Fly Together Act will stop airlines from making millions in profits by separating families
The Fly Together Act was just introduced. For example, Travelers United has battled airline greed when it came to families sitting together by attempting to get airlines to sit families together for no extra cost for almost half a decade. Toddlers and pre-teens can be seated apart from parents, according to airlines and the DOT.
How can this happen in America? Family values are sacrosanct. The current Department of Transportation (DOT) leadership determined that having 3- to 13-year-olds sit separately from parents is “appropriate.” Amazingly, since 2016, when Congress included similar language in the FAA funding bill, DOT has stated repeatedly that having toddlers and parents sit together is “not appropriate.”
Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) announced the Fly Together Act, This is companion legislation to a bipartisan bill previously introduced in the House of Representatives by Ann Wagner (MO-2) and Anthony Brown (MD-04).
Finally, after five years of inaction, the Fly Together Act makes Congress’s will clear to DOT. Young children must sit with older family members. With an election pending, members of Congress need to either vote for America’s families or against them.
No longer will the Senate and House members use mealy-mouthed language to allow airlines to rake in profits at the expense of America’s families.
DOT determined that it is appropriate to have 3- to 13-year-olds sit separately from older family members
This language is virtually identical to the language already passed by Congress in 2016. At that time, Congress directed DOT to “review, and if appropriate, establish a policy” to ensure airlines allow families with children 13 and under to sit together without paying additional fees.
After three years of inaction by the DOT, Consumer Reports filed a Freedom of Information Act request. They asked about the status of this inquiry. One year later, the DOT finally forwarded 136 consumer complaints to CR. At the same time, DOT indicated that it was unnecessary to take action “based on the low number of complaints.”
A new Fly Together Act makes Congress’s desires very clear — toddlers and pre-teens should sit together with older family members
Congress removed language allowing DOT to determine whether separating families was appropriate. The Fly Together Act just introduced in Congress is clear.
Secretary of Transportation shall establish a policy directing all air carriers providing scheduled passenger interstate or intrastate air transportation to establish policies that enable a child, who is age 13 or under on the date an applicable flight is scheduled to occur, to be seated in a seat adjacent to the seat of an accompanying family member over the age of 13, to the maximum extent practicable and at no additional cost, except when assignment to an adjacent seat would-
(1) require an upgrade to—
(A) another cabin class;
(B) a seat with extra legroom; or
(C) seat pitch for which additional payment is normally required; or
(2) violate safety guidelines.
Certainly, this political fight is not over. In DC I have learned that money talks and the public’s benefit walks. Politicians count on campaign donations. When airlines stand to lose donations from more regulations, Senators and Representatives do all they can to find ways to take the money.
Consumer groups exposed the dereliction of duty by DOT
Consumer Reports created a portal to the DOT’s complaint system, generating more than 600 complaint submissions in just two months. This was well over four times as many as DOT received in two and a half years.
Parents who submitted complaints shared how they bought tickets and chose seats together. Then, the airline reassigned the seats before the flight. They pay for an upgrade or beg gate agents, flight attendants, and other passengers to switch seats with them. Other families buy low-cost Basic Economy tickets. After that, they learn that this fare denies them the ability to pick their seats. Plus, it can put the parents in seats far from their children. Gate agents tell some families they can fix the problem for an extra fee.
Without the Flying Together Act, seat reservations can add $800 to a family round-trip for a family of four
Travelers United published an analysis of the extra fees that families were expected to pay to ensure that a family could sit together. It concluded that DOT was not doing its job — executing the will of Congress.
And, CBS News quoted the Travelers United president on the amounts of money that families had to pay to sit together.
“This is a cruel form of family separation,” he wrote. A family of four can rack up to $800 in extra fees just to sit side-by-side on a domestic flight.
All airline passengers should watch the actions of Congress — we will see whose side they are on.
Charlie Leocha is the President of Travelers United. He has been working in Washington, DC, for the past 11 years with Congress, the Department of Transportation and industry stakeholders on travel issues. He was the first consumer representative to the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protections appointed by the Secretary of Transportation from 2012 through 2018.