Traveling with children can be stressful enough, what with worrying about how your kids will handle being on a plane, whether their ears will pop and whether they’ll misbehave. On top of that, though, many parents have to worry about whether they’re even going to be able to sit with their family.
Unless you pay an extra fee for reserved seating, you may arrive at the airport only to find your young child’s seat is rows apart from your own. This has become an accepted practice at many airlines, which is why Consumer Reports has taken action by launching an investigation and starting a petition, which has already gained more than 100,000 signatures.
Consumer Reports Investigates
Consumer Reports decided to research this practice and filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Department of Transportation. The independent nonprofit organization discovered that consumers filed more than 100 complaints about airlines charging fees for families to sit together.
Back in 2016, Congress directed the DOT to review family seating policies as part of the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act. The DOT handles consumer complaints regarding air travel that the airlines fail to resolve to the consumers’ satisfaction.
However, Consumer Reports found that the DOT’s answer to this problem was to simply update their website. The agency noted that the number of complaints was not high compared to issues such as lost luggage.
The DOT added a section offering advice and directing concerned families to the airlines to learn about their policies regarding family seating, but made no other changes.
The Issues Involved in Separating Families on Flights
Believing this to be a severe issue warranting more considerable attention, Consumer Reports reviewed 136 consumer complaints against 19 airlines sent to the DOT between March 2016 and November 2018.
Some travelers experienced their children younger than age 5 being seated with total strangers. If those strangers refused to trade seats with the parents, many families left the flights. Some had to spend thousands of dollars more to rebook so they could sit together.
Aside from the financial inconveniences, others point out there are safety considerations. In case of an emergency, adults can handle themselves, but children may need help.
Anna Laitin, director of financial policy for Consumer Reports’ advocacy arm, pointed out to USA Today, “If there’s an emergency on the plane and my child is 10 rows away, I am going to disrupt the plane to get to my child.”
In addition, children with special needs, such as autism, may not receive the accommodations they need if their parents are seated away from them.
And although none of the complaints mentioned reports of sexual assault, the FBI documented 63 sexual assaults of adults and children on airlines in 2016, up from 38 in 2015. The agency said victims are often unaccompanied minors.
While airlines say that they do try to seat families together whenever possible, complaints abound on social media. People often use Twitter to bring attention to their grievances with airlines in order to get results. This one is from @klswanson:
Nothing like #united separating parents from children on flights. How hard is it to realize a 3 year old shouldn't be assigned a seat far away from his two parents. And when we call, it's always "there is nothing we can do." Yes there is, you can stop being a terrible airline.
— Kyle Swanson MD (@kiswanson) May 28, 2019
Taking A Stand
Consumer Reports’ petition asked American, Delta and United Airlines to “put safety over profits, and seat children with their families without charging them extra for it.” To add your name, go here.
Additionally, the organization has collected more than 400 complaints on a site it set up where travelers can air their grievances with both Consumer Reports and the DOT. It also offers airline passengers a chance to share their stories about being separated from their children on flights here.
Here’s a post on Twitter about the progress of the petition:
In 1 week, over 83,000 of you have signed our petition demanding airlines put #SafetyOverProfits and stop separating kids from their parents. On March 3, we're testifying before Congress on this issue. Stay tuned! #WTFee https://t.co/uUUYSdUMW9
— Consumer Reports Advocacy (@CRAdvocacy) February 26, 2020
The tweet references the fact that on March 3, 2020, advocates from Consumer Reports will testify before the House Aviation subcommittee reviewing the implementation of the most recent FAA budget reauthorization regarding this and other consumer airline travel issues.
Could more action on this issue be far behind? We can only hope!