Airlines to Parents: No, You Can't Sit With Your Kids

3793821434_6dd75a16d1_mOver the weekend, I flew from Boston to Tucson on US Airways. Our trip involved three separate flights, and on each one, I was seated far away from my kids.

When I first noticed this on my boarding pass, I approached the gate agent with a joke, “Hi! I don’t want to sit next to these kids any more than anyone else does, but I’m sure you won’t really let me get away with that.”

The joke became a lot less funny when he said there was nothing he could do to fix it. And even less funny when his supervisor told me the same thing. Get on the plane, they advised me, and maybe some generous passenger will be willing to swap seats with you.

Hot tip, US Airways: Wrong Answer. You assigned my toddler and my kindergartner seats in row 26 and put me in row 5. That is your problem to solve, not your problem to dump on the dude in seat 26D.

The first and third flights were actually easy fixes, but on the second we ran into trouble. We’d all been assigned center seats, and the flight attendant was Not Helpful. Eventually we were able to sit together, but only after 20 minutes of waiting on the plane with scared kids and no seats.

I was mad. The flight attendant was rude, and clearly had no clue how to deal with what turned out to be a pretty common issue. There were five families on that flight alone who had been separated from their kids.

So  I blogged about it, like you do. Other parents started chiming in with their own horror stories, and within a day or so, US Airways had become avid readers of ChildWild.

They dispatched a very nice person from Customer Relations to talk to me. Cynthia explained that their policy is to let parents ask other passengers to swap seats. That usually works, she said.

Would US Airways really let a two-year-old fly by herself, sandwiched between two strangers on a long flight?

“It’s not a situation that would normally happen because nobody wants to sit next to that child,” Cynthia told me.

Wait a minute! People reserve a seat online, and think that is the seat they will have. But when they get on the plane, they’re confronted with a Bad Choice: give up their cushy aisle/window seat and cram their butt into a center seat for the ride, or spend the next few hours babysitting a distraught toddler. Leaving aside the needs of the child or parent involved, that’s a crappy way to treat your other customers.

This is not just US Airways problem. The commenters on my original blog post made it clear this kind of thing happens on other airlines all the time. Seriously? You would let a two-year-old fly without a parent? Maybe they should be marketing this as a service to parents. Free babysitting for the duration of your flight with purchase of round-trip airfare. Only, no.

This is just not a banner week to be an airline. Southwest has been nicknamed Southworst after dubbing Kevin Smith too fat to fly. Spirit Airlines kicked a whole family off a plane because a dad insisted on getting a glass of water for his pregnant wife.

Next year, I think we’ll take the scenic route and go by train.

Have you ever been asked to sit apart from your young child on a plane? How did the airline handle it? Would you let your two-year-old fly alone?

Photo: Finding Josephine

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