Earlier today I wrote about an incident that occurred onboard an American Eagle flight in which two flight attendants bickered over whether a first class passenger could swap seats with a man in economy class so that she could sit with her husband. While the context of that story was the behavior of the flight attendants, here I want to explore the rules and etiquette surrounding seat swapping onboard.
Seat Swapping Onboard: Can A First Class Passenger “Give Away” Her Seat?
To recap the context, a woman was seated in first class and wanted to sit with her husband, who was seated in economy class. She wanted to go to the man sitting next to her husband and ask if he was willing to swap seats with her (I think that is the kind of seat swap most of us would never turn down, especially if traveling solo).
She asked one of the flight attendants, who told her she was welcome to make the swap. But another flight attendant quickly interrupted, denying the request and explaining it was against policy.
So what is the policy?
While the rules for seat swapping are generally not spelled out, generally there are two ways to approach this:
- Position One: The seat is mine and I can swap it with another passenger as I see fit.
- Position Two: If you are upgraded, you cannot just give your seat away to another person when there is a long list of eligible passengers waiting for a premium cabin seat. That isn’t fair!
The rationale for the second position is that if you do not want the upgrade, it should go to the next eligible passenger, not the person in economy class whose seat you want.
I personally take the first position, though. Think about it. If you want to sit with your husband, you are not going to be able to sit with him unless you can offer a better seat swap. And if your frequent flyer status earns you the upgrade, why shouldn’t you be able to make a trade onboard, as long as it happens just once (no going back and forth)?
I am of the opinion that seat swapping should be allowed as long as the exchange is voluntary and does not disturb other passengers.
The bottom line is that your mileage may vary in the sense that you might get different answers from different flight attendants on the same airlines, as we saw in this specific context. Thus, I recommend you just make the swap…
image: American Airlines