It can be expensive for families to sit together. That is wrong.

families can sit togetherFew travel issues are more contentious than having families sit together on airplanes. Sure, nobody wants young children to sit by themselves, but that doesn’t mean that travelers who have booked way in advance or paid a premium want to give up their seats, either. The easiest solutions involve getting the seats right in the first place so families can sit together.

Here are five suggestions for a stress-free airplane approach so families can sit together that won’t break the bank.

1. Book early. Yes, this seems too simple. Sometimes it’s not possible to sit together. Many times families know when their vacation travel will be, but they just procrastinate or wait in hopes of better last-minute deals. Booking in spring for summer travel, for example, will mean there generally still will be seats together.

2. Avoid some of the “economy-minus”-type fares. Many airlines, including American, Delta, and United Airlines, are now offering super-low fares that have absolutely no frills. They cannot be changed and they do not allow seat assignments. But the discount fares that do have seat assignments may not be that much more. While I completely understand the desire to save money, sometimes with a family it may not be worth the risk. (There’s a similar phenomenon with hotel rooms. Companies like Priceline may not let you confirm bedding in a room, and I’ve heard  of families complaining about being offered only kings. If you HAVE to have two beds, book in a way that guarantees it.)

3. Consider Southwest, with a relatively low early boarding fee — $15 one way per person. Plus, Southwest also has free options for families with children age six and younger to board after the “A” boarding group and before “B,” when generally there are seats that allow families to sit together.

Click here to subscribe4. Book separate window and aisle seats. This requires a bit of work, but if there are decent preassignable seats available that aren’t together, get as many aisles and windows as possible. It’s much easier to get people to trade when offering decent seats. It’s harder to start at the airport with nothing, and even sympathetic fellow travelers don’t want to sit in the middle seat.

5. Use a travel agent. Besides being able to compare fares, agents have access to seat maps on flights, so they can say up front which flights still have seats available to sit together. In addition, some agents may have special relationships with airlines for seat assignments. These deals can range from free seats with carriers that normally charge, to the ability to get an airline to unblock preferred seats without an extra cost. Yes, a travel agent will generally charge fees, but the fees can often be less than it would cost to get only the seat assignments separately. Not to mention the amount of time it might save to have someone else look for open flights with seats together.

Of course, there are times, especially with last-minute travel, where the only option is sorting things out at the airport and begging gate agents and fellow travelers for help so families can sit together. However, everyone will be happier if those times are reduced to a minimum.