There are plenty of legitimate reasons to ask a fellow passenger or a flight attendant for a different seat on a plane. But there is a right and wrong way to do it. You certainly don't want to end up getting hauled off the plane for brawling with a fellow passenger. These are the unspoken rules of asking to swap seats on a flight.
Only Offer to Trade an Equal or Better Seat
You've found yourself in Row 25 and the rest of your family is in Row 33. Unless you're a tired parent that is going to revel in a few hours of peace and quiet, you may want to move closer to the folks you are traveling with. It's not uncommon to ask a fellow passenger to switch seats so you can be closer to your family. But the etiquette is only to offer to trade an equal or better place for the one you want. For example, you definitely can't trade your middle seat for someone else's aisle or window seat to be closer to your crew. What would be more acceptable is offering up your window seat for a middle seat, or proposing to swap out your seat in a better place on the plane. Generally, if people see a family with children split up, they are more accommodating. But if that's not your situation and you still want to ask a fellow passenger to swap seats, you need to offer them the same caliber of seat or something better.
Be Okay With Hearing 'No'
When you're flying, you have no idea how long your fellow passengers have been traveling or why they are on that plane. Maybe they have been traveling for 12 hours already, or perhaps they are on their way to a funeral. You can't know what someone's circumstances are. And it is entirely their prerogative to say "no" even if you politely ask to switch seats. Some people may happily trade spots and be very understanding. Others might shut you down completely. That's okay. You may make your inquiry to multiple people before you find someone willing to switch seats with you. The point is, there is no need to start a feud with someone who denies your request to change seats. If it seems as if someone is rude to deny your request, remind yourself you don't know what their day has been like and they have the right to keep their spot regardless.
Moving to Open Seats on a Plane
If you've ever had the luxury of flying on a plane with a lot of vacancies, you know the excitement that comes with the ability to sit in a variety of places. However, there are factors involved. To start, moving places could confuse flight attendants if there are people with food allergies who have ordered special meals. If you are one of those people with special food requests, you should probably stay put so the flight attendant doesn't have to track you down to give you your food.
Another factor the airline is aware of that you are not is the balance of the plane. The plane needs to have the proper balance to take off. If too many people switch seats before takeoff, this poses a safety threat. The balance of the plane is another reason why it's important to ask a flight attendant if you can move seats.
What If a Flight Attendant Asks You to Change Seats?
Especially if you paid that premium to be able to choose your seat, you might be pretty attached to the space you are sitting in. But another unspoken rule about switching places on a plane is that if a flight attendant asks you to, you need to do so graciously. They aren't going to move you without a good reason, a reason that may or may not be shared with you.
As we already mentioned, managing the balance of the plane is something the flight attendants have to consider. Another reason you may have to give up your seat is for the safety of a minor, to help someone with limited mobility, or someone traveling with an infant. While you're allowed to feel grumpy, not following the instructions of the flight crew is a violation of the Federal Aviation Administration and can land you with a fine or even kicked off the plane.