Austin parents push for airlines to seat families together

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — He called the airline. Messaged them days before a flight. Then showed up early in person before take off, but he got no help.

“Spirit Airlines booked my 6 year-old clingy and tired son thirteen rows away from my seat and in a boarding group after mine,” wrote the parent. “Until an hour before the flight there was no one working at the gate. Then they said there was nothing they could do about it.”

Consumer Reports shared the complaint from the Austin father who says it’s a parent tax and unsafe. The non-profit’s advocacy group is behind a petition demanding kids should sit with their parents and says they should not be charged extra fees. The organization is now demanding a meeting with all the major airlines. 

“If I’m separated from my child in the event of an emergency on a plane I’m not going to be able to be calm,” says mom Lisa Wolfe-Schacter. “I’m going to just disrupt the entire plane to get to my child, and that could cause a huge safety issue for a number of passengers including myself and my child.”

Consumer Reports says when travelers are booking basic economy which is the lowest cost fare they are running into seating problems. The basic economy fare doesn’t allow customers to reserve seats in advance. The organization says families with kids have to buy tickets with reserved seating but that costs extra.

“Families face a constant battle to ensure they are seated together, even when they choose seats far in advance,” says Anna Laitin, director of financial policy at Consumer Reports. “The airlines should put safety first and seat children with their families without charging them extra for it.”

Selina Keilani had to pay an extra fee to be seated with her two kids, “My kids were four and not yet quite just two and I said ‘we need to be seated with our kids what do we do in the situation,’ they said ‘well we can’t guarantee that you will be seated with them.'”

Airline policies

Consumer Reports and parents say even though airlines have polices in place they aren’t always followed.

American Airlines sent KXAN News a statement which says they’ve developed a process that will ensure that children are seated with an adult. “For families traveling with a child under the age of 15 who don’t have a seat assignment, our system will work to seat the child with an adult in the reservation starting 48-hours after the reservation is ticketed. This ensures the child will not be assigned a seat alone,” says the statement.

United Airlines spokesman Charlie Hobart says, “Our system will automatically seat children next to at least one adult traveling under the same passenger name record, even if the family does not choose their own seat assignment when booking their flight.” Hobart says the airline launched the technology last summer and in addition boarding agents will also attempt to re-seat customers to accommodate families.

Delta’s statement says basic economy fares are designed for travelers who don’t mind where they sit. “Regardless of the type of ticket purchased, Delta works with customers on a case-by-case basis to ensure their travel needs are met. When customers have seating questions, we encourage them to reach out to us as soon as possible to allow for the opportunity to address their concerns,” says Adrian Gee with Delta. 

A spokesperson with Spirit Airlines, which targets budget friendly travelers, says its tickets “don’t box (passengers) in like a basic economy fare” and allows travelers “to pay the fee and still pay less in total than you would on other airlines.” In a statement the company emphasized, “For people who need an assigned seat, we offer several different options and opportunities throughout the purchasing process.” Spokesperson Field Sutton explains that, “Spirit only sells one kind of ticket and makes it clear through every step in the booking process that assigned seating is available for a nominal fee. We don’t ever surprise people with our ticketing policies.”

What can you do

Consumer Reports says there are things you can do to make sure your family is sitting together.

  • Call the airline instead of booking online. The agent may be able to make an exception or note in the reservation that you’re traveling with kids. 
  • Read the fine print. Third-party websites might not provide specific seating information. 
  • Make sure your family is booked on the same reservation. 
  • File a complaint with the Department of Transportation which is keeping a close eye on complaints and has created a separate complaint category for family seating. 

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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