Seat kidnapping is a term I’d never heard of or even knew existed until recently but sadly, it’s now a thing. I first heard of people stealing other travelers’ assigned seats when my friend, a well-respected and known travel writer, Benet Wilson (aka Aunt Benet or ‘the Queen’, which aviation geeks call her), described a Southwest Airlines incident on her personal Facebook page. RELATED: Taylor Swift’s Clever Southwest Airlines Tip For Keeping the Seat Next to You Empty
Benet gave me permission to reprint it here: “Y’all! I have a new twist on the airline seat thing. I’m in my aisle seat and a man asked if he could sit in the window seat. I got up and stepped back so he could get in. Suddenly this dude plops in my aisle seat. I tell him that I’m actually sitting there (yes, my bag was under the seat). He moved my bag and said the middle seat was free. Before I could say anything, window seat dude tells him that I moved from my seat to let him in. He said tough luck. Window dude called the flight attendant before I had a chance. I said hi to her when I boarded and she complimented my T-shirts and Southwest earrings. She looked him dead in his eye and told him that he needed to move before she called the pilot. He sputtered that I moved, but window dude and the flight attendant both told he needed to move-quickly. He did and I’m now comfy in my aisle seat. #winning”
I don’t know about you but this made my blood boil. I can tell you if this happened to me, I would not have been as polite or calm as Benet. For someone to have the gall to do this says so much about the kind of person they are. Fortunately, Benet had a seatmate who witnessed what happened and stuck up for her, as well as the flight attendant. But what would have happened if no one had seen and it was simply one person’s word against another’s? Perhaps that’s what the rude passenger was banking on.
Benet’s incident happened back in April and I thought it was just a wild one-off so I didn’t write about. But I’ve heard of other incidents like this happen on Southwest Airlines as well since they don’t assign seats. It’s open seating, so first come first serve, which is why there’s been a huge uptick in passengers who pretend to need a wheelchair to board their flights but miraculously walk off the plane on two perfectly functioning legs. That’s another story.
On an airline that does assign seats, Benet wouldn’t have needed anyone to witness the incident because your seat assignment is on your ticket. But there have been plenty of cases where people still try to sit in seats that aren’t their own – especially ones that cost more because they have more legroom. I’ve boarded the aircraft to find someone sitting in my seat many times, including an A-list celebrity who pretty much begged me to give her my window seat. I did.
I also had someone steal our seats on the ferry to Catalina. I didn’t know it until after we got off, when my wife said she had all four seats for us on the upper back deck when a couple just sat down in two of them. The polite Canadian in my wife didn’t say anything so she sat inside with my daughter. I was downstairs dealing with our checked bags and figured she had been too slow to secure the best seats.
But the inspiration for this article and headline came from a story I read yesterday in the South Morning China Post about a woman in China who refused to give up a train seat booked by another passenger. According to the article, “The woman had only paid for a standing ticket but wanted to sit beside her husband, so she took the seat of another passenger. When that passenger boarded the train, the woman refused to move. “We are married. We already have a marriage certificate. I already have a child with him,” the woman says in the video. The other passenger replied: “What does your marriage have to do with me?””
The comment that struck me was this one: “High-speed trains in China have recently seen numerous cases of so-called “seat kidnapping”.” That’s where we’re at people.
I’ve had people sitting in my seat on trains too including a few weeks ago when traveling between Rome and Napoli but the Americans didn’t realize and apologized. Often, it’s an innocent mistake and I’ve been on the opposite end of it as well.
If you’ve had someone deliberately kidnap your seat, leave a comment. What happened and what did you do? The best thing to do is to remain calm and call the flight attendant or train conductor over and let them know. If you have a seat assignment you really don’t have to worry about it. If you’re flying an airline that doesn’t assign seats, then you better hope someone saw since it’s your word against theirs.
• How to Save Money With a Secret Third Carry-On
• How to Use Your Wireless Headphones to Watch In-Flight Movies
• 10 Airport Security Hacks Every Traveler Should Know
• How to Get the Best Coach Seat on the Plane
• The Sleep Hack Every Traveler Needs to Know
• Never Get Your Valuables Stolen on the Beach