Home Airlines Gov’t Pressuring Airlines To Keep Families Together On Planes, For Free

Gov’t Pressuring Airlines To Keep Families Together On Planes, For Free

by SharonKurheg

Years ago, ensuring you sat with your family on a flight was easy. You made a reservation, chose your seats, and you were done with it.

Then airlines decided that they could sell flights piecemeal and things that used to be part and parcel with buying your ticket were now a perk that cost extra (unless you were willing to pay more for your ticket(s) to begin with).

I will admit that the likes of “Basic Economy” and “Ultra Low Cost Carriers” have their place in society. For some people, paying as little as possible is the main objective and if that means not knowing where you’re going to sit until just before you fly, so be it. I’ve certainly done it – when I flew to North Carolina to surprise Joe while he was out of town for work on business for a week (by the way, mission accomplished – I got him SO GOOD!), I was proud that I found an R/T flight on Frontier for just $75 total.

The problem is when you have people who’ve paid those bare bottom prices for their seats, but then it turns out they want to sit next to their young child. It means a game of Last Minute Musical Chairs on the plane. And sometimes you’re playing with people who don’t want to swap seats. Maybe they paid to choose where they sat and didn’t want to feel like they wasted their money. Perhaps they want to sit next to other members of their party. Maybe they prefer their aisle or window seats. Maybe it’s “just because.” And frankly, whatever their reasoning, they generally have a right not to swap if they don’t want to.

So what happens? You get situations like what happened with the guy who wouldn’t give up his exit seat for a family that asked, or the passenger who refused to switch seats with a mom and then got yelled at for ignoring the woman’s kids. Or you’ll occasionally read about a stranger sitting next to a kid whose grown-ups are in another row, and the child is molested.

Well, it only took how many years, but the U.S. government appears to take notice thanks to complaints lodged with the Department of Transportation (DOT). They’re now (quote/unquote) “encouraging” airlines to do what many passengers have said for years: to guarantee young children are sat with at least one accompanying adult, without having to pay extra. The DOT also wants the airlines to have official policies to ensure it happens consistently for all children age 13 or younger.

It’s not lip service, either – the DOT also says that in 4 months, they’re going to review the airlines’ policies and re-examine the number of complaints they’ve gotten about young children not sitting next to their accompanying adults.

Here’s the notice the Department of Transportation posted on July 8th:

Notice Encouraging U.S. Airlines to Have Policies that Enable Children To Be Seated Adjacent to an Accompanying Adult to the Maximum Extent Practicable and at No Additional Cost

The Office of Aviation Consumer Protection (OACP) has issued a notice urging U.S. airlines to do everything in their power to ensure that children who are age 13 or younger are seated next to an accompanying adult with no additional charge. Although the Department receives a low number of complaints from consumers about family seating, there continue to be complaints of instances where young children, including a child as young as 11 months, are not seated next to an accompanying adult. In four months from the date of this Notice, OACP plans to initiate a review of airline policies and consumer complaints filed with the Department. If airlines’ seating policies and practices are barriers to a child sitting next to an adult family member or other accompanying adult family member, the Department will consider additional action consistent with its authorities.

The original notification on the DOT’s page also includes a doc that goes into more detail.

Our take on it

This all came about because of the airlines’ quest to make as much money as possible. To that end, I’m glad that common sense and children’s and babies’ safety will eventually win out.

Since Joe and I have no kids, we have no invested interest in rules regarding families sitting together. We try to sit together and when asked to switch so an adult and kid can be next to each other, sometimes we’ve accommodated, sometimes not. It depends.

That being said, if this becomes the law of the land (and it looks as if it will), we’re not going to be upset because it will be a given that an adult and baby or young child are sitting next to each other for free, while Joe and I have had to pay for the same privilege. We understand that their situation is different from ours – a younger child needs supervision and protection; we don’t.

To that end, I hope this new rule is eventually expanded to include people over 13 who still need a caregiver (i.e., because of non-typical physical, intellectual or mental abilities, such as someone with certain physical problems, or some people with dementia, Down syndrome, autism, etc.).

But that’s us. Let’s see how the new rule will be exploited or argued against by self-centered jerks, shall we? 😉

Feature Photo (cropped): Juhan Sonin / flickr / Attribution CC BY 2.0

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