How to best handle being asked to change paid-for flight seats?

So I just got back from a delightful, if a “nothing is going according to plan” trip.

Coming home, we flew American and I had paid for specific seats on the plane. New experience given I usually fly Southwest (where it’s basically thunderdome). Overall, the flight itself was down right fantastic, but before we took off, there seemed to be a lot of “reorganization” of the paid-for-seats area to accommodate families who also paid for seats, but couldn’t get groupings. Either by the passengers themselves asking people to switch, or the flight attendants coming through and asking people to switch (This took, no lie, almost a full half hour, and with one Karen getting pissed that she wasn’t being accommodated well enough).

We ended up being, what I consider, lucky in not being asked to change seats, but if I fly American again (very possible), I feel this is likely to happen. Since obviously we’re apparently the only people on the planet who actually PLAN for things beyond 15 minutes from now, are there any tips in ensure I am not asked to change seats? Especially given the cost of the paid-for seats, and that I don’t choose my seats at random, they’re strategically selected for maximum enjoyment of the flight, I’d rather not change seats.

(Yes, I’m aware I can always say ‘no’, but I have no spine. So you might as well suggest I sit on the wing itself).

TL;DR: How can I be selfish and keep my seat while not appearing selfish?


Made say something to the flight attendant as you board?

It won’t help with your next flight, but I might also send an email to American, pointing out how uncomfortable that made you feel. Also, if people feel social pressure to change their paid-for seats will they pay for a seat on their next flight?

I just had an idea. I’ve used this on people high-pressure selling things on the street. In your case, catch the eye of the flight attendant when this has started and give them a No head shake. They probably really hate to ask and don’t want to be told No. So, they’ll just skip you. The No-shake probably won’t work for you on sales people since they seem to assume that only the woman’s No matters and based on your name I assume you are a guy.


You are never required to trade seats if asked. A polite, “No thank you,” and go back to your reading is all that is needed. You can also try for humor, “Is the new seat in first class? No? I’m fine right here, thank you.”

I fly A LOT and have status on United Airlines. And as I generally book way in advance, I check in on my flights often to make sure schedules haven’t changed or planes haven’t changed and they rearranged my seating. During Thanksgiving, as I was checking in for our flight home, I realized that between flying on Monday and checking in on Thursday for our Friday flight, they had changed planes (to a plane with a different seating configuration) and scattered my family around the plane. I (the one with status) was still in premium economy and now in a middle seat, but my 11 year old son (whose upgrade I had paid for) was back in the cheap seats, as was my husband (who I upgraded for free with my status) and they weren’t sitting next together. Luckily, I was able to get my son next to me, and my husband on a different row in premium economy, but those were literally the only two seats left.

All that to say, even if you plan way ahead of time, things happen.

I will gladly trade seats to not sit next to someone else’s kid - especially if I’m traveling by myself. I will say it’s VERY annoying to offer to trade seats with someone so they could sit next to their child and have them refuse. I’m not a babysitter.


I almost exclusively fly American since Charlotte is a hub and honestly that doesn’t happen all that often. Most of the time they take care of that at the gate before boarding by calling up passengers to the desk to ask them to switch which is a lot easier position to say no in vs when everyone is staring at you. I have only had to move seats three times over the years and I didn’t mind bc it was for handicap people. Any other time I usually say no, especially if I need to get off first to best people to the rental car counter.


I’ve been flying American out of Philly lately and I’ve never been asked to move seats. And i usually pay for bulkhead/exit row seats or Main Cabin Extra. I did see this once when my kid flew without me to Orlando to visit a friend, but it was out of Trenton on Frontier. (I didn’t buy the ticket, i would never fly them.)
Exit row seating would be the best choice as they can’t place little kids there legally. Other than that, its a crap shoot.


I’d might consider writing American.
This seems tricky. Edit- poor word choice. I buy tickets well
In advance to ensure I am next to my kids.

Also this sounds like a rarity. When I flew American I didn’t see any seat changing.

Hope you had a good trip!


I’m curious, what exactly would this do? I imagine they would give the standard line: “You’re not required to switch seats.”, wouldn’t they? Is there something else that would happen doing this?

Ok that’s fair. I just have that Karen in my brain as having CLEARLY not being able to get the grouping she wanted (there were no changes to the flight throughout as far as I know), and was berating the Flight Attendant for it. So my mind went to “people need to plan” only.

Apologies to anyone who actually has to deal with the flight shuffling them around without their consent, I wasn’t intending to disparage you at all. :slight_smile:

Pretty much why I would change seats . And this was that situation. The whole thing was with kids not being next to their family. I’m not liking the thought of me being that a-hole who kept a family separated.

And I would prefer that too, cause it’s more likely I could discuss options (and possibly refund of my seat) that way.


Hi! As someone soon to be on the other side of this. I am flying down with my daughter just the two of us and despite checking in 2 months in advance there were NO seats together only singles. Including for an up charge. I had to assign us seats and will need to beg strangers so my 6 year old will not have to sit alone. Sometimes the parents have done everything they can.


like i said, people like you I wasn’t envisioning with my “lack of planning” comment – unless you plan on insulting the flight attendant that is trying to help you, but i don’t think you are :).

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If you are willing to sit at an emergency exit row you might be less likely to be asked to move especially by family w/ children b/c children are not allowed to sit there (if I’m remembering correctly).

I was asked once to change seats w/ someone so their finance could sit w/ them. It was paid assigned seats. I refused b/c, if I remember clearly, they didn’t even board together and she waited until everyone was seated. And I noticed that she could have moved to sit next to him (there was an empty seat next to him) but didn’t want to. She just wanted me to move so I didn’t feel bad refusing.


I sat on an exit row going down. Never again. $53 dollars to feel like I flew in a cargo hold.

No wait…cargo holds have windows…


On more than one occasion I have booked my flight very early and chosen our seats very carefully (sometimes paid seats, sometimes not), only to arrive at the airport and find out they moved my infant in her car seat to a middle seat half a plane away.


haha… well you did ask for suggestions. I never sit in that row either but it’s b/c I don’t want to be responsible in an emergency.

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oh totally, it was just an excuse to bitch about those horrendous seats that I clearly overpaid for.

If someone wanted to switch me from those, I woulda thanked them and probably named my first born after them.

“No, Mike. Your name is now… Agatha…”

(and yes, it was you all along.)


Speak to them at the gate when you check in, they may be able to help you out before you get on the plane.


:laughing: :laughing:

I don’t have a suggestion…but I’m having flashes of the scene from The Middle where Frankie is ordering everyone to rearrange their seats on their plane!


I definitely do not! I am a very polite rule follower, I swear. Honestly it is giving me so much anxiety to have to think about bothering people to switch :tired_face:

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Sorry, not what I meant! Sounds like you tried to plan. It’s the being entitled part of his post that makes me wonder about some people! I hope it works out for you!

Oh man I would be so mad! That’s crazy!

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