There's an etiquette to claiming those spare rows on a plane... and you're doing it wrong.

Picture this: you've boarded your flight early, found your seat and sat down. You don't buckle up your seat belt just yet because there's a glimmer of hope that maybe today is the day you find an entire row to yourself.

The flight is filling up and the last passengers squash their far-too-big carry-on cases into the swollen overhead compartments and you think, 'This could be it'.

You spot an entire empty row ahead of you. Nobody has claimed the seats. Cabin crew start alerting the team it's almost time to get ready for the safety instruction video.

Now. Now is the time to make a run for it. You pluck up the courage and stealthily sneak to the row ahead of you and buckle into the middle seat. It's yours. All of that sweet, glorious space is yours!

But... is it really? You feel sets of beady, disgruntled eyes burning a hole in the back of your head. Have you just miffed an entire passenger cohort just to boldly claim a row of seats that aren't yours?

This, folks, is the dilemma of seat swapping on planes — and it has divided the community.

Throughout your travel history chances are you've been involved in a seat-swapping situation. You may have squirreled your way into a full row on a long-haul flight or you may have been asked to swap seats so a couple or family who have been booked on separate seats can sit together.

Whether you're in camp 'it's okay to swap seats' or 'you didn't pay for the seat so you can't have it', it's clear this is a very divisive subject matter. So we asked Mamamia staff how they feel about flight seat swapping.

"My mum used to tell us never to do this because if the plane goes down they need your seat number to identify you," said Jessica.


"If I was flying solo, I would [swap seats]!" said Shell. "It's the people pleaser in me, lol. Especially if it's for the girlhood (or a child or something!). But if I was travelling with anybody else and that meant inconveniencing us/splitting us up, big nope."

"One time I scored the golden ticket when I was placed in a seat with extra leg room without paying for it on a long-haul flight," said Lisa. "But just before take-off a flight attendant asked if I would swap seats with a man sitting a few rows back. I turned around and saw the tallest person I have ever seen cramped in a small economy seat. I just didn't have the heart to say no and gave up my seat to him. I could've cried, but it was the right thing to do."

Added Billie, "I've read travel tips that say if you're travelling in a pair, choose the window and the aisle and leave the seat between you spare, because people are less likely to book a middle seat and you have the chance of getting a full row to yourself. But it's risky if someone does choose the middle seat because then you'd have to ask them to swap. Hasn't happened to me personally, but if I was in the middle and got the option for aisle, I would 100 per cent swap."

As for Stacey? "I get angry when people move to the emergency exit row and haven't paid for it when I have because I have to with my daddy-long-legs." 

Pip had someone try to swap seats with her when she was travelling long-haul with her family. "I was sitting in the aisle across from my husband and two kids, so could help but was separated (bliss). This dude behind me in the middle wanted me to swap so he could sit next to his wife, and would NOT stop asking me to switch even though I explained why I couldn't. 


"When I heard him bitching to his wife in Swedish about me, I snapped at him in Swedish to 'grow up — you can sit apart for 12 hours'. He wasn't expecting that."

Watch: TikTok influencer reveals cheap flight travel hack. Story continues below.

Video via TikTok.

Public opinion is one thing. But if you're a stickler for doing things by the book (hi, it's me), is there a 'right way' to go about swapping seats? And is it actually allowed? Mamamia staffer Alix flew on a small domestic plane recently where passengers were asked to stay in their assigned seats for the balance of the aircraft. "They were pretty insistent about it too," she said. "I guess because there were a lot of free seats and empty rows, there was the suggestion if people moved it would throw off the balance."

We want answers. So Mamamia spoke to a Qatar Airways spokesperson to find out what's best practice when it comes to musical (plane) chairs — and whether or not it's technically allowed.

"We appreciate that customers want to be as comfortable as possible so we understand that this is a common occurrence when travelling in a flight that isn’t full," they told Mamamia. "Our customers' comfort is the most important thing for us, so if they would like to do this and it doesn’t disrupt other passengers or our staff then it’s no issue." And while every airline will have their own set of standards, it turns out most of them are totally okay with you switching up your seat.


So is there a correct way to go about it, then?

"There are no hard and fast rules but we do ask that if the swap involves another passenger that both parties agree upon this before informing the cabin crew," said the Qatar Airways spokesperson.

"It's poor etiquette to assume that a passenger doesn't mind swapping seats with you and take it upon yourself to engineer this."

We often hear about families being split up when they check-in, which can lead to an urgency upon boarding to try and swap seats with other passengers in order to sit together. This often causes confusion and some pretty disgruntled flyers. According to the Qatar Airways spokesperson, the best way to alleviate this on-board tension is to get in contact ahead of time so the airline can accommodate the request for you all to be sat together.

"In this situation, we would advise to get in touch with your airline or booking agent as soon as possible or at the check-in counter, as our ground staff will try their best to accommodate requests," they said. "The more notice we are given, then the more likely we are to be able to adhere to such requests."

So there you have it — seat swapping might be a bit of a contentious practice but if the airline says it's okay, go for it. Just make sure you're getting the go-ahead with staff and other passengers to avoid any negative vibes during the flight — nobody needs that when you're about to be stuck in a confined space in the sky for several hours. 

Feature Image: Canva.

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