Should airlines charge parents to sit with their children?

Here’s a question. Should you pay extra if you want to sit with your child on a flight? Fox News recently ran a story on airlines seatstrying to upsell seats to parents who want to sit with their children after realizing they were seated away from them.  As the story points out if you are a non-frequent flyer you may not be aware that US airlines don’t automatically sit you next to you young ones.

Here are my thoughts on this.  If a parent tells the system at time of purchase that they are traveling with young children there should not be an option for them to sit separately.  End of story.  They sit together, and if there aren’t seats available together they have to choose another flight.  It’s mind boggling to me that there’s a way for the system to assign them seats apart at all.  But what happens if they find out after they bought the ticket that they aren’t sitting together?

If a parent bought tickets online and did not check at time of purchase if their child was sitting next to them and they end up apart, there’s no question that they should be charged for an upgrade.  Do I agree that this should be possible when buying? No.  But if the parent isn’t doing their due diligence and buys seats that are seated separately it should be the parents responsibility to pay to change that seating arrangement (regardless of whether they are a frequent flyer or not).  Now, if something happens where the seating arrangements change through no fault of the parents, such as a switch to a smaller plane, then I believe it’s the airline’s responsibility to see that the parent and their young child are seated together with no extra charge.  If that means having to ask someone that has status to move to a worse seat so be it, but charging them would be uncalled for.  I definitely think that the person being asked to switch should get some sort of concession, whether that be miles, a future upgrade, or something else.

There’s almost always going to be someone willing to switch.  In a recent flight I was asked to switch seats for a mother and child and had no problem doing so. Also, if you fly Southwest you get priority boarding when traveling with a young child so as long as you are on time you shouldn’t have a problem finding a seat together.  The bad news is airlines are greedy, and they’ll squeeze every last dime out of you that they can.

When I posted this story on Facebook, there was a good discussion, with readers on both sides of the issue. One thing brought up: some of the parents cited in the article didn’t want to pay the fee for seats together on principle, so why should people who do pay fees for a better seat get inconvenienced for them? Would someone who pays for an aisle seat be refunded if they move to a middle seat so a parent can sit with their child? I have to say, if I paid extra, was willing to move, but was not refunded I would be furious with the airline. But let’s be real: NO ONE wants to sit next to someone else’s demanding two year old without their parent.

My advice is to always pay attention to what seats you get on every flight, but especially when traveling with young children. In fact, I think you should check your seat arrangement every day up until the day of your flight to make sure nothing has changed.  If you end up having your seat changed due to an airline issue don’t give in if you’re asked to pay extra.  If the person you initially speak with at customer service isn’t able to help you, hang up and call back. If you’re still not able to get the seats changed, when you get to the airport speak to the ticketing agent, and then the gate agent. At some point you should be able to find a solution. IMO it’s better to work with the airline than to just ask people to switch once you’re on the plane, as the airline may be able to offer some sort of compensation to people who move to accommodate you. George from Airfare Watchdog has some good advice about this issue.

What do you think readers? There are two polls, and I’d love to get your opinion on both!

Should airlines charge a fee to have a parent and their child sit together if the airlines caused the seating arrangements to change?

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Should airlines charge a fee to have a parent and their child sit together if the parent unwittingly purchased the tickets with seats apart from each other?

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Pingbacks

  1. […] Southwest’s boarding process makes it easy to get seats together with your family, just as the process of getting seats with kids has become HARDER on other airlines in the past few years.  Families with children ages 4 and under are allowed to board between groups A and B.  I’ve always been able to secure a full three seat row at this point in the boarding process, so I never have to be worried about being separated from my children or having to pay extra for a seat assignment next to my kids. […]

  2. […] Southwest’s boarding process makes it easy to get seats together with your family, just as the process of getting seats with kids has become HARDER on other airlines in the past few years.  Families with children ages 4 and under are allowed to board between groups A and B.  I’ve always been able to secure a full three seat row at this point in the boarding process, so I never have to be worried about being separated from my children or having to pay extra for a seat assignment next to my kids. […]

  3. […] Should Airlines Charge Parents to Sit with Their Children: Picking up on last week’s Fox News article about family seat selection woes, Road Warriorette sets the stage for a great debate on the topic.  Getting seating with young kids can be one of the most stressful aspects about domestic travel with kids these days.  Surely the airlines can make some reasonable rules and bring certainty to this mess, right? […]

Comments

  1. You nailed it. Airlines are greedy. If there is another seat available why does the parent have to pay to move? A child should be with the parent, end of story, no charge. If moving is not possible the airline should still try to work with the parent and other passengers, but never charge for such a basic necessity such as having a child supervised by the parent during the flight. It should not even be legal unless the child is over a certain age. If no change possible, move them to another flight.

  2. As a loss control person I can’t imagine the airlines would want any child younger than about 13 sitting alone. Imagine all the stuff that could go wrong. A child gets off the airplane alone at the wrong time, place, etc. Child gets abused sexually on an airplane (we’ve seen this before) or there is a crash and the child can’t manage to escape the plane, etc. etc. If I’m an attorney in front of a jury on this sort of deal I guarantee they will pay and pay for that poor policy. I totally understand the need to nickle and dime us but not on this issue. On the other hand the parents have a responsibility to make sure they know what the seating arrangements are BEFORE they get to the airport when possible.

  3. An automated airline-driven implementation seems somewhat difficult to me. A 2-year old obviously needs to be next to a parent. Almost all 14-year olds should be able to sit apart. But what should the automated cutoff be? I’ve had 1-3.5 hour trips next to delightful 5- and 9-year olds, and had more than a few trips next to 10-year olds separated from a parent (not the fault of the parent) where they were miserable and I ended up having to supervise.

    It’s the responsibility of the parent to make appropriate arrangements, if possible. As a frequent traveler, though, I know that’s not always easy (or even obvious, to infrequent flyers) and I have no problem occasionally giving up my preferred seat to allow parents and children to sit together – it’s usually less than 4 hours out of my life, and it’s the right thing to do.

  4. It’s a giant game of chicken right now between parents and airlines and I wish someone would bring some certainty to the situation. That’s all I want: certainty. In the meantime, I’m just flying Southwest with my kids a lot where I don’t have to stress. Here’s where I see the wrinkle in all of this: airlines block off a LOT of seats that aren’t yet occupied by a real person. Real life example I’ve encountered — when I have gone to book a flight as a non-elite on American, I’m often shown a seat map with only scattered middle seats available. Of course, many of the aisles and windows next to these middle seats aren’t yet occupied (I’ve even called to confirm this fact). These are just being held for later-booking elites by American. To be clear, I’m not talking about Main Cabin extra seats. I’m talking about regular aisles and windows. There is no reason in this situation that American can’t just give someone with young kids those contiguous seats and make it easier on everyone. They aren’t premium seats and they don’t cost extra. They are just being blocked off for some period. Usually the families will end up getting them anyway, so people play the game of chicken. So much of this is just not transparent so the confusion and frustration continues.

  5. Airlines have forgotten that they are in the service/hospitality business and their passengers are not cargo but paying customers and guests. Even the cheapest ticket is a higher end consumer purchase and serving customers, responding to their needs and keeping them happy and loyal should be more important than simply shaking them down for fees. There are so many reasons kids need to be next to their parents–safety, convenience and comfort of other passengers, good service. Of course separate seating should not be allowed to happen in the first place.

  6. Passengers who check-in together should be allocated seats together unless they request otherwise. In any other context people on a single booking are allocated adjacent seats unless they have booked late and no adjacent seats are available. Seating with your family, friends or colleagues is not a chargeable privilege but a reasonable expectation. In the case of children, it is really astonishing that airlines are willing to take the risks of seating children apart from their carers for the sake of additional fees. The amount of money raised in this way must be fairly low and could probably be wiped out by a single lawsuit for a child who suffers an injury that could have been prevented if the parent had been nearby.

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