The impending Thanksgiving travel rush has inspired a renewed round of calls for airlines to stop splitting up families aboard increasingly crowded flights.
Over the weekend, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, demanded that airlines ensure that parents and children under 13 can sit together, in accordance with a 2016 federal law.
“While complaints by parents seated rows away from their own kids on flights continue to climb, what’s flying under the radar is the fact that the feds were supposed to fix this problem in 2016 via a law now on the books, but they haven’t, and they should,” Schumer said.
He urged the Department of Transportation (DOT) to enact a universal family-friendly seating policy for airlines and said, “It absolutely should not cost parents more money.”
In recent years, the family seating problem has been exacerbated by the rise of basic economy fares. These rock-bottom prices carry a lot of restrictions, including the inability to book assigned seats in advance. That’s particularly hard on families who are likely to be split up if they have to take whatever empty seats are still available at the gate.
And it flies in the face of the “families traveling together” provision that was part of an overall Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill. The bill required the DOT to issue a policy within one year, to require airlines to seat children under 13 with an older family member. The one exception would apply when the advance seating would require an upgrade to another cabin class or a seat with extra legroom or seat pitch, which usually carry a fee. But that deadline passed with no action by the DOT.
Schumer cited a recent report by Consumer Reports magazine, which obtained 136 complaints that had been filed by families who had been separated on flights, through a Freedom of Information Request with DOT. Complaints by parents detailed “a pattern of insensitivity by the airlines against families,” the report said, noting that in many cases, the airlines responded by attempting to impose additional fees for “preferred” seat assignments. Some complaints even involved airlines knowingly assigning seats apart from family to children as young as two years old. In some cases, even when parents had paid extra fees, they found their seat assignments changed at the gate and the family was forced to sit apart with no refund or relief, Schumer said.
“The friendly skies deserve a family-friendly cabin, and it is clear as day that, for many parents, the real turbulence is the family seating policy, which has become a game of musical chairs that is neither fun nor fair. It’s either costing parents more or delivering a giant headache that includes pleading with strangers to swap seats,” Schumer said.