No, I’m not obligated to switch plane seats
The awkward plane experience that made me refuse to switch seats again
Writer’s note: This post was originally published on Medium’s “We Need to Talk” on March 5, 2022.
Writer’s note (April 10, 2022): This post is about adults wanting to switch seats, not children. I made it very clear (i.e. zoo example/Amber Alert) that I can see both sides. While I don’t think parents should depend on other adults to switch seats for passengers who paid for/like their seats, I understand if the airline screwed up and the parents actually DID try to book seats together. However, that’s not the point of this post. My gripe is with adults wanting to play Musical Chairs.
I’m an oddball when it comes to traveling. While public opinion dictates that people should go in groups with family, friends or even coworkers, I repeatedly prefer to travel alone. Whether I’m headed to a graduation in Arizona, a stepping event in Florida or a birthday trip in Hawaii, there’s a 99% chance that I’ll book my ticket separately. I hate waiting on other people and always book a rental car to stop into local spots on my own time.
It’s not that I don’t like to be in groups sometimes. One of my favorite trips was bouncing around Toronto and Ontario with a group of Girl Scouts. I’m an antisocial extrovert who loves to be in the middle of the dance floor at parties and has a blast at volunteer group events (from storytelling at pubs to public speaking clubs). But I really like personal space and enjoy my own company.
Still, I understand social butterflies. There is a segment of the population who feels lonely when they’re not constantly in the mix, and that thirst to be near someone familiar can even creep its way onto airplanes. For solo plane travelers though, this musical chairs ultimatum is annoying — and a little pushy.
I thought about this recently while reading a New York Times post about a traveler who refused to switch her plane seat twice. In this traveler’s case, the gripe was switching plane seats with parents and losing seats with more leg room. I’m 5'3, so the latter issue is never going to be a problem for me. The first one? Eh, I see both sides as a childless woman who also was pissed at a guy I once dated for not holding his son’s hand in a zoo. He wouldn’t, so I did. No Amber Alerts on my watch!
But there was one experience that soured me on the whole idea. I was flying home (the city I was coming from escapes me), and I relaxed back into my seat next to a quiet couple sitting in the middle and window seat. This was going to be an easy flight. They seemed pleasant. That is, until one of them asked if I’d switch seats so their daughter could sit with them instead. I politely said “no” and went back to reading.