How to Overcome Seat Bullying

I have noticed a lot of buzz both in the news and in feeds on Facebook that people are becoming much more emotional about their seat assignments on airplanes. Clearly, airline seats are not all created equal. The row of seats directly in front of the exit rows and the very last rows are always the worst because they don’t recline. If you’re traveling alone, the middle seat is always the worst no matter what row you’re in. The common theme that I notice when looking at the news and other feeds is that the fliers that are most upset are the ones that failed to plan ahead. They have no idea what type of airplane they are flying nor did they take the extra few minutes during the booking process to review the seat map and choose seats in advance. There are often two distinct upset parties: the upset singles and cranky couples.

The Upset Single Flier

The upset single flyer doesn’t realize that their “B” or “E” marked seat on a Boeing 737 or Airbus 320 means that they are in a middle seat until they arrive at their row number. They put up a huge fit and sometimes ask to trade saying things like “I really need to sleep, can I please have your window” or “my legs are too long, I really need the aisle seat to spread out.” The worst case is when they somehow manage to board before everyone else in the row, then play stupid and act as if the placards above the seat don’t correspond to the way that seats are assigned. Like the person who was assigned a “B” seat that thinks “B” is the window when it is clearly “A”.

One time, lady who clearly understood English when I asked why she was in my window seat responded back in Spanish that the correct seating sequence for the row on the right side of 737 is “F,E,D” with “F” being the aisle seat and “D” being the window seat. I wanted to blast back in Spanish that even 5 year-old knows that alphabet goes “A,B,C,D, E, F” and that she must surely knew that already, and was just trying to keep the seat. However, the flight was 60 percent full so I just moved a couple rows back and selected seats “D,” “E,” and “F” in the correct sequence to have all to myself. WIN!

The Cranky Couples

Cranky couples are the types that feel entitled to sit together no matter what inconvenience it causes to others. They will each be assigned two middle seats and then the guy will ask to trade his middle seat for your aisle or window so he can sit next to his wife or girlfriend. If you say no, they will raise hell and loudly complain about the injustice. You will be lucky if you don’t get cussed at or have their finger inches from your face. Even if you try to explain that you paid extra for your seat, they will still feel entitled.

Luckily my only experience with this was non-confrontational. I was actually in my favorite domestic First Class seat – 1A on Continental’s 757-300. I was exhausted and trying to sleep on my Anchorage – Houston direct flight that had an enroute stop in Seattle. In Seattle, a couple got on and the lady’s seat was 1B and her husband was in 4B. Weeks before when I had bought my seat (this is the one time in my life that I actually paid for First Class and only because it was a mere $50 more than Economy), I selected 1A because it has about a foot of extra space compared to other seats. When that couple saw the extra legroom in my row, I heard them say to each other “let’s see if that guy will move to my seat (4B) in the back.” Although I wasn’t quite asleep, I had my eyes closed so I pretended to be asleep as they asked me the question that I would have said “no” to. After asking twice, they resigned themselves to me being asleep and asked the guy in 4A if he’d like to trade up to a seat with more legroom. Why couldn’t they have done that in the first place!?

What You Should Do

Whenever you buy an airline ticket, you usually have the option to select a seat before you purchase the ticket. In fact, you can often view the seat map before you choose a flight. If you buy your seat last minute, it is very possible that all of the complimentary seats are unavailable. This will either force you to pay extra for a seat closer to the front or just wait for an assignment at the gate. If you wait for an assignment at the gate, you ultimately get whatever seat the agent can find for you. The best case scenario is that you will get a “premium” seat for free or that someone who had a decent complimentary seat will “no show.”  Sometimes, if my schedule is flexible, I will choose a flight that has open seats that don’t require additional fees. Or if the flights are packed with no complimentary seats available, I buy up to a row closer to the front.

In all cases, you should use www.seatguru.com to choose the best available seats. The site explains the pros and cons of each seat based on your aircraft type and the row number. I have been using this site for 10 years and it has ensured good seat selection the entire time.

If someone plays dumb by willfully taking your seat and will not give it back after you point out their error, let the flight attendant sort it out. If someone asks you to trade for a worse seat, you don’t have to comply. Let that person look like a jerk by insulting you. Your seat is your seat. Finally, if you paid extra for a seat, don’t ever let someone make you think that they have the right to take your seat or make you switch. I have already decided in advance that if someone wants a seat that I paid extra for, they will have to pay me a premium for it.

Your seat is your seat. These days, you probably paid extra for it in cash. If you didn’t pay extra, you paid for it by spending extra time to research and plan your trip better than everyone else. That seat is your reserved, paid space for the duration of the flight and no one, except a flight attendant has the right to tell you otherwise.