Photo by leocha
Airline fees for reserved seats and fewer families-board-first policies burden family travelers with infants and toddlers

The Consumer Travel Alliance (CTA) urges airlines to reconsider recently adopted policies and fees that unfairly burden families with young children.

These include mandatory seat-reservation fees that can force a family of four to spend as much as $150 more for air transportation, and sometimes more, to be guaranteed seats together. In addition, the elimination by some airlines of families-board-first policies have added stress to family travel, especially for those with toddlers in tow.

“Families traveling with infants and toddlers often can’t avoid checking extra bags filled with everything from the many clothes changes needed for small children to diapers, toys, special blankets, and baby bottles,” says Charlie Leocha, director of the Consumer Travel Alliance. “Meanwhile, elderly passengers who lack the upper-body strength to get carry-ons into access overhead bins, also must check baggage and pay extra fees.”

Seat reservation fees are part of the ancillary fees that airlines have created over the past five years in the name of allowing passengers to pay only for what they need and, naturally, of profits. These extra fees, as well as being difficult to determine, compare across airlines and purchase, fall unevenly on travelers.

United Airlines recently added a new wrinkle to its “family policy” by eliminating the option for families — even those with toddlers or babies — to board early. They are not alone. American Airlines stopped making families-board-early announcements several years ago. Delta, JetBlue and Virgin America continue to allow families with toddlers to board early and US Airways has a hybrid system that gets elite frequent fliers aboard first, then boards families prior to general boarding.

CTA recognizes that trying to legislate family-friendly behavior by airlines would be as easy as to trying to keep three- and four-year-olds from fighting. There are too many questions that legislation will have to consider. What is a family? How old are the children? What about unaccompanied minors? What does “seated together” mean?

Rather than face questionable legislation or cumbersome regulation, airlines could proactively defuse this issue by adding language to their Customer Service Commitments that explains how families will be handled to keep them together. Voluntarily waiving all seat-reservation fees for children aged six and younger would be a good start. Then, gate agents and flight attendants could be encouraged to use common sense in dealing with families, making every effort to seat them together.

While the CTA does not believe the airlines actually hate families, their current policies do a poor job of reflecting that. Immediate modification of these anti-family policies would reduce this unnecessary stress on families, other passengers and the crew.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Leslie Penkunas May 31, 2012 at 8:34 am

Terrific suggestion about waiving seat reservation fees for children ages six and younger. I traveled with my children when they were two and four; because I purchased the tickets last-minute, we were all stuck in middle seats several rows apart (eventually we were seated together, but it took many announcements on the PA system and pleading from the flight attendant while my two-year-old howled in terror in her seat). I can’t imagine this scenario being played out on a daily basis. For shame, airlines.

Mike Holberg June 27, 2012 at 10:27 pm

Clearly sitting apart from any child should be illegal for the airlines to permit.

Why should any parent be forced to entrust the safety of their child to a stranger in the event of an emergency?

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