Should You Feel Obligated To Swap Seats On A Plane? A Former Flight Attendant Weighs In

If you are going to swap, here's where you're going to want to sit.

Trending Staff Writer
​An Air Canada plane. Right: Seats on an Air Canada plane.

An Air Canada plane. Right: Seats on an Air Canada plane.

The question of whether or not you should agree to swap seats with someone on an airline has proven to be a divisive one. But who better to voice their opinion on the matter than someone who works in the industry?

Dave*, a former flight attendant, spoke to Narcity about seat swapping and how a plane's cabin crew feels about passengers changing seats.

Dave, who previously worked as a flight attendant for Air Canada, weighed in on whether passengers should feel obligated to swap seats on a plane, and if they are going to swap, where on the plane they'd ideally want to be.

Are travellers allowed to swap seats on a plane?

"So long as it's within your same class, and within your ticket purchase, meaning, for example, if you purchased an overwing seat, you can basically sit anywhere in economy, including another overwing or premium seat, because you had already paid for that premium," says Dave.

"But if you're, let's say, just in the normal standard economy class seat, and you want to go to an overwing exit that has more legroom, for example, which people would normally pay for, we’ll actually not allow it because of that extra cost."

As for whether you're able to just swap seats without the intervention of a flight attendant, Dave says this is fine.

"All we ask on our end is if you ordered a special meal or have any special requirements, you have to let us know where you move to, or else we just can't find you," he says.

How do you switch seats on a plane?

"It's 100% better to do it at the gate or when you're checking in yourself, if you're doing it on your mobile phone," says Dave.

"There, you can see exactly who's where and once you finish your check-in, that is your seat."

"If you try to do it with a flight attendant on the aircraft, we'll do our best to help accommodate, but it's not a guarantee."

"So we always say, if you want to change your seat, or want to make any changes to your itinerary in general, always do it before the day of the flight, and if it's a seat, specifically, do it at check-in."

Is there any compensation for swapping seats?

While Dave says there's not much in the way of compensation for just swapping seats, getting bumped from your seat (and the flight altogether) is a different story.

"By law, [passengers] have to be offered some sort of compensation, whether it's monetary, or if they're not going to travel then there’s a form of compensation or care that has to follow; a hotel, or another equivalent, a flight," says Dave.

"This applies under certain circumstances for overbooked flights, cancelled flights and more."

"If we have to bump you off for something that was caused by the airline — any airline in Canada — we have to compensate you adequately, whether its a hotel, meals, luggage — if luggage was lost — clothing allotments, things like that, but if you're bumped off, you always get compensated."

"If it’s nothing you caused on your end, and it’s our issue, then we have to compensate."

Where is the best seat on the plane?

If you are going to swap seats, you'll probably want to know where the best (and worst) spot on the plane is before agreeing to switch.

Some might say the front of the aircraft is where you'll find the best seats, but, according to Dave, this really depends on what kind of traveller you are.

"If you're someone who gets, for example, air sick very often, or you're a very nervous flier and you don't like turbulence, the best seat on the plane is right above where the wings are," he says.

"Anywhere where the wings are will be your favourite spot, because it's the most stable spot on the plane."

Mainly, Dave says, there's one area of the plane you generally want to avoid.

"Most of the time, the only suggestion I offer people if they don’t have any preferences is anywhere that's not the back of the plane," he says.

"The very back of the plane is always the loudest, it's smelly because that's where the bathrooms are, and it has to be where the most turbulence is because most aircrafts tend to be tail heavy."

Dave says the back of the aircraft is also always where the galley of the plane is, or what the cabin crew would call the kitchen.

"That's where we work, so you get all the banging and the talking from us in there. That's another reason why a lot of people avoid the back of the plane altogether."

What things should travellers consider before making a seat swap?

"If you’re being asked to swap, know that you are within your rights to say 'no,'" says Dave.

"That's what I feel a lot of people tend not to realize and not know: you have the right, you have the choice at that point. And if you say no [to the person asking or even the cabin crew], it's your decision. You had that seat if you prebooked and everything, or even paid extra for it."

Dave also says that when flight attendants, specifically ask you about switching seats, you shouldn't feel any added pressure to do so.

"If we're asking you for a swap, we're not in any way trying to coerce you," he says. "If you're uncomfortable with it, tell us 'no.' Know that you have the right to say 'no.'"

Should passengers feel obligated to swap seats?

While there may be some debate around whether you should swap seats from the perspective of being courteous, Dave says there's no obligation from the point of the flight staff.

"There's really no expectation — at least from the airline or the cabin crew — for you to swap," he says.

"Some people may think that if it’s coming from the flight attendants, it's like a demand almost, but in truth, we’re just asking on behalf of someone else."

Are flight attendants usually in favour of seat swaps?

"Truth be told, we're not really in favor of it very much, because it does add to the workload for us," says Dave. "But if it means you're going to be happy throughout the flight, you’re going to be with your loved one, we will do anything."

"What a lot of people don't realize is the cabin crew is there to make sure you're safe and happy from point A to B, and we will do as much as we physically and possibly can to make that happen."

What tips do you have for those who want to swap seats on a plane?

"Schmooze your crew. I kid you not, I don't know why it works, but a happy crew can make anything happen for you," says Dave.

He says that small acts to show your appreciation like bringing a card to the staff or even just thanking them for their help can go a long way.

"Just treat your crew nicely," he says.

"Approach the subject with a smile on your face, with an open mind and a very kind attitude, and trust me, it will make your experience and the swap go 10 times more easily."

*Names have been changed to maintain confidentiality. Narcity has verified their identity.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Katherine Caspersz
Trending Staff Writer
Katherine Caspersz is a Staff Writer for Narcity Canada’s Trending Desk focused on evergreen travel and things to do, and is based in the Greater Toronto Area in Ontario.
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