Are Seat Changes Allowed On Board Due to Unruly Passengers?

Aug 14, 2016

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TPG reader Marjorie sent me a message on Facebook to ask about changing seats:

“Can I request another seat if I get on a plane and the row behind me has a toddler in it? I just had an awful trip from Frankfurt to LAX that involved the children behind me screaming the whole flight and kicking my chair.”

If you want to start an argument about the airline industry, ask a group of people how they feel about children on airplanes. It’s a contentious issue: Some travelers consider children among the worst types of passengers, and have little tolerance for them. Personally, I see adults misbehaving in the air far more often than children, and I have no problem with kids flying (even in first class). That said, younger children are sometimes given a pass for conduct that would get most people booted from the plane, and it’s good to have a strategy for dealing with unruly passengers of any age.

To answer Marjorie’s question specifically, there’s no harm in asking to be moved to another seat in your cabin. If the flight is wide open, you might be able to switch once boarding is complete, but don’t be surprised if flight attendants ask you to wait until after takeoff. I don’t recommend changing seats on your own unless you’re swapping with another passenger or just moving to another seat in your row.

More generally, if you’re being bothered by another passenger, you may want to try and work through it amicably before getting the flight crew involved. Flying doesn’t bring out the best in everyone, but most people are reasonable, and asking nicely will have good results more often than not. Parents can be sensitive about strangers talking to their kids, but I think it’s okay to politely correct a child’s behavior yourself. You can always interact through the parent if you feel that’s more appropriate.

If you can’t get any traction on your own, then feel free to ask a flight attendant to intervene. Some amount of noise goes with the territory, but nonstop screaming should be checked, and kicking the seat in front of you repeatedly is not acceptable at any age. Marjorie would have been perfectly justified in asking for assistance, whether that involved relocating to a new seat, instructing the parents to be more alert or some other solution.

Most children
Most children on planes are well behaved, but have a plan for when they’re not. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

One other suggestion is to try and establish a friendly relationship with the people seated near you before takeoff. A lot of flyers just slip their headphones on and try to ignore one another, but even if you don’t feel like socializing, a simple “good morning” or “how’s it going?” will give you something to work with when you need a favor later.

If you’re worried about a toddler seated behind you, you can direct those positive vibes toward the parents. Telling someone they have a cute kid can help if there’s a problem later on, since you’ll seem more like a friendly and familiar face instead of an irritated stranger.

If you have any other questions, please tweet me @thepointsguy, message me on Facebook or send me an email at

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