it is up to you to decide. I have said NO plenty of times, and said yes a few times. I am educated, as you are, as to the nuances of seat selection, due to physical necessity, or personal needs (ie bathroom proximity or aisle seat), or front of cabin for food choice on certain numbered flights etc. This cannot be a question for the general public as we are all not viewed equally by Delta, nor ourselves nor by others. I do feel sorry that someone has not done their research or is oblivious to how airlines allocate seats, but that does not mean I have to pay for their obliviousness. If the story moves me enough however, I do move.

  24. charles russell Reply

    I was flying TPA-EWR to catch a connecting flight to DUB. I got economy bulkhead aisle, middle was an old lady who was obviously challenged in some way. We take off and get to 10000 and the old lady (turns out it was alzheimers) is moved by her family across the aisle and the large man that was in bulkhead window moves to the middle next to me. We start talking, one of those easy to talk to people, and he explains he felt bad so had offered to trade seats. Made me feel slightly bad because I would have been unlikely to do that (as most of the other commenters on this page). When we landed I had told this man I had a 4 hour layover in EWR with no lounge access. This guy insisted on walking me to the United lounge and bringing me in as a guest then heading off to home. So some people are just selfless and it makes you stop and think about your own priorities.

  25. Swap for swap is fine – but can someone tell me why it is that when I’m on a flight with a 2+3/4+2 config that if I’m in the 2 with half a couple and the other half of the couple is in the middle of the next section why they expect me to swap out so they can be together. God forbid they decide to perhaps give the person in the 3/4 section the minor upgrade to the 2 seat and they cope with a little discomfort in exchange for being able to sit together.

    I just say “sorry – not gonna move” and let them stew for the entire flight. I plan my flights around the seats I can get – got burned once as a college student traveling alone and swore I’d never let it happen again.

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