Awkwardness in the sky: Asking to switch seats on planes

switch seats on planes

Flyers are of two minds about the issue of asking someone to switch seats on planes. Some people think it’s no big deal; others find the practice awful and annoying. I was firmly in the camp of those who have absolutely no opinion on this matter either way. Until it happened to me. Now I understand why people find this travel habit to be inconsiderate and rude.

My entire life revolves around avoiding two things: being uncomfortable and being inconsiderate. So I do everything in my power to make sure I get an aisle seat whenever I fly. Because when I fly, I use the bathroom a lot. And as nice as window views may be, the idea of waking someone up so I can get up and pee is completely unacceptable to me. I don’t want to hold it in and I especially don’t want to bother anyone else.

Therefore I go out of my way to book seats online, ask the check-in attendant, talk to the gate agent – all to make sure I’m sitting in the aisle.

On a recent flight, after I was already seated, a gentleman asked me if I wanted to take the window; that he didn’t mind switching. I turned down his kind offer, explaining that I prefer the aisle. Then his offer turned out not to be so much a favor, but a request. He explained that he didn’t want to bother me when he got up to use the bathroom. He said he had a condition that makes him urinate often. I said, me too! At which point, he felt it necessary to explain that it was a rare condition and that he’s on medication, as if I couldn’t possibly also have a small bladder and pee often when I fly.

Still, I didn’t budge and he sat in the damn window seat he was assigned. But then I had to spend the entire flight making sure to get up to pee more than he did so he would see that I rightfully deserved the aisle (Curb Your Enthusiasm, are you looking for writers?).

The entire experience was only very mildly annoying, but it made me realize that the act of asking someone to switch seats on planes is fucking intrusive and rude on principle.

By asking someone to switch seats, you put strangers in a position where they might have to explain a personal medical reason for picking a certain seat. What if I had a UTI? What if I had a deathly phobia of windows? What business is it of yours? Because if you don’t have a legitimate excuse, you come off as inflexible and risk not being left alone by some random person. This is especially obnoxious because the solution is simple. If you do have a (very rare) medical condition that requires accommodation, the airline will do so. You just have to tell them in advance, and you’ll get the right seat for you without having to pester any other travelers. Which is exactly why I had the aisle seat I wanted.

This also happens a lot when people want to sit together. I know airlines cut corners any way they can, so they’ll purposefully separate families and couples and friends in the hopes that they’ll pay for an assigned seat together. But instead of paying, people hold up the boarding process by asking 50 people around them to move around. And honestly, unless it’s a 4+ hour flight, is it really that imperative for you to sit next to your sister/husband/girlfriend? Either suck it up and pay or deal with it and sit alone. It’s no one else’s problem.

In this day and age, passengers will do anything to find comfort when flying. Someone might have done all the research on Seat Guru ahead of time or paid extra for their seat, because of whatever imperceptible quality that makes it premium seating. They might have considered proximity to the toilets, the chance of survival in the event of a crash, their connection time at the arriving airport. Imagine doing all that work to have some asshole who didn’t walk up and demand your seat. Don’t be that asshole.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. If a couple tries to do that sneaky thing where they book a window and aisle seat in the hopes of getting the row to themselves, I probably wouldn’t mind being bumped out of the middle seat. If someone for whatever reason wanted to offer me their first class seat in exchange for my 35J, fine!

But if anyone else ever asks me to switch seats again, my answer will definitely be no because of the principle of the matter. I’m not an airline agent, so your seat placement isn’t my responsibility. And I don’t owe anyone an explanation, but I will throw in a petty pissing contest for free.