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Do I Have to Switch Seats if Someone Asks?

Do You Have to Switch Seats If Someone Asks?

SmarterTravel

Welcome to our new travel advice column, Check Your Baggage! This month, we tackle the eternal dilemma: Do you have to swap seats if someone asks you to? Plus, what’s the most polite way to deal with a chatty seatmate, and are there rules for reclining your seat?

Do I Have to Switch Seats if Someone Asks?

Q: I set an alarm to log onto my airline’s website at the exact time that check-in opened. I paid extra to select my preferred seat. But when I boarded the plane, someone was in my seat and asked me to swap so that they could sit next to their travel companion. I felt pressured to say yes. What should I have done? –Julianna, Minneapolis, MN

A: You aren’t obligated to give up your seat or make any accommodations for this passenger if you have your seat assignment and ticket in hand, unless it’s a flight attendant telling you that you must move, in which case comply and complain to the airline later in order to avoid being dragged off the plane.

Even if you feel like being a good person, don’t agree to anything until you check out where the replacement seat is located. My stance is that the person looking to swap should always offer a seat change of greater or equal value to the person they want to switch with.

For example, if a couple is seated in two window seats and they want to be together, they should trade one of their window seats for a middle seat. If someone is asking you to switch your emergency exit row aisle seat for their back-of-the-plane middle seat, you can decline without feeling guilty. Simply explain that you selected the seat during the booking process and would prefer to keep it. Be polite but firm. You don’t owe any further explanation for your decision.

Is it Really That Bad to Recline Your Seat?

Q: How much does the person behind me hate me when I recline my seat? –Marc, Las Cruces, NM

A: The answer to this question really depends on how you do it. If you’re violently pushing your seat as far back as it will go before takeoff on a 90-minute flight, the person behind you is going to hate you and laugh at you when the flight attendant makes you put it upright before takeoff.

If it’s a long-haul flight and you’ve waited until after meal service, it’s pretty much expected that you’ll be reclining. You’ll get bonus good flyer points if you give a quick courtesy glance behind you to make sure you’re not about to send your seatback into a really tall person’s knees or smash into a drink.

Chatty Seatmates

Q: When I fly, I board with my noise-cancelling headphones on and immediately open up a book or close my eyes. But sometimes, I still get seatmates wanting to talk to me. How do I get them to stop without making them angry? –Jimena, El Paso, TX

A: Dealing with a chatty seatmate is a delicate balance. You don’t want to be stuck next to a person silently seething at you for being rude for the next nine hours, but you also don’t want to be dragged into a conversation with no escape route.

Signals like headphones and books are a good start, but persistent chatters won’t be deterred. To avoid looking rude, it’s always nice to answer their first question or two, and then politely let them know that you need to get some work done/are super excited to watch your movie/just took a bunch of sleeping pills and will be passing out now.

Got a burning travel question you want to see answered in next month’s column? Do you vehemently disagree with my answers to this month’s questions? Comment below or send me an e-mail.

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Caroline Morse Teel is a Senior Editor at SmarterTravel. Follow her on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline for photos from around the world. 

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