What Is the Most Diplomatic Way to Say No If Someone Wants to Swap Seats on an Airplane?

Jul 7, 2017

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Quora.com is a question-and-answer site where content is written and edited by its community of users. Occasionally we syndicate content from the site if we think it will interest TPG readers. This article originally appeared on Quora.com in response to the question, What is the best or most diplomatic way to say “no” if someone asks you to swap seats with them on an airplane?


Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia:

I think it depends on the context. In many cases, you should try to find it in your heart to say “yes” because in my (extensive) experience, people usually only ask when they want to sit next to a family member or closer to children. Some seat swaps are absolute no-brainers in terms of saying yes. If it’s trading an aisle seat for an aisle seat, window for window or middle for middle, then what difference does it make? Say yes.

Some trades are actually beneficial for you, for example, moving from a middle to an aisle seat. Whenever I’ve foreseen a problem in which I’m going to need to ask for a trade to sit by my family, my objective in selecting my seat is to pick one that is more desirable than the one I want so I can offer someone, for example, an aisle seat in exchange for a middle seat that I need for my family.

But in the end, if someone is offering you a worse seat and for some reason that isn’t good enough, I think the best approach is to just be friendly and polite and say “no.” If someone is asking you to give up a nice aisle seat in exchange for a middle seat, then a friendly rejection isn’t likely to make them go crazy — and if they do, it’s their problem, not yours.


Lilian Raji, Frequent Flyer:

While most people prefer the aisle, I prefer the window. I like looking out the window during a flight, and I also like to sleep with my head against the window. 99% of the time, I haven’t slept the day before my flight in preparation for the business portion of my travel, so I catch up on missing sleep on a flight. The window seat is crucial for me to do so comfortably. When my schedule permits, I purposely choose flights that have available window seats and, in the worse case scenario, will pay extra to have a window seat. So when I’m asked to swap a seat, the only way I will agree is if the exchanged seat is a window seat or if it’s in consideration to a family, such as a parent needing to sit with a young child.

I once had an incident where, when I arrived at my seat, a young, twenty-something year-old girl was already strapped in to my coveted window seat. When I explained to her that she was in my seat, she responded that she really prefers window seats and asked if I’d mind switching to her middle seat. Of course I mind. I also prefer a window seat and I purposely and strategically ensured I would get that seat. I didn’t explain this to her as it was none of her business. The seat was mine. I simply told her no, I would prefer to have my own seat. She rolled her eyes at me, then unnecessarily took several minutes to unbuckle herself and move out of my seat. I’m not sure if she thought taking a long time to get out of my seat was going to make me reconsider my position. All it did was hold up the other passengers trying to get to their seats.

In any case, I think it’s rude to ask another passenger to give up their seat just because you would prefer to have the seat they booked. A simple no should suffice. Let that person stew the entire flight while you sit comfortably in the seat that you had the foresight to book.

We want to know: Would you swap seats if someone asked you to? Sound off, below!

Featured image courtesy of Bradley Gordon via Flickr.

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