JACI STEPHEN: Why I ALWAYS refuse to switch my airline seat to help families sit together
Every summer, it happens: a family who hasn’t had the nous to book seats together on a plane asks a single passenger to move, in order to accommodate them.
This week, it’s Irish model and mother-of-three Vogue Williams, who publicly berated a fellow passenger for not wishing to give up his aisle seat and move to the window so that she could sit with her family. She was flying to London from Gibraltar, for goodness sake. It’s a three-hour flight. Read a magazine. Order Duty Free. It’s not his fault that you’re so disorganized you can’t read a plane seat map.
I travel a lot. I have very specific seats I always choose (ask Virgin Atlantic; if I can’t get 8A, I’ll change planes). I like an aisle seat when traveling domestically because I need to use the rest room a lot. I like to be at the front because I don’t like crowds and invariably need to disembark quickly. I spend weeks, sometimes months, making sure I have my favorite seat.
But I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been singled out as a single woman on her own and asked to change my seat. I suspect it’s because people think we’re going to be the softest touch. Wrong.
Jaci (pictured in her forward-facing business class seat, next to a window, near the emergency exit and as close to the front of the plane as possible) writes: I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been singled out as a single woman on her own and asked to change my seat. I suspect it’s because people think we’re going to be the softest touch. Wrong.
I always refuse (apart from once, but more of that later).
On one flight awhile back, I was in one of two front row seats, and the woman behind asked if I would swap so she could sit next to her boyfriend. I refused and was met with incredulity (less so from him, who seemed quite glad of the three-hour respite).
Another time, I was traveling back to the U.K. from the U.S. on American Airlines and I had selected seat 2A – my first choice. Half the seats in business class (which I always choose going long haul because I need a flatbed for sleep) face backwards and, on a train, it’s my preferred method of travel. But on a plane, I want to be at the front, facing the same direction as the pilot, because if we are going to be put in the unfortunate position of having to run, I know who I want to follow at the front of the pack.
After I had stored my hand luggage and settled down with my iPad to read a book, a man came up and asked me if I would move so that his family – a wife and two kids – could sit in a row.
The seats are very far apart, so it was hardly as if they’d be on a Disney ride together and, after looking at the seat he was indicating behind me, I saw that it faced backwards, so I explained that I didn’t want to face that direction.
He then asked if they could find me another seat on the plane. I said no. Not only is it my right to refuse, I don’t like being near a lot of people in these Covid times, and 2A, facing the window, is as far away from other people, with my back to them, as it is possible to get (apart from 1A, but that faces backwards. Just so you know!).
He was furious and started shouting at me, wishing me ill for the future if this were ever to happen to me, and then stormed off to the other side of the plane to try to persuade others to move.
Seat 8A or bust: Jaci writes: ‘I travel a lot. I have very specific seats I always choose (ask Virgin Atlantic; if I can’t get 8A, I’ll change planes)’
Irish model mom-of-three Vogue Williams (pictured with her husband, Made In Chelsea star Spencer Matthews and their children) publicly shamed a passenger who didn’t want to swap seats with her on a three-hour flight
Clearly someone else suggested that they ask me because I heard him yell: ‘She refuses to move.’
After a lot more hassle for everyone involved, he was back on my side. I tried to explain why I wouldn’t move and that it took me days to book the seat I wanted.
‘We’re not talking to you!’ he shouted.
‘Well,’ I said: ‘You were talking to me and I’m responding.’
By now, two crew members were involved as the man stormed around the plane, trying to re-shuffle everyone. Finally, a couple with window seats agreed to move – to the middle, facing backwards! – in order to satisfy the his demands.
I went into panic mode and had to walk up the plane to get my breath back. What if he decided to have a go at me mid-flight? What if he were to pursue me at the carousel when we landed?
I spent eight hours in fear, even though the purser had assured me that the man had apologized. Mr. Angry claimed he lost it because of the way I spoke to his wife. For clarity: I’d said six words to her, very politely: ‘I don’t like facing that direction.’ There was also no apology to me from him.
Single (traveler) and ready to mingle: Jaci’s business class selfie with actor Dominic West – who thankfully didn’t ask her to switch seats
There has been one occasion, though, when I broke my own rule. I agreed to change seats, but it was before take-off and, therefore, a situation that did not induce fear, just mild irritation. It also became the week in which had more in common with La Toya Jackson than any other human being on the planet.
I was very particular about my seat on Air New Zealand when I lived in Los Angeles. So while waiting to board one of their flights to L.A., I was sitting in Heathrow’s Star Alliance lounge when an announcement came over the speaker: ‘Would passenger Stephen please come to the reception desk.’
I was expecting a bereavement, or at the very least a doctor standing-by advising me not to travel because I had less time to live than the flight took. So I was shaking when I went up to the desk, where I was greeted by a lady speaking in hushed tones.
The only person Jaci’s ever switched seats for is La Toya Jackson (pictured)
‘We wondered whether you would be willing to change your seat on the airline.’
Would I give up my seat, because… in hushed tones: ‘We have a celebrity on board who would like it.’
Minutes passed. Oh, for God’s sake, speak up: who is it?
La Toya Jackson.
We were united at last! She was in 5K but wanted 7K. My seat.
Now, as I’ve made clear, whenever I travel I am extremely particular about my seating arrangement. Eurostar: have to be traveling backwards, odd number aisle seat and near a toilet (73, 77, 11, 13), but not right next to the staff kitchen where they uproariously get the meals together (usually, carriage 8). Flying: next to the window, provided there is no one seated next to me, near an emergency exit, no upper levels and near the toilet.
But on this rare occasion, I melted. I had a soft spot for her after her appearance on I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here in the UK, and it was clear what terrible pain she was still going through after brother Michael’s death.
So, I said, okay. Suddenly, 7K was gone. My seat, my special, special seat… quiet, away from the throng. I had surrendered it in a rare act of martyrdom to someone not who I thought deserved it more, but who I thought really needed the privacy more.
That was the only time I have surrendered.
Here’s the simple fact: if you want to travel as a family or in a group, book your seats together beforehand. Your incompetency in failing to do so is no one else’s responsibility and you should certainly not be making others feel uncomfortable when they want to stick to their probably well organized plans.
On Vogue Williams’s flight, the gentleman eventually swapped, but she still ranted about him.
Lucky you didn’t have me on the flight, Ms. Williams. Very lucky indeed.
Jaci writes: ‘On a plane, I want to be at the front, facing the same direction as the pilot, because if we are going to be put in the unfortunate position of having to run, I know who I want to follow at the front of the pack’