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Consider the following situation. My wife and I are flying together. She is flying SFO-EWR-BOM and I am flying DEN-EWR-BOM. Both on United, with the same EWR-BOM flight, but with different confirmation numbers for the two of us.

Suppose I get upgraded to business class but she doesn't. What is the etiquette or the law or "best-practices" in us sharing that experience?

We aren't talking about meals and stuff; just if we could, say, plan our trip such that I get it for half the time and she for the other half (from the POV of sleeping comfortably and what not).

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    I am glad you explained what you mean by "share", at first I thought like you both sit there at the same time.. don't know what was I thinking.. – Nean Der Thal Jun 6 '15 at 20:42
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    In my case the notion of 'sharing' would never enter my mind. I would sit in economy without thought or hesitation. – Gayot Fow Jun 7 '15 at 2:13
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From the airline's point of view, each of your bookings is a separate entity and in this scenario only one of you has been upgraded. Likewise from the airline's point of view only the upgraded passenger has permission to be in the business class cabin. So technically the answer is NO.

But there is no harm in asking if you can swap seats partway through the flight. Cabin attendants have some leeway to allow such a swap.

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    It's not a technical "No" on all airlines, eg. Continental's manual explicitly allowed this: flyertalk.com/forum/… Not sure what the status is after the United merger though. – lambshaanxy Jun 8 '15 at 13:30
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    You can find exceptions to most every general rule, if you dig enough. But your cited thread is 8 years old and policies change over time. – user13044 Jun 8 '15 at 16:13
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As you ask what is essentially a question of good etiquette, I can only give you my opinion; which is simply guided by the fact the aircraft is a communal space and our actions should be taken to minimize affecting adversely those around us. Other posters here I am sure will have more robust views on what problems attend exclusively to unfortunate third parties. (i.e., "It's not my problem")

It is disruptive to other passengers in the cabin if people are regularly moving around and swapping places, particularly if they move their personal effects with them, or if it is a night flight and everyone else is trying to sleep. Therefore I would assert that as a principle of "etiquette" one should take ones seat (particularly an upgrade) with good grace and not seek to play musical chairs during the flight. However, if you only intend to swap once or maybe twice, and you do so discreetly, I cannot see the harm.

You should seek the permission of the purser or senior flight attendant before moving, to avoid inducing confusion among the cabin crew.

You can also ask United "to link" your reservations, so that if one is changed then the airline knows you are travelling together; but this "linking" is not especially robust and as I understand it is effectively just a cross reference in the freeform notes field. However, if there is a need for the flight to be edited it means you are more likely to be kept together.

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  • Based on the question, it seems they would change only once at about mid-flight, so your first point doesn't really apply. it wouldn't be different from, say, going to the lavatory. It's always best to ask for the crew's permission, of course. – fkraiem Jun 7 '15 at 0:48
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I've not done a mid-flight swap but I've certainly swapped boarding passes with my wife occasionally. No issues at all.

For a mid-flight swap I would ask the flight attendant or, better yet, the purser or international service manager (head honcho in the cabin).

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I've done this several times, on United and on Singapore Airlines.

It's never been a problem for me. I didn't ask the cabin staff, but only did the swap once during the flight so it wasn't very disruptive.

I didn't take any overhead luggage out and move it about...perhaps that would have been more disruptive.

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