Man Complains Airline Made Him Pay to Sit Next to His Kid

We have unreasonable expectations for airlines.

airplane-kid

The Today Show recently ran a story under the headline “Dad says he was forced to pay $88 to sit next to his 4-year-old on flight.”  He wasn’t.

Lots of parents and children will be boarding flights this summer, but many will find flying together and sitting together may be two different concepts.

An upset father says Delta Air Lines assigned his 4-year-old daughter a seat that was 11 rows away from his own on a recent flight, and then asked him to pay $88 if he wanted the family to sit closer.

Frank Strong couldn’t find two adjacent seats online during the booking process, but a ticket agent said he and his daughter could sit together in Economy Plus for the extra fee. Strong was told to ask the gate agent to make the switch for free, but the dad worried the issue would not be resolved, so he chose the path of least resistance, he wrote on his blog.

“Faced with a dilemma of handing over ransom money to Delta in exchange for certainty, or taking a risk that an agent might fix the problem at the gate, I opted to pay,” Strong wrote.

“No parent holds a higher responsibility — or more deeply visceral instinct — than keeping their child or children safe. That’s hard to accomplish 11 rows away when the fasten seat belt sign is glowing.”

Strong’s blog post claims that airlines have a “business strategy” to separate parents and children. It’s just nonsense. I’m a single parent to two girls, the youngest of whom turns four in a couple weeks. I’ve flown with them many times and never had difficulty arranging seating next to them. On smaller planes, where there are only two seats on each side of the plane, I’ve been separated by an aisle or sat directly in front of or behind them.

My initial guess was that Strong booked his flight late in the process and found that there were no Economy class seats next to one another. Since the aisle in window seats book first, that may have left him with only middle seats.

Strong notes that once he boarded the flight, he discovered there were lots of empty seats on the plane so he feels the situation should never have happened. He thinks there should be a law that prohibits an airline from separating a child and a guardian in seat assignments.

Presumably, Strong was victim to the vagaries of the online booking system. Most if not all airlines have stopped assigning exit row seats online, preferring to ensure that those sitting there meet emergency qualification standards. Additionally, now that many airlines have added in an Economy Plus class offering slightly more legroom, there are fewer economy seats. Still, I’ve never had an issue.

Further, there’s no need for the law Strong is advocating. Children under 5 aren’t allowed to fly unaccompanied and those 5 to 11 are allowed to fly only under very restrictive rules. This applies to Delta as well. And, of course, the airline would have easily accommodated Strong’s request at the gate.

Amusingly, Strong wants massive regulatory changes:

I believe the answer begins with a federally mandated passenger bill of rights – one that becomes law and is backed with stiff penalties.  To begin, I’d recommend the following:

  • No airline under reasonable circumstances may separate a dependent from guardian in seating assignments; this includes, but is not limited to, children, elderly  and handicap;
  • Minimum personal space requirements determined by ergonomic experts and medical doctors;
  • Pricing transparency – the total cost of travel (TCT) at the initial point of price quotation; in other words the price at the point of transaction (or departure) should not vary from the initial results displayed in any e-commerce travel system;
  • On time flights will be determine from the point at which the first passenger enters the jet way at boarding until the last passenger has exited the bridge after landing; merely pushing an aircraft away from the gate is not on time;
  • No airline may sell more seats than an aircraft holds; a mandatory refund policy will uniformly apply to all airlines;
  • Stiff penalties for airlines who sell unclean seats, trash left in the seat pockets or non-functioning in-flight electronics will be implemented; these are no longer amenities;
  • Exit row seating may not be sold at a premium; in the interest of safely, exit row seating will be based solely on the ability of the passengers in those rows to execute that very important duty on a first come, first serve basis;
  • Minimum sustenance requirements based on the length of travel (I suggest three hours or more of flight time);
  • Minimum staffing requirements at counters and gates based on forecasted (and auditable) passenger throughput;

Look, there’s little doubt that flying has become a more frustrating experience in recent years. It’s gone from a luxury good to a commodity, with most of us looking for the cheapest deal possible, and airlines have responded accordingly. While Southwest has done well offering free baggage checking (which, of course, used to be standard everywhere) and JetBlue has won fans for free seatback entertainment, it’s generally been a race to the bottom.

But Strong apparently wants First Class service for Economy pricing. And wants mutually contradictory things.

He wants planes to leave on time—measured in the stupidest possible way—and yet he wants to delay planes that have the slightest mechanical defect at the level of the individual seat. Rather than turn around the plane as quickly as possible, Strong wants them to do a detailed seat-by-seat inspection of the electronics and seat cushions. He wants free food on flights and yet wants the airlines to keep the seats in pristine condition. And not to be able to charge extra for the more desirable seats!

Now, as a relatively tall man, I’m with him on the ever-shrinking seats. Not only is it uncomfortable having so little legroom, it’s unpleasant being crammed in next to an obese stranger for several hours. But fixing the problem comes at a cost: larger seats and more legroom means fewer seats. And that means higher prices to make up the difference.  As one who tends to buy three tickets at a time, that adds up pretty fast.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Tony W says:

    ◾Stiff penalties for airlines who sell unclean seats, trash left in the seat pockets or non-functioning in-flight electronics will be implemented; these are no longer amenities;

    This is the one that hit me as most strange and least likely to result in a better situation.

    To me it seems like a great way to be sure the airline simply rips out seatback screens. These ideas are full of similar unintended consequences, I suppose that’s why we have professional bill drafters.

  2. Mikey says:

    As a relatively frequent flyer, I’m no huge fan of the airlines’ current nickel-and-dime you to death policies, but at the same time, I think they are what the flying consumer has demanded. We want the lowest price possible for a flight, period, and making things like more legroom and box lunches optional-for-pay is a big part of how that’s done.

    We consumers can be downright schizophrenic–many people want cable TV “unbundling” because they’d save money by picking-and-choosing, but at the same time they demand airlines bundle all the add-ons into the ticket price, not understanding picking-and-choosing can save them money there as well. (The latter is probably because people don’t react well when something that was previously “free” or included suddenly gets a price stuck on it.)

  3. Scott says:

    You are probably right that he booked late and couldn’t get what he wanted. On the other hand, those of us (like me) who micromanage their airline travel, would have to be moved to accommodate him and his child. I used to be sympathetic but no more.

  4. alkali says:

    I recently flew with my kids and ran into a similar problem. Everyone does online check in as soon as the window opens (usually 24 hours before takeoff) and if you are a bit late and don’t get seats together, people refuse to move to accommodate you. A regulatory solution is probably not warranted, but you would think that there would be some way of coding the seat assignments in online check-in such if a child and a parent are assigned adjacent seats, a traveler who wants the aisle seat can’t break up the pair by requesting the aisle.

    (P.S. It is incredible to me that someone would refuse a polite request to move to accommodate a parent and child, but in fact this happened to me numerous times. I’m not asking you for a kidney, I’m just asking you to take a window instead of an aisle for two hours. I truly can’t imagine refusing such a request absent some extraordinary circumstance like a medical condition.)

  5. PD Shaw says:

    I assumed that this was going to be a complaint about Southwest airline’s policy of not assigning seats, which can be anxious for parents, but the cost for the early-bird check-in doesn’t seem to be much more. Frankly, $88 doesn’t seem like much; the ticket prices were probably that much cheaper if he had booked at a different time.

  6. C. Clavin says:

    @alkali:

    I’m just asking you to take a window instead of an aisle to be inconvenienced instead of me for two hours.

    Fixed that for you.
    Flying is a necessary pain in the arse. If I go the extra mile to make it easier on myself…why do I need to accommodate someone who didn’t bother to go the extra mile? Your failure to plan is not my emergency.

  7. gVOR08 says:

    @C. Clavin: I find that as I get older, I’m turning into a curmudgeon. In traffic, if you are in the short line at the light and then signal expecting me to let you in front of me for an upcoming turn, you’re likely to find that my attitude is that your failure to plan ten seconds ahead does not rise to the level of being my problem.

  8. alkali says:

    @C. Clavin: If it were a matter of my personal convenience alone then as between two healthy adults I have no business asking you to do anything. But a five-year-old can’t sit away from a parent or caretaker for two hours. My point is that there isn’t a way to “plan” around this issue other than trying to race other passengers at online check-in, and that doesn’t always work.

    Also, if you enjoy exercising your sense of personal entitlement at children’s expense, you’re a colossal asshole.

  9. Guarneri says:

    Not surprising to see two of our steadfast liberals playing to form…….inconvenience for thee, but not for me.

    I guess it’s too much to ask people to manage their financial affairs according to their realities rather than ask their neighbor to pay, though.

  10. C. Clavin says:

    @alkali:
    If you are flying with a child then you need to deal with the realities of flying with a child. Assuming it’s my burden is irresponsible. Calling me an a-hole because you are irresponsible is predictable.

  11. C. Clavin says:

    @Guarneri:
    As soon as you waive your housing subsidy and your health care subsidy, then I will take any comment like this seriously.

  12. C. Clavin says:

    @gVOR08:
    I hate flying. I book the window seat I want plenty in advance. I sit down, put on my headphones, open a book, and ignore everything for the three hours the flight takes. All in the hope of minimizing the agony. Agony amplified by parents who can’t manage their kids and their flight arrangements.

  13. qtip says:

    Most if not all airlines have stopped assigning exit row seats online

    United does assign exit rows online.

    I’ve never heard of any airline that does not – is that now common?

  14. grumpy realist says:

    I think it’s time to post this link again

    (I’m dissatisfied enough with US carriers that I will willingly pay an extra several hundred bucks to fly JAL to Japan rather than AA. Fourteen hours is too long a period to sit being crammed into an uncomfortable seat with lousy food.)

  15. Grewgills says:

    @C. Clavin:
    The way the check in for flights works, it isn’t always possible to get seats with your child(ren). How is it irresponsible on his/her part that there were no seats together when he was able to check in. If your desire to sit on the aisle means that you are putting a child away from their parent next to the window, then you’ll get what you deserve when said child is upset at being forced to sit away from their parent for hours. Unfortuneatly the same cannot be said for the child.

    Fortunately, it has been my experience that airline personel have been very accommodating.

  16. Grewgills says:

    @grumpy realist:
    I have found that pretty much every foreign carrier is better than every American carrier for international travel. Air Canada, British Airways, and KLM to Europe are all far and away better than any of their American competition and for close to the same price.

  17. michael reynolds says:

    @grumpy realist:

    For domestic travel I fly Virgin America or Jet Blue even if it’s more expensive, even if it takes me out of my way. I don’t fly USAir under any circumstances. I avoid Southwestern because I despise that cattle call seating of theirs. Going overseas I fly British Air to Europe, and haven’t flown enough to the far east to have fixed preferences, although a one-way from Tokyo to SFO on Singapore’s business class was very nice.

    General rule: avoid all US legacy carriers.

  18. Mikey says:

    @Grewgills: I generally prefer Lufthansa to Germany over United, but a couple years ago Lufthansa screwed up and never called me and I almost lost my seats. I’d booked through Lufthansa with one leg on United (they are code-share partners) and Lufthansa never completed the United portion of the booking. Fortunately someone at United caught it about three weeks out and called me. They actually re-booked me at no charge and everything worked out, but it left a bad taste. So now I book United–the food’s not as good but I’ve never had a problem like that again.

  19. al-Ameda says:

    The flying experience? Basically, I’m tired of the general public.

    It seems to be the rule that 1% of customers create 90% of the problems. Some people can never be satisfied, and blogger Frank Strong is likely one of those kind of people. Also, I wonder why his complaint was deemed worth of airing on a national television show anyway?

    I’m extremely tired of people bringing on enough ‘carry-on’ to furnish a 200sf studio in Manhattan. A lot of bags do not easily fit overhead; the last 4 times I’ve traveled someone has temporarily jammed the overhead. That’s not enough though – these people invariably hold up lines while they get on or get off the plane.

  20. PD Shaw says:

    @Grewgills:”The way the check in for flights works, it isn’t always possible to get seats with your child(ren)”

    I assume that is an overbooking situation though isn’t it? I’m sure there are sympathetic situations, but this guy (according to his blog) made his reservations five days in advance and was promised his seats would not be together. It sounds like by the time of check-in, there were enough cancellations that the flight was underbooked. If he had rolled the dice, he might have switched seats at check-in and understandably did not. But I feel a lot more sympathy for the person who reserves seats together and then the airline changes the seating.

  21. Pete S says:

    The original post wasn’t about someone who could not sit next to their kid, it was about someone who had to pay for seat selection to do so. I have no issue with that, when my family flies we pay for seat selection (if available) so we can all sit together. Why should some parents expect this service for free?

  22. PD Shaw says:

    The father’s tickets were over $1200 dollars, which makes an extra $88 fairly negligible.

  23. KM says:

    @Grewgills:

    The way the check in for flights works, it isn’t always possible to get seats with your child(ren). How is it irresponsible on his/her part that there were no seats together when he was able to check in.

    Parents are responsible for their children, not strangers around them. If you are traveling with a small child in need of supervision, then the onus is on you to make the appropriate plans and changes, including booking early enough that there is a chunk of space available for your party and being willing to take a different flight if that space is unavailable on the desired flight. It’s 2015, there WILL be another flight to wherever you’re going shortly. It is not the stranger in the aisle’s fault they got there first and you have no right to expect them to give up their preferred seat because you have an issue. It’s their choice to do so and if they choose not to accommodate the parent, the parent has to deal with it. The stranger may need to aisle seat for a medical reason or need to avoid the window seat to help deal with their fear of flying. This is were the “irresponsible” and “inconvenience” claims are originating from – while some circumstances might be out of their control, enough is that the parent in question can actively avoid these problems in most cases. They need to own that and not get huffy that they and their child are not everyone’s priority.

    On the other hand, it’s common sense and courtesy to keep parent and child together. Do you really want to sit next to an unaccompanied minor with their caretaker too far away to intervene? If asked nicely and in advance, I might move but I do expect something for my trouble (be nice if a part of that $88 went to me, would go a long way in making people be willing to switch). But if you walk up and inform me at the last minute I need to move because Johnny Come Lately and Junior want this seat and I’m already settled in, tough luck buddy. Not my problem.

  24. PD Shaw says:

    @Pete S: Frankly, I think his main complaint isn’t the extra fee so much, but that when he boarded, there were empty seats he could have used without paying the extra fee. I assume this would stem from how generous Delta’s policies are on cancelling or changing reservations.

  25. James Joyner says:

    @michael reynolds: When flying by myself, Southwest is actually preferable in that I can almost always get a decent seat and the boarding is much faster. It’s a pain, though, when trying to board with two little ones.

    @al-Ameda: The ones I truly hate are the ones who stow their roll-on bag near the front of the plane, in someone else’s space, because they’re too lazy to roll it to their seat.

    @alkali: It’s rude to put strangers in the position of sacrificing their comfort to meet your needs or feeling like a jerk for refusing. Taking a window seat vice an aisle is terribly uncomfortable for me, which I why I book early and select my seat. Ask a flight attendant and they’ll discretely make inquiries; they’ll almost always be able to find someone who would either have preferred the window to begin with or won’t mind.

  26. Mikey says:

    @KM:

    If you are traveling with a small child in need of supervision, then the onus is on you to make the appropriate plans and changes, including booking early enough that there is a chunk of space available for your party and being willing to take a different flight if that space is unavailable on the desired flight.

    Assuming either is possible, which is a rather dicey assumption to make. What if they have had to book last-minute because a family member has died? What if they can’t take a different flight because the connections won’t work to get them where they need to go for a family emergency? There are many scenarios where extensive prior planning and fallback positions are simply not possible.

    I don’t know what it is about flying that kills everyone’s empathy. Most people fly rarely if ever and those of us who are frequent flyers shouldn’t expect them to be 100% up to speed on how to make things flow as smoothly as we do. It’s generally pretty easy to tell the difference between someone who’s legitimately confused or ignorant and someone who’s being an inconsiderate buffoon. We should try to help the former, not tell them to shuffle off because we think a situation they can’t do anything about is somehow their fault.

  27. Grewgills says:

    @KM:
    To use a recent example, when flying from Hawaii to Europe where there were necessarily connecting flights in both directions, no it is not simply a matter of waiting for the next flight nor is it necessarily possible to reserve the seats together when the reservation period opens up 25 hours in advance. Fortunately for us we were able to get three adjoining seats on all legs of our travel and Air Canada and British Airways were very helpful, so there was not an issue. On the long leg of our flight (Vancouver to London) we were in a row of four and the fourth person in our row was able to find two adjacent seats for herself elsewhere giving us the entire space. Honestly, I have never had an issue sitting next to my wife or child, as even when we were not able to reserve seats together people tend to be kind and decent when they are approached with kindness and civility.
    It was just the I’ve got mine leave me the f*ck alone attitude that rubbed me the wrong way. I count myself lucky that I almost never encounter people with that attitude in my day to day life or even in the much more high stress environment of traveling half a world away with an 18 month old.

  28. Cheryl Rofer says:

    I don’t know what it is about flying that kills everyone’s empathy.

    I suspect that being too crowded makes people unpleasant. Rats in an overcrowded cage become much more aggressive.

  29. alkali says:

    It’s rude to put strangers in the position of sacrificing their comfort to meet your needs or feeling like a jerk for refusing.

    Stated as a universal proposition I would submit this is obviously wrong. As between healthy adults, sure, that is the general rule. As regards children, the disabled, people with medical conditions, etc., asking for reasonable accommodation is not rude. Which is why this issue arises.

    Taking a window seat vice an aisle is terribly uncomfortable for me, which I why I book early and select my seat.

    Three points on this:

    (1) The way airlines have set things up it is difficult — even for a person taking reasonable care in advance — to arrange for two people to have adjacent seats. To be specific, in the flight I recently took with kids, I booked four months in advance and selected adjacent seats. When I checked in the night before the flight, the seats had been reassigned all over the plane. On the return flight, I checked in 23 1/2 hours before takeoff, and even then adjacent seats were unavailable. The airlines could arrange things differently, but they choose not to, I’m guessing to accommodate elite-level frequent flyers. That’s not an unreasonable business purpose, but airlines provide a public amenity and have to facilitate children to some extent.

    (2) Ask a flight attendant and they’ll discretely make inquiries; they’ll almost always be able … This is an obvious solution, and of course I tried it — and was, unexpectedly, rebuffed by the flight attendants, who suggested that they weren’t even permitted to ask. I’m guessing that the attendants have been explicitly or implicitly instructed not to disturb frequent fliers.

    (3) Taking a window seat vice an aisle is terribly uncomfortable for me … I get this to some extent — I’m 6’4″ and built like a lineman, and whatever size we are we’re all entitled to have our preferences. That said, there is a limit to how much discomfort that highly-paid professionals traveling for business can really claim to be suffering without drifting into Louis XVI territory. A window seat may not be your favorite thing, but you’re not working on a fishing boat or laying asphalt. Absent a serious medical condition, it’s hard to imagine how your preference for a particular type of seat could justify making a young child sit alone among strangers on a plane for several hours. When I am traveling solo, as I am most of the time, I have never refused a request to move.

  30. KM says:

    @Mikey:

    I don’t know what it is about flying that kills everyone’s empathy.

    @Grewgills :

    It was just the I’ve got mine leave me the f*ck alone attitude that rubbed me the wrong way.

    I’m not a frequent flyer; in fact, I’m freaking terrified of flying to the point medication is sometimes needed. Where’s the empathy for someone like me who doesn’t want to give up her seat because a someone with a child can’t stand to be a bit away? I should be even more terrified seeing the clouds go by because you can’t take a later flight? Empathy goes both ways, you know. You have no idea what’s going on with the stranger who won’t move and it’s pretty judgmental of you to assume it’s simply a negative attitude that’s causing you to not get what you want. They may legitimately need or want that seat and guess what? It’s theirs because they paid for it, not you. Empathy and consideration are not just reserved for parents and it’s an entitlement mentality to think courtesy=obligation. Feel free to ask but don’t get cranky when the answer is No and certainly don’t assume the answer must be a default Yes. Your problem does not take precedence over my problem unless I decide it does.

  31. Mikey says:

    @KM:

    Empathy and consideration are not just reserved for parents and it’s an entitlement mentality to think courtesy=obligation.

    Never said they were, never said it does. But we have to look at the situations we encounter and try to communicate about them. Medical conditions do make it necessary for some people to stay in their originally-assigned seat and it’s certainly just as wrong to get angry at them for it as it is to blame a parent for a situation over which they legitimately had no control.

  32. Grewgills says:

    @KM:
    I was responding to a particular person that didn’t have the issue you described and his attitude. There is almost always a way to work things out so that everyone is reasonably comfortable. I have been flying somewhat regularly for over 40 years now and have never encountered the type of problems described. People have always been helpful and kind. Of course, when I am trying to make some change to seating arrangements to keep family or friends together I don’t bull in like an a$$.
    I have pretty much the same experience at my destinations as well. Particularly in the developing world I am regularly warned away from certain areas because “people there will knife you as soon as look at you”, but my experience in those areas has always been open, friendly people eager to talk and share experiences. Maybe I am just naive and lucky, or maybe being open and friendly gets paid back in kind.

  33. C. Clavin says:

    @alkali:

    the disabled, people with medical conditions, etc

    There go the goal posts..

  34. stonetools says:

    @alkali:

    (1) The way airlines have set things up it is difficult — even for a person taking reasonable care in advance — to arrange for two people to have adjacent seats. To be specific, in the flight I recently took with kids, I booked four months in advance and selected adjacent seats.When I checked in the night before the flight, the seats had been reassigned all over the plane

    That should never happen, and if it does, time to unleash your inner a$$hole and get the airline to give you what you selected. This is where not being afraid to create a scene helps.
    I will say that flying with kids must be a miserable experience, and that it would be great if the airlines would do what they could could to accomodate such flyers.

  35. michael reynolds says:

    I wouldn’t give up my seat, either. I feel myself under no obligation to compensate for the inability of the airline to manage its business.

    For the record, I always give up a terminal gate seat or bus seat (airport buses, I’m not riding the Muni) to pregnant women or feeble old people. I’ll always move to accommodate a family that wants to stay together. But take a middle seat? Hah.

    As for Mr. Sad Sack in the article, he’s full of bull. I guarantee you if he had an aisle or a window he could have found any number of people ready to give up a middle seat. At very least he could have found a seat one row ahead or one row behind his kid.

    So, what did he book? Two middle seats? Meaning he went for the lowest possible price and then whines when someone who may have paid far more won’t give up their seat? Tell you what: order a burger in a nice restaurant and see whether the guy who ordered steak at the next table wants to trade.

  36. Mikey says:

    @michael reynolds:

    So, what did he book? Two middle seats? Meaning he went for the lowest possible price and then whines when someone who may have paid far more won’t give up their seat?

    Hmmm, that’s something I didn’t consider before: what if I paid the extra $44 for the “Economy Plus” seat? I suppose if someone kindly requested a swap while simultaneously offering me the $44, I would, but otherwise, probably not.

  37. grumpy realist says:

    It’s things like these that make me want to start my very own luxury airline (where “luxury” simply means the level of comfort we regularly found back in the 1960s. But I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t find sufficient passengers to make it viable.

    The reason why we don’t get nice things with our present flights is because we’re a bunch of cheap bastards who are ready to nickel and dime ourselves to death all the while crankily defending our “right” to fly in airplanes.

  38. Scott says:

    @Mikey: Yes, cost is something I didn’t consider either. Should the person who paid $500 give up his seat for someone who paid $350? Should he ask for the difference?

  39. Mikey says:

    @grumpy realist:

    The reason why we don’t get nice things with our present flights is because we’re a bunch of cheap bastards who are ready to nickel and dime ourselves to death all the while crankily defending our “right” to fly in airplanes.

    I’m taking my family to Germany in August. I bought the tickets in February. I got the best price I’ve seen in years: $998 per ticket. And we’re even seated together!

    Yeah, the nickel-and-diming gets irritating sometimes, but a lot of it is still optional. When you’re buying a family’s worth of tickets, even $100 a ticket makes a difference.

  40. michael reynolds says:

    Look at it as trade goods. Whiny Dad almost certainly had this to offer: one middle seat.

    He attempts to trade his middle seat for a window or aisle. This is the equivalent of buying a Chevy and demanding to be given a Toyota. He’s angry because he didn’t get something he refused to pay for.

    Tough luck, pal. Not happening.

    I feel his pain, I’ve been there, I’ve traveled with little kids, but I never had the effrontery to demand that someone trade me a cow for my magic beans. Whiny Dad wanted to be Champion Shopper and he failed. Boo hoo.

  41. CrustyDem says:

    I have three kids and always try to book seats together. Except for our 4 year old, I don’t really care where they sit, but they’re more comfortable near me and frankly, I’m trying to avoid inconvienencing other passengers. I buy far enough in advance that has rarely been a problem, but lately every flight I’m on ends up scattering us to the four winds. I always take my chances that between flight attendants and fellow passengers, we’ll get it worked out. So far, so good, but I do wonder why the airlines have been doing this (United/Delta are the worst offenders).

  42. Mikey says:

    @michael reynolds: The more I think about this, the more I realize this dad is complaining about having to pay what anyone else would have to pay for those seats. He wants special consideration because he’s got a small child. Why should he get that? This isn’t an emergency trip, there wasn’t a last-minute grab for the two final tickets on the plane that were far apart. All he had to do was pay for the premium seats like anyone else would have to do. Or he could have listened to the ticket agent and requested a move at the gate.

    I have empathy for people in the situations I’ve described upthread, but none for this guy. And now he wants Uncle Sugar to step in with the banhammer and tell the airlines they can’t charge extra if one of the two people sitting in a premium seat is a kid. Eff off!

  43. Argusx says:

    This happened to my wife when she was flying to meet me in Germany with our kids once we got housing a few years ago. She had seats for all of them together but that flight got cancelled. On the rebooked flight they didnt have seats together. The flight attendants wouldnt do anything and no one wanted to move. She left our 4 year old next to someone who didnt want to move and told them “Good luck” She checked on them a number of times but couldnt do much more. When I asked my 4 year old how it went he said ” I fro up a lot” Still cracks us up to this day. Wish you’d of moved now dont you.

  44. KM says:

    @Mikey:

    This isn’t an emergency trip, there wasn’t a last-minute grab for the two final tickets on the plane that were far apart. All he had to do was pay for the premium seats like anyone else would have to do. Or he could have listened to the ticket agent and requested a move at the gate.

    Bingo! He’s basically pulling out the “Think of the Children!” card to explain why he should get to do what he wants cheap. He’s trying to take advantage of social conventions (giving up a seat to someone in need) and force it for his advantage (make someone give up a more expensive seat to his kid for free because of his “need” to their inconvenience). A-holes like this are a major reason WHY people generally don’t want to switch in the first place.

    He’s complaining because no one would let him take advantage of them and is holding up his kid as the excuse.

  45. Pete S says:

    @Mikey: I don’t think he asked someone in Economy Plus to switch – the seats were available when he booked so he bought them. He is mad because the only two seats together at the time of booking were in Economy Plus. If I am reading it right he is upset that the airline would not bump people in regular economy out of their already chosen seats while he was booking. Not asking them to move, bumping them. He was given options, including talking to the gate agent, but refused them. He is just being an entitled jackass.

  46. PD Shaw says:

    @michael reynolds:

    He attempts to trade his middle seat for a window or aisle.

    No, I don’t think that is what happened. Granted I read his blog and comments to get clarification, but what he says is that he sought to book a flight five days in advance and the ticket agent told him there were not two seats together on that flight. He was told his choice was to try to get them shifted at boarding, but there were no guarantees, or he could purchase tickets in the “economy plus” section, where there were two seats together. He decided to spend the extra $88 to make sure he sat by his child. He paid for and obtained marginally better seats.

    He got upset when he the plane took off and he saw how many empty seats there were in coach that he could have sat next to his child. He believes these seats were empty when he booked, and he was tricked into an unnecessary upgrade. Delta has offered to reimburse him the $88, but he has refused since he got the “economy plus” seating.

    He thinks there is a conspiracy afoot that I don’t see. I think it is more likely that those seats were booked, but reservations were changed, perhaps connecting flights were missed, etc.

  47. Argon says:

    @stonetools: “That [choosing seats well in advance to have the airline ignore them at check-in] should never happen, and if it does, time to unleash your inner a$$hole and get the airline to give you what you selected. This is where not being afraid to create a scene helps.

    Over the past couple over years, this has happened on every flight I take with my spouse. We select flights 2-3 months in advance. The booking website asks me to choose seats from the ones displayed and we choose adjacent ones. And whew, weren’t we lucky to get some of the last paired seats…

    Later, when obtaining boarding passes we find that we’ve been assigned seats wherever the airline chooses, and not together. When I ask for adjacent seats I’m told that all seats have be assigned but that there “might be a pair left in the ‘premium economy’ section” to which we can upgrade for a a couple hundred dollars or so. The agents simply do not budge and typically we end up begging other passengers to swap (It’s not hard getting someone to swap a middle seat for an aisle, but still…)

    Complain later and the booking site & airline just point fingers at each other for the problem. I suspect this is the case of airlines trying to sabotage multi-airline booking sites in favor of their own.

  48. PD Shaw says:

    Here is a more detailed breakdown from the Dad’s blog:

    1) I booked on a Saturday and flew on Thursday. Not a lot of lead time, but not tomorrow either.

    2) At three points I had an opportunity to select seats on a digital interface, but not seats together. Not even Economy Plus for an incremental fee at online check-in.

    3) The ticket agent — the first human interface — could and did put us together in Economy Plus for the incremental fee. I don’t think it’s okay to separate parents from children – or a guardian from special needs – but at that point, I’m thinking path of least resistance. I just want to get there and keep my child happy.

    4) When I walked on the plane — there were plenty of seats at any price point. No one would have to move. No one who selected a seat 5 months ago would be inconvenienced. As I stated above in the original post, the airline could have put us together — no problems. It didn’t…why? That’s why I wrote this post.

    5) There is a view point, whether real or perceived, in the public that the airlines are doing this by design. With the incredibly sophistication these e-commerce sites have to convert passengers on incremental fees, could easily be re-focused on avoiding such an incident. I have read dozens, even hundreds, of comments on stories and nearly every single one has multiple commenters saying, “Yes, this happened to me!”

    I highlighted the portion that seems unproven at the time the reservations were made.

  49. James Joyner says:

    @Argon:

    I suspect this is the case of airlines trying to sabotage multi-airline booking sites in favor of their own.

    Ah. This hadn’t occurred to me since I never book from those sites. Use them to conduct searches? Sure. But I always book the flight on the airline’s own website. Easy peasy since I know exactly what flight I’m looking for and it’s the exact same price plus I have access to miles points, input my TSA Pre, etc.

  50. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @al-Ameda: The world’s champion carry on excess–I was on a flight where a passenger was allowed to bring his golf bag as a carry on piece. In this case, he was flying first class on a sleeper-seat plane, so there was adequate room for the bag under his fully reclined seat, but wow!

  51. PD Shaw says:

    @Argon: I would think “multi-airline booking sites” might be part of the underlying issue. I am not shocked that the airline wouldn’t make all of its seats available to independent sellers, either because the last seats are most valuable or because the airline wants to be more careful as it begins or considers overbooking. He called a ticket agent with the expectation that there would be more selection and it sounds like he was correct to some extent.

    But I don’t think it would be a design for the flight to have “plenty” of empty seats at take-off. He is assuming seats are not sold to force parents to buy an upgrade, when it was have been just as easy to use dynamic pricing to maximize profits. It sounds like he would have spent $88 more to buy two adjoining coach seats on Saturday if they had been offered. Maybe even twice or thrice that. What benefit was it to have “plenty” of empty seats when a lot of custumers would have simply looked for another flight/airline?

  52. PD Shaw says:

    I’ve been oddly encouraged by the anecdotes here (ArgusX’s is priceless) that flying Southwest with its unassigned seating policy isn’t the worst idea for family travel. We’ve only flown to Orlando, and have reservations for Thanksgiving this year. I weighed not spending $25 per person for the early bird seating option.

    Surely, a plane full of families would be generous to the desire of other families. But maybe it would be worse. Maybe there will be fewer compromises available, particularly if most of the families also purchase the early bird seating option, or there are fewer individual business travelers. Having purchased a relatively small sense of security, I’m probably less inclined to accommodate those who didn’t.

  53. James Joyner says:

    @PD Shaw: I literally just booked a flight for Thanksgiving for myself and the girls on Southwest. It was $75 for early bird seating for the three of us, round trip, and I paid for it. And, no, I’m not giving up my seats to anyone who’s not a disabled WWII veteran with at least a Silver Star.

  54. Mikey says:

    @Pete S: I didn’t mean to imply he asked someone in Economy Plus to move–my conclusion is pretty much the same as yours. But now he basically wants some new set of regulations that would force the airlines to bump people out of their already-chosen seats or give away Economy Plus seating for free if it must be done to keep a parent and child together.

    What he ended up doing was what he should have done: buy the seats, like anyone else would have to do. Getting on the plane and seeing empty seats and asserting some grand conspiracy is silly. People cancel, people miss connections, it’s the way air travel is. That’s why the live ticket agent told him to ask for a move at the gate.

  55. Mikey says:

    Sometimes it pays to have a credit card associated with an airline’s frequent flyer program. I have United’s Mileage Plus card and I get two great bennies with it: I get to board immediately after First Class (which means all the overhead bins are empty even in coach), and the first checked bag is free for each traveler on the reservation. That alone will save us $150 on our upcoming trip to Germany, and that will buy me a whole lot of Weissenoher Kloster-Sud to drink while we’re there.

  56. grumpy realist says:

    @Mikey: Although there is absolutely no rhyme nor reason when it comes to airline pricing. I just looked up prices of a round-trip ticket from Chicago to Tokyo, trip in September. Just for giggles I looked at the most expensive listings they had, expecting it to be a non-stop using JAL. No. It was some crazy multiple-stop bouncing me off several different countries and airlines, fully $1400 more expensive than the $1800 listed for the non-stop JAL.

    Makes no sense.

  57. Grewgills says:

    @PD Shaw:
    What I think is actually happening is that the airlines are charging to sit on aisles, so the aisle seats don’t show up when you are looking to reserve seats unless you click on the premium seating option. If you are in the normal seating choice window it will appear that there are only scattered center seats open.

  58. Mikey says:

    @grumpy realist: Wow, that’s weird…in my experience the international non-stops are always more expensive because they’re preferable. Even taking into account the fact every country you touch is going to want some money for the privilege of landing there for an hour can’t begin to explain nearly doubling the price per ticket.

    It makes sense to someone, but that someone is probably Milton Waddams…

  59. Mikey says:

    @Grewgills: Different airlines are better or worse for this, in my experience. I fly United more often than other carriers (they tend to have the best scheduling out of Dulles for the places I go) and they just divide things up into “Economy Plus” and everything else. Book even a week in advance and if there are open aisle seats, you’ll see them.

    But recently I had to take American because United didn’t have what I needed, and man, they are terrible. It’s like every seat has a different price, and since I was flying for business, I had to take whatever didn’t cost more (or eat the difference myself) since my employer will only reimburse the base ticket price. I ended up paying $29 out-of-pocket to avoid the middle seat in the last row.

  60. Frank Strong says:

    There’s a lot of speculation in this post.

    “Presumably”

    “Apparently”

    “I’ve never had an issue.”

    I received hundreds of messages from parents that have experienced the same exact thing. Several reporters — including the Today Show you cite — described similar circumstances in their personal lives. Lucky for you perhaps, but that this hasn’t happened to you is simply not evidence the problem doesn’t exist.

    If I had walked on that aircraft and found the flight was oversold, this story would have turned out far differently. The fact is that aircraft went wheels up with empty seats in coach, and would have flown that way regardless of moment of purchase. There are several comments in this discussion that rightly point out this important fact.

    Nothing I have said suggests entitlement or encroaching on other passengers (though I have willingly given up my seat for similar situations on many occasions). What I am seeking is common sense and based on the volume of feedback I received, the vast majority of people agree with my view.

    Disagree if you’d like, with my position on policy. Debate is a staple of this country. But let’s leave “presumably” for inside the beltway chatter.