When families sit together it’s best for all passengers

It is sad that airlines need to be forced to let families sit together. 

families fly togetherLet families sit together. These days it’s hard to imagine traveling by plane on family vacations. But at some point, families will travel together when we return to anything close to normal. Soon, we will have to deal with the hassles of getting families seated together on planes.

New legislation dubbed the “Fly Together Act,” has been introduced in the Senate by Senators Markey (D-MA), Schumer (D-NY), and Klobuchar (D-MN). A bipartisan companion bill has also been presented in the House of Representatives. The House version was introduced by Representative Ann Wagner (MO-2) and Representative Anthony Brown (MD-04).

This bill directs the Department of Transportation (DOT) to require that airlines let families fly together. The bill will mandate that toddlers and pre-teens, 13 years old or under, be allowed to sit together on flights with older family members at no additional charge.

Virtually the same bill was passed back in 2016 with the unfortunate words “if appropriate” in the language. DOT immediately decreed the bill as inappropriate without any research other than counting complaints.

This seems like a great idea for families. But actually, it’s a great idea for the rest of the traveling public.

Airlines have plenty of ways to let families fly together

Now, first up, the Fly Together Act just introduced in Congress doesn’t say airlines have to hold preferred seats for families. It would be easy and probably makes the most sense to block seats in the back of the plane. No one is saying families have to have the best seats. For that matter, seats blocked in the back of the plane could be held for people traveling with babies under two. (There might need to be some codicil to say people need to book 24 hours in advance, but in an emergency, airport personnel could still sort it out.)

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Here are five reasons why seating set aside for families will benefit everybody

1.  Late departures and seating issues.

At this point, it often falls to airport gate agents and flight attendants to try to sort out problems. One time, I flew from San Jose Airport to Denver, and gate staff got so cranky they ended up putting a family with young children in the exit row, which delayed the flight about 20 minutes while the then upset flight attendants had to move people. (And the reason I know the story is that one flight attendant told me the airport people had done it before when they didn’t want to be blamed for a late departure.)

2. Nobody wants to sit next to someone else’s child.
Now, to be fair, I have been seated next to a few charming children who were traveling as unaccompanied minors.  But I’ve also been on flights where, for example, children were kicking the seats nonstop, while their parents were seated somewhere else.  And especially since airlines started charging for most seats I’ve heard grumpy reports from business travelers about parents casually saying about their child, in a middle seat,  “can you keep an eye on him/her” while they sit elsewhere on the plane.
3. Travel agents get blamed for airline rules
You are being secretly taxed at airportsTravel agents (and airline reservations agents) often get the brunt of it. In SOME cases, due to preferred relationships with carriers, agents are able to get airlines to unblock seating together for families. If we can do something, we will. But often it’s not possible. Some airlines say they’ll take care of it at the airport. Yes, travel agents understand it’s frustrating, but we don’t make the rules.
4. Onboard guilt-tripping is no fun.
It’s not that most travelers aren’t sympathetic. We’ve all been there with young kids, or at least remember traveling as children ourselves. And no one wants to be the bad guy or gal. I’ve personally changed my seat several times to a similar seat in a different location.
But when you have a great window or aisle seat that you booked early and/or paid extra for it’s tough to have some parent saying, “Can you just switch to my middle seat back by the bathroom so I can sit with my kid?” Especially if it’s on a long flight. My husband once had a woman badger him for several minutes about giving up his economy plus aisle seat on a flight to London to switch to a middle seat in the second last row of the plane. (The flight attendant, who had given the woman and two of her children a free upgrade to economy plus, was not amused.)
5. It’s the right thing to do.
Flying is stressful enough these days. Even when traveling without children there are hassles. And, many people also face economic stresses.  (Wealthier travelers could still pay for extra legroom or even first class.) Take one potential worry away from traveling families. It isn’t that hard.