Is It Okay To Sneakily Switch Seats On A Plane? A Veteran Flight Attendant Tells Us

Choosing the best airline seat is almost as hard as deciding which flight to take in the first place. There are several factors at play, from price (some desirable seats require a fee, while others may be free to book) to comfort. Should you sit near the front of the plane or all the way in the back? Is it best to book the window seat on your next flight, or is the aisle a better choice?

Sometimes, you may not even realize you've been given a bad seat until you've already boarded the plane. For instance, you might have gotten stuck next to the lavatory or seated between strangers while a seat in a better spot remains open in another row.

The question is: Is it okay to sneak your way over to the available spot without telling a flight attendant? Explore tapped Barbi, a journalist and veteran flight attendant with 38 years of experience flying for a major U.S. airline, for her exclusive insights. According to the expert, swapping seats isn't a flight faux pas, but there are a few important reasons why you should ask the cabin crew before making the switch.

Timing matters when switching seats on a plane

You've squeezed into your economy class seat, look around, and notice a completely empty row practically calling your name. As tempting as it might be to make a mad dash for one of the empty spots before someone else does, Barbi suggests holding off until the time is right. "First, always wait until all the passengers are on board and boarding is complete before switching seats," the experienced flight attendant told Explore. That way, you don't keep another passenger from their reserved place.

Once you're sure everyone is on board, wait until you have the okay from a flight attendant before moving. "Crews will know if it's safe to do so, such as if the aircraft is getting ready to move, if the seat belongs to someone else, or if there's another reason the seats aren't available for passenger use," Barbi explained. "And make sure to switch before the aircraft pushes away from the gate — that's when it becomes a safety issue for you and the crew."

The takeoff phase of a flight is a critical period when things could go awry, even if your plane is still just making its way to the runway (which is also why passengers should avoid sleeping during takeoff). If the seatbelt sign is illuminated, your flight attendant will likely tell you to remain in your seat until the plane reaches a safe cruising altitude.

Changing seats without asking can cause problems later

Another example of when it's crucial to ask a flight attendant before switching seats, according to Barbi, is when the seat you're eyeing is located in an emergency exit row. "Airlines have policies regarding the age requirement to occupy an exit row seat, among other requirements," she shared. Moreover, emergency exit passengers may be required to undergo a quick safety briefing at the start of the flight to ensure they're prepared to assist during an evacuation. If you move to the exit row without permission, you might miss this information, which could put you and your fellow fliers' lives in danger.

Additionally, you may want to think twice before moving if you've requested a special meal for your flight. "For the most part, we get one meal per passenger. If you've ordered a special meal and the crew can't find you, you've created a mess for the crew and possibly yourself," Barbi explained. If you want to switch spots, inform a flight attendant of your request and make sure to mention your special meal to avoid a mix-up at dinner time.