What's the Best Way to Ask to Switch Seats on an Airplane?

It's a big request.

You're about to book a flight with your partner, colleague, or family member, and the online seat map only shows options located far apart from one another. Well, you figure, you can just ask someone to kindly switch with you when you get on board, right? You could, theoretically — but regular fliers know that the logistics, and the etiquette, of such a move are getting increasingly more complex.

To be a considerate passenger, keep in mind both the etiquette and the necessity of the ask before you go for it.

Thomas P. Farley, also known as Mister Manners, says he’s not a fan of passengers rearranging entire series of rows just because they can't imagine taking a 90-minute flight next to a significant other. The etiquette expert behind What Manners Most says, “Read a book! Watch a movie! You'll have the entire trip to be together once you arrive. A bit of separation on the journey could even make your heart grow fonder.”

In the case you still have to make the ask, Farley advises the more considerate, the better. If the traveler declines, be gracious and understand it is his or her prerogative to say no. For one thing, passengers may have paid premiums these days to select that specific seat — so the ask is bigger than it used to be in the days of free standard seat selection. (Remember the old days?)

If the traveler agrees, "Offer to help in any way, [such as with moving] carry-ons. And be generous with your thank yous, not just to the volunteer, but to all those affected by your mayhem-inducing musical chairs."

Naturally, it never hurts to return the favor by buying someone a drink!

Family travel expert Kirsten Maxwell of Kids are a Trip suggests that simply staying upbeat and positive — and definitely polite — frequently gets results. She says has never seen anyone refuse to switch seats before, especially when it comes to passengers traveling with a child.

She offers some additional recommendations to further ease the burden: First, call the airline ahead of time and simply ask — or tweet the airline and beg to sit together. (You might be surprised at what works!) As well, you can try getting to the airport early and talking to the agent at the baggage counter.

Beyond that, just breathe: Unless children are involved, it may be just fine, and even pleasant, to hang out solo for a stint and enjoy the journey.

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