A woman flying eight hours won't swap seats with a man several rows back-Now says she was misjudged based on appearances


An anonymous 22-year-old woman refused to swap seats last weekend so that a family could sit together due to her disability. A mother and child took the middle and window seats while the woman sat in the aisle seat. The mother wanted the woman to swap seats with her husband, several rows back, who was in a window seat. When the woman refused, she was met with negative comments and judgments from other passengers. [i]

The woman, traveling from the US to Europe, then felt compelled to explain that she had an invisible disability and needed the aisle seat due to her condition. However, the mother was still dissatisfied and continued to talk loudly and negatively about the woman, calling her a "monster" for refusing to give up her seat. The woman was embarrassed and humiliated by the situation, and other passengers quickly judged her without understanding why she declined. [ii]

A woman with hand luggage is in an international airport, looking through the window at planes.Photo byEkaterina Pokrovsky/Adobe Stock

The woman's disability made it difficult for her to move around and caused her great pain. Despite this, the other passengers on the plane were quick to judge her, assuming she was being selfish. Some people gave her dirty looks, and the mother sitting beside her purposely made a spectacle of yelling back at her husband anytime she needed something for the entire eight-hour trip! [ii]

The Impact of Invisible Disabilities on Individuals

This recent story highlights how invisible disabilities can significantly impact an individual's life. They can affect a person's physical, emotional, and mental well-being. For example, someone with chronic pain may have difficulty sitting or standing for long periods, limiting their ability to work, attend social events, or even travel. [iii]

Someone with autism may struggle with sensory overload in crowded or noisy environments, making it challenging to participate in everyday activities. [iii]

Invisible disabilities can also profoundly impact a person's mental health. Living with a disability that is not immediately visible can be isolating and lead to shame, guilt, and frustration. In addition, it can be challenging to explain to others why you are struggling, especially when they can't see your physical symptoms. Such is the case with Crystal, who shared her story of living with an invisible disability.


[i] Comfortable-Feed-786, AITA for not switching seats so a mom and baby could sit with the dad? (Mar. 20. 2023)

[ii] Id.

[iii] Invisible Disabilities Association, What is an invisible disability? (2023)

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