The newly passed provision requires airlines to seat travelers younger than 13 years old with an adult. // © iStock 2016
Feature image (above): Travel industry members supported the U.S. representatives pushing the bill. // © iStock 2016
Nearly every traveling parent has experienced it — that “Are you kidding me?” moment when an airline staffer hands over boarding passes that show separated seats, despite the fact that the youngest member of the group is 5 years old. The now-panicked parent is told to check with a gate staffer to see if any changes can be made, but veterans know the truth: They’re on their own. As soon as they board the aircraft, they’ll be pleading with a fellow passenger (or two) to make seat swaps to accommodate them. Of course, not everyone will oblige.
It’s a baffling scenario, but a common one. Unless families are splurging on premium seats, it’s likely that their assignments will be dispersed without attention to the ages and needs of those in the party. Not surprisingly, some travel industry professionals, including the Family Travel Association (FTA) and the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), have been helping fight for change alongside politicians, namely U.S. Representatives Jerrold Nadler of New York and Rodney Davis of Illinois.
On July 7, the duo announced that their hard work had resulted in the passage of a provision requiring airlines to seat children 13 years old and younger with an adult or older child in their party. The legislation, which Nadler and Davis had penned in 2015 as the Families Flying Together Act (FFTA), was included in the recent 15-month Federal Aviation Administration extension. It’s a temporary victory, but a victory nonetheless.
“Traveling with young children can already be stressful, and when you can’t sit together on a flight, it makes the process more difficult,” Davis said in a statement. “All we're asking is for airlines to do a better job of accommodating parents ahead of time so we can make flying a better experience for families and other passengers onboard. I think most airlines have the same goal. This provision is important to updating an industry that continues to see growth in family travel.”
Ethan Gelber, director of editorial for the FTA, says that his team lent a helping hand by acting as communications support, sharing news on the legislation’s progress with consumers and industry members, as well as gathering industry feedback for Nadler and Davis.
According to Eben Peck, senior vice president of government and industry affairs for ASTA, association members were also heavily involved in the legislative process. This past March, more than 100 members went to the capitol to lobby for their interests in regards to FFTA, and some staff returned again in the spring.
While Peck and fellow ASTA members were excited about the new requirements for airlines, he reports that travel agents are equally satisfied about terms not included in the bill. Peck says that the initial draft would have burdened agents with a number of fine-inducing consumer disclosures, as well as a provision that would have left them susceptible to fines for failing to communicate that families aren’t guaranteed seats together — thus putting the responsibility on the party that isn’t in control of seat assignments.
“It’s important to remember that this is a short-term bill expiring at the end of September 2017,” Peck said. “In addition to preventing consumer disclosures that don’t make sense, our objectives for the next go-round include ensuring that airline ancillary fees are transparent to consumers; that those ancillaries are purchasable through travel agents; creating a new national commission on airline competition; and adding a seat for independent travel distribution to the Department of Transportation’s Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection.”