Families Fly Together
Families Fly Together
Airlines have poor practices of seating families on planes. Often, parents are separated from children – even children as young as 2 years old. Paying for seat assignments is not a guarantee that parents will be seated next to their child. Airlines can separate parents from children for a variety of reasons or for no reason at all. There is no policy or law that requires that young children be seated next to their parent.
I know this all too well. Twice in 8 months, I have been separated from my son. Both times, I paid extra so that I could choose seats together for our young family. On two separate flights, on two different airlines, both with itineraries that had originally included seats together, I was separated from my toddler.
At the end of December 2018, we flew IcelandAir from Toronto to Reykjavik. At check in, we discovered that none of our family of 3 was seated together. None of us. Our 2-year-old son was in a row by himself. The check in agent told us not to worry, that we should get to the gate right at 6:30pm and the gate agent would put us together. Instead, when we arrived at the gate, the agent told us that there were no other seats available and that we had no options. We were seated in 28F, 30C, 31D.
We begged. We pleaded. And the gate agent drew us a picture of our seat assignments to demonstrate how it wouldn’t be an issue to be separated on the plane. And then, without any changes to our seats, we got on the plane.
Once at our seats, no flight attendant offered any help. I loudly announced to the area where our seats were that IcelandAir had separated our family and that my 2-year-old was seated by himself. Still, no flight attendant helped to ask anyone if they would move seats for us. I sat my 2-year-old in his seat and tightened his seat belt. I put his backpack with toys, books, and water bottle under the seat in front of him. I then went to my own seat a row back and across the aisle. My 2-year-old started crying and screaming, “MOMMY. DON’T LEAVE ME. MOMMY. MOMMY. DON’T LEAVE ME." Even this did not bring help from any flight attendant.
Thankfully, at this point, the gentleman seated next to my son offered to switch seats with me so that my son would not have to be seated by himself for the flight. I was beyond appreciative for the kind man’s willingness to change seats. However, it should not be left to the kindness of a stranger to ensure that a 2-year-old flies next to a parent.
After the flight, we assumed that this was a fluke incident with IcelandAir and that it would never occur again. We were wrong. Almost exactly 8 months later, Delta separated our now 3-year-old from me again. Instead of sitting with my son, Delta put me in the row ahead of him, both of us in window seats. We asked at check in to have our original seats back, the seats that we had paid for when we purchased our tickets. The check in agent was not able to assist us because my original seat had been assigned to a new passenger. I was once again instructed to check in with the gate agent before the flight.
Once the gate agents were at the gate, I asked them about the possibility of having my original seat back so that I could sit next to my 3-year-old son. The agent’s response to me was, “It’s a full flight. I’ll see what I can do” as she walked away from me. I stood there for an hour waiting for a new seat assignment that would put me next to my son.
I also contacted Delta directly while I was waiting. I was told in writing, “I do apologize exact seats are are request, never guaranteed. AMS” [sic] ‘TMT’ also reinforced to me in writing that “unfortunately, seat numbers are not guaranteed. We show that your flight had an equipment change back in May which caused your seat numbers to be changed.”
After the flight, I called Delta for more information related to that “equipment change.” I was interested in learning more about that as the original plane was 3x3 and the plane that we flew on was 3x3 so I was having difficulty understanding what could cause me to lose my seat. I was on the phone with two Delta representatives for 2 hours. Neither representative was able to verify that my flight had an equipment change that necessitated that my seat be moved away from my son. They did verify that there was a slight time change back in May, but no one could provide any details on the equipment change that supposedly occurred.
Here’s the thing about a 2 or 3-year-old on a plane. They’re pretty incapable of doing much by themselves. I think that my son is amazing, but even with his amazingness, if he is handed a glass of apple juice on a plane, it’s almost a guarantee that he will have spilled that cup of juice within just a few minutes. Knowing that, I cannot imagine what my son would do all alone in an emergency. He wouldn’t understand the need to put on an oxygen mask. And in a true emergency where there is panic and a cacophony of noise, I would have to hope that a stranger would help my toddler put his oxygen mask on and that my toddler would allow a stranger to put a strange contraption over his face. Should the emergency require that he needed to walk down the aisle towards an exit row to get out of the plane as quickly as possible, I truly believe that my toddler would run the risk of being crushed under foot by people who may not see a little 33”, 25lbs tiny human walking down the aisle.
And finally, what about the person seated next to my son? I know that there are a lot of good people in this world, but I also know that not everyone is good. There are individuals who would take advantage of this situation. Individuals who would cause harm to my son because they have been given the opportunity by the airline to sit next to a toddler without a parent. With the current practice, airlines are giving strangers unsupervised and unfettered access to a young child for hours and hours. I honestly cannot think of anywhere else in society that this is allowed.
Each time that I fly, I do everything that I am supposed to do to ensure that my young child is seated next to me. I follow the “rules,” I purchase seats together, I get to the airport early. And still, I have been separated from my child twice in 8 months. This is not acceptable. It is downright dangerous. Not seating young children next to their parents is absurd. Airlines need to do better, and since they cannot seem to do better independently, Congress must act.