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What you should do if a fellow passenger on a plane insists you switch seats, according to travel experts

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You may like to think you’d always be the kind of person who would offer their seat to a family on a plane so they can all sit together.

There’s a heated discussion doing the rounds on social media about when you should switch seats, and under what circumstances you should refuse.

Travel experts say situations differ, and there may be legitimate reasons for asking for a swap, such as weight distribution, booking errors, and flight cancellations messing up people’s plans.

Utimatley, however, they say you are always entitled to say “no.”

Proceed with caution

Some travelers have been sharing their experiences on social media, saying that caution should be exercised when someone asks to switch seats because people “don’t always have the best intentions.”

One TikTok creator, called Nick, said a father ended up getting escorted off the plane by security when he became so angry that he didn’t give up his seat. The man said he wanted to sit with his sons, who were both fully grown men, Nick said.

Nick argued that switching seats is rarely simple, and it’s best to avoid the trouble.

“It was exhausting,” Nick said. “If you want to go on a trip, just plan it better.”

Another creator, named Rylie, said she paid an extra $40 to be in a window seat closer to the front of the plane to help her with her anxiety on one flight. A family with four kids walked up to her, she said, and the father grabbed her shoulder and asked her if she wouldn’t mind moving.

Rylie said she declined because she had paid to upgrade and explained why she didn’t want to sit in the middle. The man’s demeanor then “instantly changed,” she said.

“He looks me dead in the eyes and goes, ‘Oh, so you’re really going to just let a kid sit back there by herself in the middle seat and not be with her family?'” Rylie said.

“I was like, that’s the seat, right? Why don’t you sit there and let the other kid sit with her siblings and her mother? Why does it have to be me?”

Rylie said the man then told her, “Nobody cares about families anymore.”

Be polite but firm

Viewers have been leaving comments and getting involved in the debate.

While people were sympathetic that mistakes happen when booking flights, they were also quick to point out it is nobody’s fault but your own if you don’t organize well enough in advance.

“Poor planning on your part isn’t an emergency on my part,” one comment reads.

Another said: “Unless someone gives me a first-class seat, I’m not switching.”

Jessica Dante, a travel influencer and the founder of Love and London, told Business Insider that there are valid reasons someone may ask you to switch, such as helping someone who is traveling with young kids, someone with a fear of flying, or someone with a disability.

“But if you’re asking someone to do a swap for a lesser seat in their eyes, the other passenger is completely entitled to say ‘no,'” she said.

“The passenger being asked should assess the situation, ask what the reason for the request is, and have a look at the swapped seat,” Dante said. “If the swap means a less comfortable seat for you, it’s perfectly OK to say no.”

Dante said the best response is polite but firm, and if things start getting heated, a flight attendant should intervene.

Ally Gibson, the founder of the travel blog Ally Travels, told BI that for her, it comes down to a few details of the request: did they ask nicely, and are they suggesting a move to a better seat?

“If the answer to either of these is no, then I don’t switch,” she said.

Call for backup if needed

Gibson says she’s usually brief in her responses but suggests the other passenger asks the flight crew for help.

Airlines offer options to choose seats in advance, so it’s good practice for passengers to get in the habit of planning ahead.

Gibson said that while she sympathizes with parents, these issues should be addressed before the flight and, ideally, when booking their tickets.

“It’s frustrating paying extra to sit in a certain seat, only to be moved at the last minute because of other’s terrible planning,” she said. “It’s something that both the passengers needing changes and airlines need to do better at.”

Carrie Bradley, a former flight attendant and author of the travel blog Flying With A Baby, told BI arguing it is always poor planning is “a little harsh” because flight cancellations happen and booking glitches can mean families can be scattered throughout the plane, even if they have pre-booked.

But it is your own choice if you wish to move, she said. If the answer is no, her best advice is to “stay calm and politely refuse.”

“When I was a crew, we were always extremely grateful for any passenger that did accommodate a family split up and would make sure we paid extra attention to make their flight more enjoyable,” Bradley said.

“From a glass of fizz, to extra pillows and blankets, or maybe some treats from a premium cabin if available.”

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