There have been a lot of stories in the news lately about passengers asking to switch seats on airplanes. For example, here’s a video of a woman who says this is the right way to get airplane passengers to switch seats with you. I’ve covered the issue before but it’s worth bringing up again since it’s such a hot topic, and especially because people seem to be reprising an old scam. RELATED: Are You Obligated to Switch Seats on a Plane?

First, let’s be clear: I’m not saying that everyone who asks you to switch seats on a plane is trying to scam you. But just know that some of them are. If you’re wondering what the scam is, it usually goes something like this:

Passenger A buys or snags a seat with extra legroom, then tries to get their seatmate to switch with their travel companion, who’s in regular economy. This situation just happened and the New York Post wrote about it here: I refused to switch seats with a mom’s teen son — she cursed me the whole flight

According to the article: “Passenger Surya Garg claims she was asked to swap her window seat by a woman who was in the middle seat next to her and wanted her son to have Garg’s seat. “I’m like, ‘Who’s your son?’” the New Yorker — who didn’t name the airline — recalled in a TikTok video. “And she points to this, like, 6-foot-5 man!” Garg noted that her son was “a minimum of 16 or 17 years old” and looked like an adult.”

RELATED: Why You Shouldn’t Pay Extra For American Airlines Preferred Seats

Garg then went on to say, “I said, ‘Look, I’m sorry, no. I paid extra for this seat,” she explained — which reportedly didn’t go over well with the mom. Garg claims that when she didn’t switch, the woman immediately turned nasty — and muttered profanities under her breath for the duration of the flight.”

You can watch the video of exactly what happened here:

@surya_garg for real like was I wrong #nyc #airplane #airplaneseats ♬ original sound – Surya Garg

Seems almost everyone in the comments section feels Surya was in the right for standing her ground. And one commenter said what many of us are already thinking … that this situation is happening more and more because people aren’t willing to pay extra for seats together and expect a fellow passenger to give up their seat for them.

Some examples of comments include:

Even Expedia agrees with her.

A couple of weeks ago, a different passenger made headlines when something similar happened to her and she told the passenger to “go back to row 26 where you belong.” According to The Independent: “She says she was travelling on a more than four-hour flight from Hawaii to Seattle, and sitting in row eight, which was premium economy, when a woman from around 20 rows behind came up and asked the lady beside her to swap seats. Arleen described the lady who was asked as “a little Asian woman… I think she’s Japanese”. She recalls that the woman came up to their row and said “I wanna sit next to my friend”, who was in the aisle seat beside the pair. “And she looks at the Asian lady next to me and says, ‘Let’s switch seats. I’m back in row 26’”.

This is obviously a no-go. You don’t need me to tell you that if you paid for or even scored a seat in premium economy, not to switch with someone who is in regular economy.

So, if you do have a legitimate reason to ask someone to switch seats with you, be sure you’re bringing something to the table. For example, how about you give up your premium legroom seat up so you can sit with your partner in regular economy?

I’ve done this multiple times when I was upgraded but my wife (then-girlfriend) was not. I would go back to her seat and ask her seatmate if they wanted to move to first class. They would look at me like they’d just won the lottery.

Another time, I was flying to Las Vegas and a mother and her little child, around four years old, were in middle seats across the aisle from each other. I was in the aisle and the little kid was crying, “Mommy, I want to sit next to you!” I didn’t wait for the mother to ask me to switch seats; I just volunteered, as it was heartbreaking. Well, wouldn’t you know it, for my good deed, about a minute later, down plops a Hawaiian Tropic model in the other aisle seat. This was 20 years ago or so and I was single. She told me she was afraid to fly and asked if there was turbulence, would it be okay if she held my hand? It was the first time I wished for a bumpy flight … and I got one.

I also got some good karma from switching seats on an American Airlines flight from LAX to JFK. I was sitting in business class and the passenger across the aisle asked me to switch seats so he could sit next to his wife. I said no problem. It was the same seat, just across the aisle. About an hour later, something minor went wrong with his seat, meal or entertainment system so the flight attendant gave him 10,000 bonus miles. But turned out, she gave them to me by accident! After she realized her mistake, she gave him 17,000 miles so we all made out. So, it really does pay to be nice. Just don’t get suckered.


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6 Comments On "Stop Falling For the Seat-Switching Scam Economy Passengers Are Pulling"
  1. Stacey Wittig|

    Sad story. I typically pay extra for a window seat and wouldn’t want to give it up. I’d be happy to swap for another window seat!

  2. David R. Miller|

    I would ONLY consider switching seats if the seat offered was equal to or better than the one I have.

  3. Zac|

    Thank you for saying this! I have the misfortune of being both generous and tall, and I’ve given up window seats with good legroom for cramped middle seats so friends should sit next to each other. I did this a few times before realising that they could just ask someone next to their shitty seat to swap instead ?

  4. Lonn Wolf|

    I hate it when people with large dogs sit next me and their dogs significantly encroach on my leg room. Comfort animal or not wanting to pay for shipping? Smells, a hazard if you need to go to the bathroom or there is an emergency. Pay for that space or take Amtrak. The flight attendants frequently have to bump somebody out of their window seats so they don’t create a hazzard.

  5. Jennifer|

    I had a similar-but-different experience with AA. I paid to upgrade my seat (I think about $20) when I purchased the ticket. Once the plane was boarded I was asked to switch my seat to the exit row because the passenger there had a large dog. I am the rare exception who doesn’t like the exit row because I don’t need the leg room and like to have the seat in front of me for storing items under and for the tray/display etc. I didn’t argue because other than my original row (3 seats two were empty) the entire flight was full and I knew we wouldn’t take-off with a dog in the exit row. But I got no response from AA requesting a refund of the seat upgrade. It was not a big deal but wondered if people have had to give up seats due to airline issue/flight attendant request and what to do.


    I really don’t understand why people can’t be apart for a couple of hours. Aren’t they apart when they go to work?

    The exception is I will gladly give up my seat so an elderly couple can sit together…in fact in the past I have volunteered to do so before even asked.

    My friend was on a flight to Australia, in a seat that he had selected far in advance, and these two girls asked him to switch so they could sit together…the seat they wanted him to sit in was a middle seat between two beefy guys and he politely said no, and they got angry at him. If people get angry when you refuse, it just proves that you were right not to switch seats in the first place.

    After reading this column, I’ve hit upon a solution: since I speak multiple and disparate languages, the next time someone asks me, I’ll respond in a language that I’m pretty certain they can’t speak. :-)

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