Air Travel with Children: I Have to Pay to Sit With My Kids?


There is one piece of booking air travel with children that I just can’t wrap my head around. When searching for airfare, many of the lowest fares don’t guarantee that you will sit with your children. In many cases, you actually need to make an additional purchase or buy a different (higher) class fare to sit with your young children. The only way to guarantee you can sit with your children is to pick seats. That’s crazy, isn’t it?

I get it. The airlines want to make money, and who is better to profit from than anxious parents with young children, who just want their travel days to go as smoothly as possible? Yes, I’ll take the direct flight with guaranteed seats together, please!

However, let’s just suppose you don’t pay to upgrade to the option that allows you to pick seats, either out of naiveté or riskiness. You might be like me and really not care about where on the plane you are seated. What do you do when you, your toddler, and your preschooler are seated separately? Do you talk to the gate agent to see if you can be seated together at the last minute? Do you rely on the generosity of strangers to change their seats (that perhaps they paid to select) for your convenience? Well, if you do either of those things, the airline never feels the brunt of this policy they seem to love.

When booking air travel with children, I’m going to suggest a different approach. Maybe you should sit in your assigned seat, leaving your children in whatever randomly assigned seats they got. You can then cross your fingers and hope that they are monstrous human beings for the duration of the flight, while you sit back and order a drink or take that long, uninterrupted nap you never get at home. Perhaps people on the flight who paid for extras will complain to the airline about the disruptiveness of separating a family. Maybe a video will go viral and a social media controversy will start, getting picked up by news stations, and then, finally, airlines will revisit this asinine policy.

Is that really what it will take to guarantee that families will sit together? Ok, admittedly, I’d never really be able to do what I just suggested and it’s probably not the safest approach for you to take either, just to get some attention focused on this issue. However, all parents reading this know it would be a pretty effective method at instituting change, so I’ll write about it instead and hope that maybe this piece makes its way up to an influential airline employee. It’s worth a shot, right?

Last summer, I did risk this scenario playing out by purchasing the lowest fare available. I assumed the gate agents would make it work since it would be ludicrous to have an infant sit with a complete stranger. Luckily, I assumed correctly for that flight (thank you, Delta!) but now that I’ve done more research and realize that in some cases, families really do get stuck, I’ll never risk it again.

This issue is something that has made its way to Congress with the Families Flying Together Act, but if you try to do any research on it as you prepare for your travel, the information out there is very confusing. Even the US Department of Transportation website has a page devoted to information on family seating, which defers to the airlines to declare their seating policies. While we wait to see what comes of that bill and its implementation, I’m just going to say that whatever airlines start defaulting to seating families together is going to have my business over and over again. Air travel with children is hard enough, let’s make sitting together the easy part! 

If any other type of business charged us to sit with our own children, we would be talking about it. Let’s talk about this one!