And should you do it?

By Michelle Darrisaw
January 04, 2018

When flying, there are unspoken rules that exist. For starters, you shouldn't take off your shoes on the plane. Secondly, unless you want to aggravate the flight attendant, you should probably skip ordering the Diet Coke. Speaking of your drink order, we'd advise forgoing the coffee and tea. Just trust us on it.

But what's the proper flight etiquette when it comes to switching seats on a plane? Should you feel pressured to give up your precious aisle or window seat just because someone wants to be closer to their loved one? The short answer is no. However, since we Southerners are a hospitable bunch, we know how hard it may be to instinctively deny someone's request. Here's a factoid that should make you feel better. Beyond it being a huge inconvenience, there's actually a legitimate safety concern when swapping.

"Passengers are required to take the seats listed on their boarding passes during boarding and take off for a variety of reasons," said Ad van Aken, supervisor and protocol for KLM's public relations team. "It is important for the weight balance of the plane, for security reasons so we know which passengers are in which seats, and because of special requests, such as special meals or wheelchair passengers."

In the event you find yourself in the same desperate situation the next time your booking plans go awry, here's how you can politely decline unwanted seat requests and not ruin your own karma for saying "no."

First, it's important to keep these two C's in mind: compassion and confidence. You want to be firm in your response, but you should also have some empathy for the mom who has to sit in a seat away from her children or the happy newlyweds who have to sit apart. After all, a little kindness goes a long way. A simple and friendly, "I'm sorry, no" will suffice, and it won't lead to the passenger hoping to wear you down with their persistence.

Of course, there's an argument to be made for agreeing to reasonable seat swap requests, such as trading an aisle seat for another aisle in a different row or giving up the middle seat for an aisle seat—particularly if you're flying solo.

Keep in mind that you don't owe anyone an explanation. Unless the swap offers you a better seat or upgrade, it's not worth being mad the entire flight because you acquiesced to a request. And if you're the passenger asking to swap, it's important to not hold a grudge against a fellow passenger for not wanting to give up the seat they paid for.

If you're the swappee, you should accept that the answer to your switch request might be met with a hard "no." And if you're the potential swapper, your friendly rejection might elicit a few annoyed stares for the duration of your flight.

Airplane cabins are already small and frightening spaces. The last thing you should have to worry about is making an enemy all because you declined their offer to swap.