Can You Swap Seats with a Business Class or First Class Passenger During a Flight? On a recent award booking search, we found business class tickets for most of the family in an international flight to the U.S., but one person would either need to take business class on a different flight, out of a different airport, or sit in economy. The client assumed that one of them could sit in the economy seat and switch periodically during the flight with someone in business class. They would each get time to rest in the flat bed seat, right?
Most Airlines Require Passengers to Remain in Their Ticketed Cabin
Wrong. Unfortunately the client assumed incorrectly: this isn't something allowed on international flights to the U.S., so whoever sits in economy would be there for the entire flight. Typically if passengers in different cabins, for example one in economy, one in business class or first class, want to switch at the beginning of the flight, this isn't a problem. Either arrange this at the gate or mention this to the flight crew before the aircraft door closes, and you should be fine. But don't expect to be able to swap an economy seat for a business class or first class seat mid-flight. While some flight crews have looked the other way, most will not permit this.
The policy originated with a TSA Directive that required airlines on international flights to the U.S. to instruct passengers to stay in their ticketed cabin, and since then many airlines have expanded that to include all of their flights, not just flights into the U.S. Since passengers are required by FAA regulations not to interfere with flight crew duties, which post 9/11 has been construed broadly to comply with all flight crew instructions.
What to Do Instead
While it's possible you'll get lucky and your flight crew will accommodate a one-time swap, we don't recommend this route, especially on a long flight, unless the person in economy truly doesn't mind sitting there the entire flight. Consider one of the following options instead:
- Be flexible with dates to find a flight with business class award availability for all of you
- Be flexible with routes and airlines to find alternative award availability
- Split up: it's often easier to find a smaller number of award seats on a couple different flights
- Pay for business class
If you do one of the first three, you can always keep checking to see if business class or first class award space opens up on your preferred flight and rebook.
Have you ever swapped an economy seat for a business class or first class seat during an international flight to the U.S., and did you encounter any problems?