Air Travel Etiquette: Do You Have to Switch Seats if Someone Asks?

A travel etiquette question for you.
You did the research, you did all sorts of pre-flight work to get your ideal seat. You checked-in and boarded properly. Your carry-on is safely stowed and you’re buckled in, ready for take-off.
Suddenly, there’s a tap on your shoulder and you’re asked to swap seats. What’s the travel etiquette for a situation for this? Should you do it? Do you have to?
Short answer: No, unless. . .
There are many reasons someone will want to swap seats with you: their companion is seated next to you, you’re in a preferred location (window versus aisle), or someone doesn’t like something about their own seat.
So what should you do?
First of all, you are under no obligation to switch, so get rid of the guilt. You paid for that seat, you chose that seat, and if you paid for the privilege to be able to choose it early, there’s no reason you should ever have to give that up.
The decision is yours, unless — there’s the “unless” — a flight attendant makes the request personally. Basically, if the flight attendant asks you to switch seats, you have to: There’s no “travel etiquette,” that’s the rules. If a passenger asks, you do not have to swap at all.
If you are considering a swap, check the location of your possible new seat. Chances are if it’s undesirable to someone else, it will be for you too. Like if they’re in the middle seat, and they’re hoping they can sit with their companion — also in the middle seat in your row.
Don’t make the switch! You may have a cranky traveler sitting next to you, but again, you shouldn’t feel guilty: you did everything you were supposed to, so there’s no reason you should get the short end of the stick because someone else didn’t plan properly. If anything, it’s poor travel etiquette to even ask and expect you to take a less desirable seat.
The only reason you should consider switching seats is if the new seat is of greater or equal value to yours. Then it’s worth your while.
But don’t give up an aisle or window for a middle seat. And if you prefer the aisle or window, don’t give up your favorite spot for a less favorable one. But if you’re in the middle seat and someone is offering you an aisle or window, do it with a smile on your face and thank your benefactor heartily. Maybe consider buying them a drink.
Regardless of your response, do so politely. If you don’t want to change, be polite but firm. Remember, you don’t owe anyone an explanation, and you’re not in the wrong for wanting to keep the seat you paid for.
Have you ever been in this kind of travel etiquette situation? What did you do? How did you handle it? Share your stories with us on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter stream. You can also find us on our Instagram page at @TravelproIntl.
Photo credit: Matthew Hurst (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)