I once traveled business-class in Qatar Airways. I am not sure about their seating policy. I was, however, able to choose my seat while I got my online boarding pass.

So, after I got in to the plane I noticed that the seats in front of and behind the one that I booked were unoccupied, and there was a gentleman in the aisle seat (I booked the window seat). So I went and sat down in my seat, because I wasn't sure if the other passengers would show up or not. I've read online that Qatar Airways has a free-seating policy (first come first served).

After a while, just before takeoff, he moved to one of the empty seats and remained there for the rest of the flight. I felt bad thinking that I should've done the same in the first place.

1. Are there flights that has this "first come first served" policy? Is this policy compatible with the online-seat-booking procedure?
2. Is it rude in these cases to sit next to someone even though you are sitting in your booked/confirmed seat?

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    The best thing you can do when seating is not allocated is to sit next to someone, so that more groups of two, three, more people can sit together. Whether that one person you sit next to feels the same way, however, is another matter... – user568458 Jun 9 '15 at 22:22
  • @user568458 This happened about 5 months ago. I am 20 years old, but I look like a 15 year old... so he might've thought "this girl looks like a troublemaker! where are her parents" LOL :) – Renae Lider Jun 9 '15 at 22:29
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    I wouldn't over-think the fact he moved away, most likely he just wanted room to stretch out. I've done the same myself on planes, trains, buses... The first couple of times I thought "I hope this person doesn't take this personally... but I really want space to stretch out". After then I kinda stopped thinking about it... I think it's something everyone does. – user568458 Jun 9 '15 at 22:34
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    @RenaeLider If there's loads of space people will spread out, it's normal. However it is right to sit in your allocated seat until at least the doors close. – Calchas Jun 9 '15 at 22:43
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    Initially always sit in your assigned seat as it makes things easier for the cabin crew. If I were sitting next to someone on a fairly empty flight I might even verbalise my intention "Oh this flight has plenty of space, once we're airborne I'll move to some empty seats." just to avoid any awkwardness. – TheMathemagician Jun 10 '15 at 9:13

As far as I can tell, Qatar Airlines has "free seating" in the sense that you can select your seat at the time of check-in. I would expect that the seat you chose is then printed on your boarding pass.

(This is as opposed to, for instance, Southwest Airlines, where your boarding pass does not have a printed seat number, and you choose an available seat when you board the plane.)

If your boarding pass shows a seat number, then you have to sit in that seat when you board. This is a matter of rules, not courtesy. The cabin crew's manifest shows them which seats are expected to be occupied by which passengers, and confusion will result if you're not in the seat which you have assigned to yourself. Also, if you sit in a different seat than the one on your boarding pass, it might be a seat that was selected by some other passenger behind you, and then you'll have to move again when they arrive.

After all passengers have boarded, if you can see that there are other seats available (that are not next to anyone), you can ask a flight attendant whether you can move. They may say yes or no, or ask you to wait until after takeoff. Of course, your seatmate can do the same.

At check-in time, I don't think there's any courtesy problem with selecting a seat next to someone (even though there are other empty rows), if it's a seat you particularly want. For all you know, the empty seats may fill up later, in which case both you and your original seatmate will end up sitting next to someone anyway.

For an airline which offers truly open seating (seats chosen when boarding), if you have reason to think the flight will not be full, then you should probably prefer a seat that is not next to someone who's already there. But if the flight is going to be full, it's irrelevant because someone will eventually sit next to them anyway.

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    "But if the flight is going to be full, it's irrelevant because someone will eventually sit next to them anyway", which is probably why Southwest will always tell you when the flight is full so you don't search the cabin for a not-next-to-someone seat ;) – Jeff Bridgman Jun 10 '15 at 16:40
  • @JeffBridgman I don't fly often enough to have a good measure on this but it seems like they always say the plane is full even in times when it isn't completely full. This is expected because the flight crew is much much more interested in getting everyone seated and much less interested in having people in aisle and window seats instead of middle seats. – Dean MacGregor Sep 8 '15 at 18:09
  • +1 However, I normally wouldn't even bother asking an FA before moving to another seat in the same class once the boarding door has been closed. This is very normal behavior, especially on long-haul flights. If there's really some reason why you need to stay in the same seat (which I've never actually heard of happening,) they'll just ask you to move back. However, self-upgrades (to a seat in a higher-class cabin) are another matter. Don't do that. – reirab May 2 '16 at 15:12
  • @reirab: On some flights, especially on smaller planes, there are weight-and-balance issues that mean it is important for passengers to sit (or not sit) in certain parts of the plane. Flight attendants then have to spend time before takeoff rearranging people, and if you move around while they're doing so, you'll really annoy them. In such cases, you might see lots of empty rows, but not be able to move to them. – Nate Eldredge May 2 '16 at 15:45
  • @NateEldredge Ah, yeah, on smaller planes (especially regional jets and down) that's true. On larger ones, though, passenger location is usually a more-or-less non-issue for balance (at least as long as they don't all group together or all sit on the same side) and it's perfectly normal for people to move to empty rows and such, especially on long-hauls. There might be edge cases, though, if there's some really heavy cargo in an aft hold or something of that nature, though I've never personally encountered this in practice. – reirab May 2 '16 at 16:07

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