It’s one thing to have a policy in place, but it is quite another to get agents to actually respect it. One mother found out the hard way when American Airlines asked her to pay extra to sit next to her toddler or sort it out onboard.
American Airlines To Mother: $61 To Sit Next To Your Toddler
American Airlines unveiled a new policy in March that pledged that children 14 years of age and under would be guaranteed seating next to their parent or guardian:
“American Airlines lets families sit together at no additional cost. We are proud to offer industry-leading, customer-friendly policies that ensure a positive travel experience for families traveling together. Our current policies allow families to sit together without having to pay more, and we are pleased to update our Customer Service Plan to provide additional clarity to families traveling with us.”
Let’s begin with a clarification. The point of family-friendly seating policies is two-fold. Most importantly, of course, it is to ensure that families are seated next to young children. But the policy is also meant to give peace of mind, which can lift a tremendous burden of stress in the run-up to travel.
A woman booked a ticket for herself, her husband, and her toddler three months in advance. As is often the case, when booking there was no complimentary seating available: she could either wait or pay extra for preferred or extra legroom seats on the regional jet she was traveling on (she was traveling from Washington, D.C., to Minnesota).
She held off, assuming AA’s policy meant what it implied: that there would be no issues sitting with her toddler.
But the day before the flight, she noticed that American Airlines had assigned her seats: she and her daughter were given seats across the aisle from one another while her husband was seated seven rows back.
So she messaged American Airlines on Twitter and was offered two options: 1.) pay $61 for Main Cabin Extra or 2.) “let our flight attendants take care of this matter…the power to reassign is with the airport and flight attendant.”
She told USA Today:
“I didn’t think that was in the spirit of what those commitments were.”
And I tend to agree, though to AA’s credit after posting the tweet below AA moved her into adjacent seats.
— Sara Kloek (@sarakloek) August 23, 2023
This is a difficult situation for airlines. It seems the only solution (absent free upgrades) is to hold more seats back for these types of situations. But I also do not think a family that booked tickets three months in advance with a two-year-old should have to be separated because an aircraft has so many “preferred” seats.
Certainly, one way or another, they would have ended up together onboard. But the stress that comes with dealing with a frazzled gate agent or flight attendant to make it happen is necessary stress: American Airlines (and all carriers) should develop additional mechanisms to ensure families are seated next to each other before they check-in.
Tip: If traveling with a toddler and there are no adjacent seats available, do not assign seats all: the system is more likely to auto-assign seats together when you have no seat assignment.
The family ultimately flew together, but it took some public shaming on Twitter to make it happen. If American Airlines is going to guarantee families will be seated next to each other, it should ensure that happens well in advance rather than leaving it to be sorted out on the day of travel.
image: American Airlines