What’s the Polite Thing to Do When Throwing Away an Airline Ticket?

We in this hobby book tickets such as mistake fares and sometimes plans don’t work out.

I booked a $450 NY-Singapore ticket that I took advantage at the beginning of this trip to make a stop in Sumatra, though won’t make the return as I have pushed on to the South Pacific and will return to the US on Fiji Airways.

The ticket is Singapore-Tokyo-Newark-Montreal on ANA/United/Air Canada, booked through Expedia. I can’t even pull up the fare rules on Expedia though there can’t be anything worth salvaging once fees are applied.

On the United Tokyo-Newark leg I have a choice exit row aisle seat.

(Sidebar – I like United for long-haul economy because you are left alone to rest. There is so little service, even little half-hearted duty-free sales, that it is a tranquil experience. Certainly bare bones: the mid-flight snack is now a nut packet., where did those Continental pizzas go?)

United 777 Exit Row

United EWR-NRT Mid-Flight Snack

I could do nothing, not check in, and let the ticket cancel out. That seems a little callous.

Readers, what’s the polite thing to do?

Notify the airline in advance or try to cancel the ticket? Probably achieves nothing except costing me time, right?

Move out of my exit row right now so another elite or customer willing to pay extra can snap it up?

Leave my seat until the end so someone can get lucky last minute and grab it then?

And which seat to move to? The exit row middle holding that so it may go empty? Another middle seat between two passengers so that may go empty?

I am thinking about this in the context of my outbound Newark-Tokyo-Singapore on United. The first leg I had the same exit row aisle and the middle stayed empty. A delight. The plane was mostly empty except a large Korean group that had been sold a ‘direct’ flight to Seoul under the same United number and may not have been aware of the stop in Tokyo, or just didn’t want to shlep to JFK. With so many Koreans and Korean companies in north Jersey I wonder why Korean doesn’t fly that route.

On Tokyo-Singapore, which was more full though still scattered empty seats, the exit middle was open at least until check-in opened 24 hours out. On boarding, in sidled a short, obese young woman. I try to be sensitive of people’s different physical requirements, and quietly spent the flight doing my best to give her space though she was still pressed against me the whole flight (my wife faults me for my Minnesota passive-aggressive silent suffering).

She was at the point of needing to purchase two seats, and certainly should not be in the narrower exit row seats or a middle seat when aisles were available. She knew enough about exit rows to immediately put all her carry-ons overhead so her seating was not an accident. She didn’t benefit by a narrow seat, and me and the guy in the window certainly lost the value of the supposedly premium seat.

So now, I want to try to be considerate to the next passengers. How should I play musical chairs?

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11 Comments on "What’s the Polite Thing to Do When Throwing Away an Airline Ticket?"

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As an economy flying United elite who is routinely screwed by a full plane, I think the idea of snagging the middle seat is brilliant! You’re doing two people a big favor on a long haul.

Yes, you’re screwing someone out of that seat, but you’ve already paid the airline for the right to be there.


I agree with @Eric, it’s all about what you want to do and if you feel magnanimous! Well, also in the end Karma has a card to play, you’re nice to others, nice things happen to you. You’re not and… Well you know!


I agree with the others above. The ticket has option value given the fact that there might be a schedule change or cancellation that would result in refund-ability.

I’d move to a less choice seat if you’re feeling magnanimous towards your fellow passengers, but there is value in keeping the ticket. The value might be small, but option theory would say it’s not zero either.

Aaron Hurd

It’s united? Hope for irrops that would entitle you to a refund. 😀 You gain nothing by canceling.


Presumably you can’t cancel online? No time spent that way and you’d in theory easily see what the ticket’s worth (if anything).

Otherwise, I’d move to a middle seat and hope for a schedule change where you can request a refund.


Reciprocate the airline: they’re beyond callous to us, are greedy in thwt they’re keeping all of your money even if you don’t fly, so don’t need to be nice to them. Plus are they compensating you for making you hold on the line forever for your courtesy?

Do nothing!!


Let’s see…what is the airline going to do in return for freeing up some space they might be able to sell? Nothing. Nada. Zero. Zilch.

This is what you should do too. And hope for a flight cancellation.


Um, do nothing…