A few years ago I was flying from Atlanta to Honolulu when a fellow passenger made an offer I could refuse, and did.
The gentleman wanted me and the passenger sitting next to me to move. It seems that the petitioning fellow and his wife were sitting separately. After determining from my seat mate that the said seat mate and I were strangers to each other, the gentleman proposed that we give up our seats so that he and his wife could take them and sit together. After, all what would it matter to us?
My seat mate agreed to the deal but I declined, much to the ire of the wannabe seat trader, who complained loudly for much of the remaining flight time about my intransigence. It was a nine-hour flight but it seemed shorter. The guy was so entertaining in his outrage the time just flew by.
This experience came back to mind when I read (in Business Insider, via Jaunted) about an entrepreneur, one Jason Goldberg, who bitched vociferously about a fellow passenger’s refusal to switch seats so that he, Jason Goldberg, could sit with a colleague. “Who does that?” asked Mr. Goldberg on Facebook.
Well, there’s me and at least that one other person. Actually, I think lots of people do that, and quite reasonably so. In my view, there are only two reasons to give up my seat: because I have to or because I want to.
I have to switch seats when the flight attendant tells me to. For example, when somebody with a leg cast or a service dog needs a bulkhead, it’s eviction time. I get up and do as I’m told.
I want to switch seats when offered a better or equivalent seat. And I want to switch seats when the person who asks for a trade really needs it.
I’ve traded seats, even from an aisle to a middle, so that parents can be with their children. I’ve even made the offer without their having to ask. I’d certainly switch for an elderly couple or a disabled person, and probably for honeymooners, though I’ve never been asked.
(And come to think of it, seriously, some planning is in order for a honeymoon — at least enough to pick adjoining seats. If people claiming to be on their honeymoon ever ask me to switch seats I will probably assume they’re lying. Or that planning is such a foreign concept to them that they’ll be back in nine months with a baby, probably wanting to switch seats again.)
There are many good reasons to give up a seat voluntarily. For example, it’s wonderful to see passengers trade a first-class seat with uniformed military personnel for a coach seat. It’s not just a gesture but truly an act of kindness and respect.
Absent an order from the cabin crew, each passenger must consult his or own conscience about trading seats. My criteria may not be the same as yours. But too often people give up a good aisle or window seat for a middle seat simply for the convenience of another passenger who is pushy, or perhaps to avoid a confrontation. And despite the fact that I am a generally agreeable person, I don’t think that’s necessary or even right.
Maybe it’s because I’m an American, a firm believer in motherhood, apple pie and two aphorisms: first come, first served and you get what you pay for. If you can buy your way into first or business class with cash or miles, bully for you. If you buy your ticket early, do a little planning and get one of the better seats in coach, bully for you, too.
Which brings us back to seat 63K in that Delta 747 to Honolulu, my seat. The pickings were slim by the time I bought my ticket, but I did some research and discovered that 63K is one of just a few seats in that aircraft with a little room between the window seat and the window. It’s at the point where the fuselage tapers so that the rows of three seats become, for a few rows at the very back of the jet, rows of two seats with several inches of extra space on the side.
I generally prefer the aisle, but the extra space turned that window seat at the back of the bus into a bonus pick. I could stretch my legs a little, at least on one side, and there was room next to the seat for my little carry-on full of nine hours worth of diversion. SeatGuru says some people don’t like that particular seat because they can’t lean against the window to sleep, but I can rarely sleep on a jet.
It was not clear whether the trade I was offered was for an aisle, middle or window seat. It was conveyed through my seat mate without that detail. But I knew there was no other seat I would prefer at the back of the jet, and so I declined to give up my carefully and strategically chosen spot to a couple who could provide me with no more compelling reason than that they preferred to sit together.
If they were honeymooning, he failed to mention it. If one of them was sick or physically impaired so as to require the care of the other, it was not readily apparent. If they were simply a couple who could not bear to be apart for nine hours, I hope they work in the same place.
My husband and I have been seated apart on a plane many times, and we have never asked anyone to switch. Sometimes we even sit apart voluntarily because the aircraft isn’t full and we can each have our own row to stretch out in. (This may explain how we’ve stayed married for 22 years.)
So back to Mr. and Mrs. Gimmeyourseat. I don’t know why they didn’t have adjacent seats. I don’t want to judge. But we all have to start learning sometime if we’re going to travel, and I like to think I gave them a free lesson about the importance of selecting seats in advance, particularly if one is strongly attached to the company of one’s travel companion.
But maybe that lesson was not immediately effective. Because the gentleman in question did not seem to feel that anyone but I was responsible for his unsatisfactory seating arrangement. Certainly not he. “I don’t know what her problem is,” he said repeatedly and quite audibly as he loitered about the back of the jet, telling his story to everyone who came to use the aft lavatory.
Perhaps I could have explained to him that had all other things been equal, I would have traded seats — even though I was under no obligation to do so. He may not have understood that he was asking me to give up a better seat than he could offer. I never spoke to him directly and I don’t know what my seat mate said to him.
But then, I’m not sure I needed to tell him anything. This is one of those situations where no means no and any appeal can be brought to the flight attendant — but it had better come with a leg cast or a seeing-eye dog.