I’m all for holding airlines accountable, but I do not appreciate hatchet jobs by cheap parents who either should pay up to ensure they are sitting with their young children or not fly in the first place.
Mother Angry That She Was Separated From Three-Year-Old Daughter On Flight
Jennifer Keller wrote a story for Insider this morning in which she laments that an unnamed airline refused to seat her next to her three-year-old daughter.
“I’d tried unsuccessfully to fix the seat assignments online. Then I’d struck out with the airline’s customer-service rep on the phone. The rep had passed the buck to the gate agent. The gate agents then passed the buck to me. “We couldn’t get anyone in your rows to change seats,” they said. “You could get on the plane and try yourself” was the extent of their assistance.
“We boarded the plane. When we got to my daughter’s row and she grasped what was happening, she burst out crying.”
Some questions for you, Jennifer:
- Did you buy a “basic economy” ticket to save a few bucks?
- Did you buy on a budget carrier that offers a low base fare but charges extra for seat assignments?
- Did you have a chance to pay for seat assignments and decline, thinking you could get them free onboard?
My “BS” radar is deployed when the airline and route are not mentioned. The only insight we have is the following admission when talking about guidelines from the US Department of Transpiration to ensure families are seated together:
“One of the department’s top suggestions is to purchase higher-class seats if sitting together is important to you. To me, it’s a bogus suggestion. In my case, I was a pretty broke mom trying to scrabble together a postvaccination trip for my girl; it was economy or bust.”
No, it’s not a bogus suggestion. Nor is the DOT suggesting you buy first class. The DOT is saying that you may wish to avoid basic economy tickets or not adding a seat assignment if you book with an ultra-low-cost carrier.
Jennifer tries to analogize the situation to leaving a child in a park unattended:
“If I were to leave my child with strangers for several hours in a public place, I’d likely be reported to child services and the police. So why is that fair game on a plane?”
I’ll tell you why: because in all but the rarest of cases (which I will address below), you do so voluntarily in both situations and therefore it is your fault in both places.
In the end, another passenger onboard agreed to move:
“A passenger right behind us, also waiting in the aisle, moaned, “Well, I’m not going to listen to that for the whole flight. I’ll change seats with you after all.” Nothing volatile, but not exactly the kind of behavior I’d like directed at my child as she reenters public spaces after two long pandemic years.”
What To Do About The Problem Of Families Being Separated?
Perhaps airlines should simply refuse to sell “basic economy” tickets to families traveling with young children. Or perhaps if they do, they should require that seat assignments be purchased in advance.
It is better for everyone if airlines seat families together. A gate agent should not just refuse to help (though that was not the case here). But people who choose to book cheap tickets when they could pay a little more for an advance seat assignment have no basis upon which to complain. Caveat emptor: seat assignments do not come with the cheapest tickets and all airlines now make that abundantly clear.
If not sitting next to your child is a dealbreaker (and it should be), then make sure you are booking a flight in which you can reserve seat assignments together at the time of booking. It is only in those cases, including cases of a schedule change or aircraft swap that separate families who were previously seated together, that airlines should be on the hook for respecting those arrangements.
Even if you buy a pricier ticket, if you are buying on a flight in which only middle seats are left, do not expect that another passenger must move for you. Book another flight.
So how does this vary from my story last week in which I chided a passenger and the airline for refusing to accommodate a child who cried over a seat assignment snafu? Because in that case the family had paid in advance to sit next to each other: they not only bought a space on the flight, but purchased a specific trio of seats next to each other. The airline messed up and the family found a woman with the same seat assignment. She refused to move so the boy lost his window seat and the family was separated. A totally different case than this one.
Sorry, but if you want to be cheap and buy the cheapest airline ticket, not pay for seat assignments in advance, and then expect the airline or other passengers to take accommodate you when you find yourself separated from your family, then I have no sympathy for you.
Let me put it this way: parents who buy these sorts of tickets show bad parenting skills, full stop. Know what you are getting into and spare me the faux surprise that you are not seated next to your kid when you won’t pay for it.
If the federal government is going to get involved in forcing airlines to seat families together, then it should ban families from booking basic economy tickets unless they pay in advance for seats together.