Airlines Are Still Charging Parents High Fees to Sit Next to Their Kids

Air travel with small children is a necessary stress for many families, especially during the holidays. Kids are easily scared by the experience of being on a plane, and they certainly get bored to tears and need to be entertained so they don’t disrupt other passengers. So, imagine how irate many parents are feeling right now over airlines actively separating parents and children.


Yup. You read that right. Airlines are forcing parents to pay high fees in order to ensure that their child – some as young babies – is seated next to or near them.

According to a report on USA Today, many families are being forced to pay fees to sit together, to board early, and airlines are still surprising them by last-minute seat changes despite paying extra. To add some more ire to the situation, some families have formally complained that airlines have denied them the use of their car seats, which they paid hefty fees to be allowed on board.

Congress knows about this issue and three years ago they tapped the Department of Transportation to do something about this. Because let’s get real here, charging parents fees JUST TO SIT WITH THEIR CHILDREN should be causing everyone outrage. Congress apparently told the DOT to “review and, if appropriate, establish a policy” that would ensure that kids under the age of 13 could sit with their parents or family “to the maximum extent practicable and at no additional cost.”

And guess what the DOT said? Spoiler: they were jerks about it.

The DOT has done absolutely nothing about this serious problem of separating small children from their families on planes. In fact, they told Congress that “Based on the low number of complaints received and review of airline family seating policies, the department determined that it was unnecessary to direct airlines to establish policies on family seating.”

USA Today, however, took issue with the DOT’s findings and they used the Freedom of Information Act to dig up the actual complaints from passengers to see the benign complaints that the DOT dismissed.

Here is what USA Today found:

“We received summaries of 136 complaints filed against dozens of U.S. and foreign airlines, with the majority lodged against the domestic Big Three and their marketing partners — American Airlines (35), United Airlines (30) and Delta Air Lines (17),” USA Today wrote. In addition, they broke down some disturbing finds. Specifically, USA Today wrote, “I read all 136 complaints, and I’m shocked at DOT’s conclusion. Consider these claims from consumers, and remember — all airline bookings today require passenger dates of birth:

  • In two cases, United knowingly separated families traveling with 1-year-olds, in one case on a two-leg international itinerary.

  • In seven cases, 2-year-olds were seated separately from family, including on American, Delta, United and Spirit Airlines.

  • In three cases, 3-year-olds were seated apart from family.

  • A family on American with a 2-year-old and another child who suffers seizures found both kids seated separately (and their car seat was denied on board even with a seat reservation).

  • In three cases the separated children were autistic.”

This is an absolutely appalling practice by airlines that ought to be shut down. Anyone traveling by flight during the holidays who experience these unfair practices should feel empowered to file an official complaint to the airline they used and send a copy to your representatives.

Those long drives in the family car are starting to look pretty attractive this year.

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