Etiquette of swapping seats on planes: No, I'm not giving up my window seat

I won't deny it: I am a selfish traveller.

Perhaps it's because I've done the vast majority of my globe-roaming solo. Maybe it's just in my DNA. But it became clear last year when someone (lots of people, in fact) finally alerted me to the fact that reclining one's plane seat is widely considered rude. Until then, I'd been doing it all my life, clueless - given I don't at all mind when the passenger in front does it to me - that I'd been causing grievance.

Have I changed my ways since then? No, I still recline my seat, I just feel guilty about it now. And I make it my mission to always try to get the back row so there is no-one behind me. Which leads into another prickly plane etiquette dilemma. Row geography.

On a recent flight, a mother sitting in a different row asked politely whether I would mind swapping seats with her so that she could sit with her teenage sons. I glanced at her seat (is she next to a toddler? An obese person spilling into the adjacent seats? Nope, fine then) and agreed to switch. But would I have been so willing if it meant spending 11 hours strapped in next to a yelling infant, or sharing space with a gargantuan overspiller? Not a chance. 

I would decline, too, if it meant moving from a window to an aisle seat, or worse, being piggy in the middle. I am firmly committed to the window seat; it's the difference between a flight that is enjoyable and one which is dreadful.

This preference, incidentally, is another indication that I'm selfish, according to the scientists I spoke to on the topic. I like the window over the aisle because I'd rather be the one with the awkward task of having to wake sleeping passengers in order to leave my seat (though I avoid doing so in almost all cases) than be fast asleep myself only to be woken by my neighbour. I value my sleep over that of a stranger's, I just do. 

Frankly, I'm surprised that any sane person would put the snoozing needs of a total stranger over their own. As sustainable travel expert Professor Stefan Gössling remarked on the subject of our carbon footprint last month: "Humans are just not altruistic. We will not change our behaviour at the perceived disadvantage to ourselves to benefit others."

Apparently that's not the case. I put the following hypothetical question to my colleagues - would they, if asked, swap their preferred seat for a middle seat on an 11-hour flight to LA so that a family could sit together? - and almost all of them said they would, albeit grudgingly.

I wonder how much of this is just down to social awkwardness. To turn down any sort of impassioned plea, in public, from a stranger, in a confined space, is to mark yourself a grinch for all to see. Even worse (and highly likely) if the plaintiff is sitting right next to you, and will thus be radiating resentment in your direction for the duration of the flight.

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Regardless, I'd stand my ground. Apparently, I value my comfort over my social standing.

Quite often I will have paid extra for my window seat, for one thing, and for another, it's not my fault if a group of other passengers finds themselves separated. It's most likely theirs, for failing to check in online and secure seats in advance.

Were my colleagues being entirely honest when they said they'd surrender their seat for a family, or were they just reciting the honourable answer? We put the same question to readers via an anonymous Twitter poll, and at the time of writing, more than 200 of you had voted. Over half said that no, like I, they would not acquiesce to the request.

Upon reflection, I can still see only one, very remote, incentive to making such a sacrifice. "I did this exact thing once," one Twitter follower informed us, "and the cabin crew bumped me up a class to say thank you".

The Telegraph, London

See also: Qantas A380 captain reveals why you should always choose a window seat

See also: Get a window seat: Six of the most spectacular flights

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