Man Denies Exit Row Seat to Pregnant Woman On 14 Hour Flight

A recent Reddit thread detailed a traveler’s ethical dilemma on a 14-hour flight from Asia. They were given an upgrade on board to the exit row – a seat with more legroom. The passenger seated next to them asked if he’d trade seats with the man’s pregnant wife. She was seated towards the back of the plane.

  • Switching seats is voluntary. We can all try to be accommodating, but we don’t have to give up our seat because someone asks.
  • The wrinkle here is that the woman the seat was for is pregnant. Does that add any special additional obligations?

I moved there, window seat with a 20ish dude already settled. I just quickly settled down also, just the moment I picked up my headphone for some ipad entertainment, window seat guy suddenly smiled to me, “hi excuse me, my wife sitting far behind is pregnant now, she’s not very comfortable with the narrow seat, do you mind switch seat with her ?”

It’s a little bit strange that the complaint was that his wife’s seat was narrow as opposed to having less legroom. The exit row seat isn’t going to be wider.

No switches happened. The husband kept his exit row seat for takeoff, and later the couple switched seats. According to the passenger, his family and friends think he had an obligation to switch to let the couple sit together. That is insane.

I have six general takeaways.

  1. If being pregnant imposes a duty on anyone, surely it imposes a duty on the husband before other passengers.

  2. But he wasn’t concerned with his pregnant wife. After all, he had the exit row and she didn’t. Why should someone care more about your wife’s comfort than you do?

  3. If they’re concerned with their seats that should have been handled in advance.
    Pregnant women are generally capable of sitting in airline seats. If the woman needs a specific seat, then she should book it.

  4. Sometimes it’s not possible to book the seat you need. For instance, if your flight is cancelled you’re stuck with whatever is available.

  5. So if you want to trade, don’t expect to ‘trade up’. You need to offer passengers something equal or better than what they already have.

  6. Consider offering money.

The man with the good fortunate of being gifted an exit row seat for his 14 hour flight enjoyed it and slept most of the trip. The husband and wife didn’t need to sit together. Notice that the husband didn’t offer his seat to the passenger next to his wife in back.

Air travel doesn’t always work out the way that you want. Seat assignments don’t always work out the way that you want. Your desire for a different outcome, though, is between you and the airline – it doesn’t impose an obligation on other passengers to disadvantage themselves for your benefit.

Sometimes they will! There’s no harm in asking. But it’s perfectly fine for them to say no.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Every sympathy I have is with the guy not wanting to be bullied or extorted into giving up his seat. He owes nobody anything and is entitled to as much comfort as he paid and otherwise qualified for.

  2. Thinking out loud here: Should a pregnant woman be in an exit row anyway, especially next to the window?

  3. Always in support of sitting in the seat you paid for or chose. This instance brings to mind multiple considerations and options. One of note is, that while seating of pregnant passengers in exit row is allowed, one does shoulder the responsibility of providing assistance in the event of an emergency. Realistically, would/could a pregnant passenger comply with the request/requirement?

  4. The husband should have offered his seat to his wife. I would not have moved either. I’ve had 3 kids.

  5. If the woman was far enough along to not find comfort in the narrow seats, she definitely should not be handling the exit door procedures either.

    Shame on the husband for not switching seats sooner.

  6. The father-to-be should have offered his seat to the person sitting next to his wife. It is clear he wanted to keep the exit row. Asking to switch seats is selfish. When I travel, I pay extra for the seat I want. Then I check the airline’s website three times a week to see if a better seat comes along. To then get asked to give my seat to a stranger who didn’t bother to pay extra or pay attention to the charts after booking is insensitive and selfish.

  7. I empathize with the lady, but he was given/paid for the upgrade. The lady and her husband could have paid for more legroom at the time of booking instead of rolling the dice.

  8. The thing I hate about these situations is that they target one person to request the change, so if it doesn’t work for that person then they end up looking like a jerk. Fact of the matter is that there are always multiple solutions of moving people around — so if it doesn’t work for one person to move, there will usually be others who will be happy to accommodate.

  9. “Shame on the husband for not switching seats sooner.”

    What if the husband is 6’6″ tall? Or taller. I’m 6’6″ and within 45 minutes in a “Normal” Delta coach seat I am uncomfortable. I’ll tolerate it if I have to, but no more than 2 hours. The sole exception would be if it is a case of life or death.

  10. Yeah… NO. As someone who’s been pregnant, been asked to trade seats, all of it. Abso-forking-lutely not. The rules of asking someone to give up their seat should be obvious without having to be stated: you ALWAYS give up the better seat if you need to ask someone to voluntarily trade. The asker would have been loudly and publicly shamed for not giving his wife his own seat for the entire 14 hour flight if he’d have asked me and I’d have been positively ruthless about it too.

  11. No disrespect to the first 5 commentators, but props to Wendy G., it took a Mom of 3 to call out the husband for not giving his seat to his wife. As a Dad of three my wife ALWAYS gets the better seat, pregnant or not. Decisions like that – putting my wife first (and often IN first!) – frequently put me in positions to become a dad again. Think fellas. It’s worth it.

  12. She must acknowledge that she will assist in evacuation should it come to that. Or is pregnancy a disqualifying condition?

  13. You nail it, Gary. If you’re too cheap to ensure your wife has a comfortable seat, then fork over a percentage of the “profit” to the guy.

    In the end, it’s the Husband’s problem. Not the random stranger. The fact his WIFE wasn’t sitting there asking if her husband could join her tells me the kind of person he was.

    I’m on Random Stranger’s side. Fully.

  14. I agree with everything, Gary, except “There’s no harm in asking.” Being asked to do a favor and not wanting to makes one feel uncomfortable. Even “asking” is annoying.

  15. This seat-change-shaming is out of control. You want a better seat? Book it and pay for it. Making the person feel guilty who did book it and pay for it is just not right.

  16. In the event that the lady was far enough along to not find solace in the thin seats, she most certainly ought not be dealing with the leave entryway methods by the same token.

    Disgrace on the spouse for not exchanging seats sooner.

  17. Safety first. Steve Thornton says: “The sole exception would be if it is a case of life or death.” If a passenger dies in the exit row, the flight crew should remove the dead passenger from the exit row.
    A dead body cluttering up an exit row may hinder passenger evacuation. Furthermore, the exit row seat should now be available to another non-disabled passenger who could assist during an unscheduled emergency aircraft evacuation.

  18. Husband in exit row on take-off.
    Wife in exit row (perhaps) the rest of flight – article indicates they switched seats.
    All’s well that ends well!

  19. “I’m sorry, for insurance reasons, my body needs to be strapped to the seat noted on the manifest. Thank you.”

  20. I’m sure she was pregnant when she booked the flight… She could have paid extra as the man in the seat did!!! And most likely she would not be able to assist on an emergency if she had to open the door. If you want more room… PAY FOR IT?

  21. I ran into this in another discussion and thought it applied…
    For all the folks uncomfortable for the husband of even asking vs Gary’s “there’s no harm in asking” take…this is a classic case of Ask Culture vs Guess Culture.

    In some families you grow up with the expectation that its OK to ask for anything at all, but you have to realize you might get a no for an answer. This is Ask Culture.

    In Guess Culture, you avoid putting a request into words unless you’re fairly sure the answer will be yes. Guess Culture is having a shared net of expectations. A key skill is putting out delicate feelers. If you do this with enough subtlety, you won’t have to make a direct request.

    All kinds of problems spring up around the edges. If you are a Guess Culture then unwelcome requests from Ask Culture people seem presumptuous and out of line, and you are likely to feel angry, uncomfortable and manipulated.
    If you are and Ask Culture person, Guess Culture behavior can seem incomprehensible, inconsistent and full of passive aggressiveness.

    Unfortunately Guess behavior only works among a subset of other Guess people (shared signalling techniques and specific expectations etc). The more you move away from your own family and friends and subculture, the more you’ll have to embrace Ask behaviors or you will spend your life in a slow burn of outrage at how clueless everyone is.

  22. Gary’s comments were spot on. Likely scenario is he paid for one extra legroom seat thinking he could shame someone into giving up their premium seat. HITA here. He needs to move in back. How far along is the wife. I want someone able bodied in that row. Pregnancy is not a disability however mommy is going to worry about her baby first.

  23. No where does the FAA state that pregnancy is a disability that prehibits one from sitting in an exit seat.

  24. Whoever made the reservation knew in advance of the issue. And maybe didn’t want to spend for the upgrade? (or it wasn’t available). Why wasn’t the pregnant woman in the FC seat in the first place? If the guy was too tall, thats on them to figure this out, not the unrelated passenger.

  25. It was a bluff on the part of the hubby for both to sit in better seats . The other gentleman called his bluff and hubby relented to wifey.
    Nothing new!!

  26. You have 6 “takeaways”, and none is about whether a pregnant woman meets the conditions/qualifications to sit in an exit row?

  27. Gary, you don’t tell us how many months the woman was pregnant. Say was 2 months pregnant. No big deal about sitting in a regular seat.
    9 months pregnant? What’s with her husband? Is he such a lout that he can’t relinquish his seat?
    What’s she doing traveling in her 9th month if she’s due in just a few days?
    No sympathy for her or her husband.

  28. I have paid extra for exit row seats before. They come with an obligation to open the exit door if necessary during an emergency. The wife should have had a doctor’s note saying that she was capable of performing that task. Without that, she should not be in an exit row seat. The husband was wrong from the beginning and without evaluating the wife, he may have been lying about the whole situation. I have had a woman lie to me to try to get me to change seats for her comfort and my discomfort. I assume that all such requests are just lies.

  29. Folks, you all do not get what exactly transpired. This was a strategic plan on the part of the husband and wife to acquire an unpaid upgrade at the expense of another passenger.They, as others, have done this before, prevailing on the sympathies of others.

  30. Zero sympathy for the over entitled husband of previous wife.

    First she should never be allowed to sit in exit row as she won’t be suited to assist with emergency evac. FA should shut that down immediately.

    Second if they really needed extra space they should buy the seat or paid upgrade like the rest of us.

    Basically they were grifters trying to steal the seat from the guy who owned it. Bet she wasn’t even preggo as these types often lie etc.

  31. The world is becoming overpopulated. If the exit row passenger is appropriately compensated (I would ask for 100% airfare) by the selfish husband and pregnant wife, then go ahead and let them take the first-row first-death risk an reduce the overpopulation rate during a crash by 2.5. jeez, can’t needyarried be apart for a few hours? Get some therapy!!

  32. This notion that it is just fine to ask people to change seats needs to be discouraged. When you do it, you are bothering somebody woth a capital B. Sometimes it is a necessity, such as winding up separated from your 3-year-old. Otherwise, if you did not get the seats you wanted, just sit down and enjoy your flight.

  33. Gary nailed it: “But he wasn’t concerned with his pregnant wife. After all, he had the exit row and she didn’t. Why should someone care more about your wife’s comfort than you do?”

  34. Pregnancy is not a condition for not meeting exit row criteria. If asked and she responds she is capable, then she is in fact capable. No one thought, I wonder how a pregnancy flight attendant does it. One thing is for sure, one long haul international flights technically ypu are not permitted to switch seats, let alone a better quality seat. I guess you forgot that.

  35. Gary — your six takeaways are spot on. And… Gregory Jenkins nailed it, “Folks, you all do not get what exactly transpired. This was a strategic plan on the part of the husband and wife to acquire an unpaid upgrade at the expense of another passenger. They, as others, have done this before, prevailing on the sympathies of others.”

    The unpaid upgrade scam is just that — booking one crappy seat and one nicer seat. This falls into one of two categories:
    1) Adults = “Do you mind trading so my husband/wife/sister/aunt/etc. can sit together?”
    2) Parents = “Do you mind trading? Otherwise I won’t be sitting next to my son/daughter.”
    Are there times sitting apart is outside their control? Yes. (Cancelled flight, last minute urgent need to travel.) But why is it always asking to trade down instead of trade up?

  36. This comment: “I’m sorry, for insurance reasons, my body needs to be strapped to the seat noted on the manifest. Thank you.”

    Genius! it was worth it reading all the comments section just for this!

  37. The pregnant person and that person’s husband should have been removed from the plane. No one should be even be inconvenienced for such a notion, let alone feel any obligation to help. Such an imposition.

  38. I would suggest that, given the flight length, this was a wide body and these were bulkhead seats behind doors, not “just exits”. So, the “ability to assist” issue is moot. The OP here should have told the husband that his wife would have a more narrow seat up front, as the bulkhead seat has the tray table (and video?) in the armrest. Second, it sounds like there were just two seats on that side, meaning it was PE or coach in JAL (they have 2-4-2 in Y on 787) or on a 767(do they do 14 hour routes?). Could this have been a husband in PE and a wife in Y? That makes the couple extra jerky.

    I think the best response is to suggest a way to solve the issue without you moving. Want to sit with your wife? Give up your better seat to the person next to here. She wants more leg room? give her your seat. Want both? Sorry pick one.

  39. People are so damm jidgemental. Everyone is assumong that the man chose the seat he was sitting in and the one his wife is sitting DESPITE the fact that the AUTHOR isn’t sitting in the one HE chose and paid for.

    The author got a last minute upgrade.

    And he and everyone else here has absolutely no way of knowing whether the husband ALSO got a last minute upgrade.

    If one member of the couple was going to have some sort of status and be eligible for such an upgrade, statistically (sadly) it would be the husband.

    The same husband who, once they were in the air, went and switched seats with his wife so she could be more comfortable in what was not going to be a pleasant trip: pregnant bladders and trying to get past people (why an exit row would be useful to a pregnant person) are not fun.

    What the man did was logical especially if she was approaching or just starting her third trimester or jist tryong to be a good husband/father to be–trying to arrange for her to be in a seat that offered her more room and to be near her if she needed anything.

    When that could not be arranged, he apparently said or did nothing negative, waited until they reached cruising altitude (I am sure the flight attendants would have had a problem if he had tried to move her last monite) and then moved his wife to the better seat.

    I am always amazed by the malice unleashed about anyone who asks to switch seats. Have you ALL been lucky enough never to have been bumped or had a flight cancelled and had to take whatever seats you could get–even if your group got split up or you got bumped down?

    I’ve had an airline split up my family–father, disabled mother with mobility issues, and four year old–with none of us within five rows of each other…after we bought seats in the front, six and half months ahead of time.

    These things happen. And yes, cons happen. But literally everyone seems to assume EVERY one is a con. Mine wasn’t. And I have had it happen to family members.

    Don’t be those people who made me sit away from my four year old for a five hour flight. Or, at the very least, don’t make the ugly assumptions that are being thrown around about this woman’s husband. He made the request, sparing her the embarrassment and the author the guilt of telling a pregnant lady no to her face, and then gave her the seat when it was practicably possible.

  40. The pregnant woman (ie if it is advanced pregnancy, say: 6th month or later) cannot sit in the exit row exactly because she is pregnant (not only about ope ning the window in emergency, but being an obstacle to evacuation). End of discussion.

    I am surprised the crew later tolerated her sitting there. Perhaps it was an early unnoticeable pregnancy (3rd month or so) and then the husband could have switched with the wife right away or even booked it so from the start.

  41. Boy, nothing attracts comments like a question of seat etiquette. Like others, I think Gary’s take is spot on. On the other hand, it is nice to help people when you can, especially a pregnant woman, and if the situation were different I could see giving up my seat. But in this case clearly the husband could have switch seats with his wife but chose not to. If he’s not willing to, why should I?

  42. I’m so tired of this. People trying to use their children. and now unborn children, to manipulate passengers out of their seats.

    The husband should have traded with the wife. Period.

    The best approach is to just put your headphones on and ignore him, because his ask is unreasonable (moving back vs. forward) and because frankly-if it isn’t your wife and child, who cares?

  43. Good, I guess she doesn’t know what brings on that condition but it doesn’t include seat swapping.

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