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Miss Malsy and Airport Seating

Via’s travel advice maven weighs in on good manners and karma on an airplane.


Q A woman on the plane asked me to give up my aisle seat for her middle spot in another row so she could sit next to her boyfriend. Is it OK that I said no?

A You were certainly stuck between a rock and a hard place: Either make the trade and suffer in a less comfortable seat, or deny the request and spend the rest of the trip with the label Cruel Impediment To Love’s Union emblazoned on your forehead—not to mention a lonely boyfriend grumbling at your side.

In terms of the law, you had no obligation to make the trade. Only if safety is a concern can a seat switch be legally required. Certain airline policies also allow flight attendants to rearrange passengers in cases of unsafe weight distribution. Otherwise your seat is like your very own nation-state: You determine its trade policy.

You had every right to sit tight. That said, some passengers—seven footers, anxious aerophobes, and elders with arthritic knees—have compelling reasons for seeking a different perch. And it never hurts to practice a little in-flight kindness and agree to a swap. You may be less comfortable sitting scrunched between two people. But by the time the plane lands, you’ll have earned something more valuable than frequent flier miles: good karma.



This article was first published in March 2006. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.