The Families Flying Together Act of 2015 calls for new air carrier policies that would allow families to sit together during a flight. // © 2016 iStock
A family of five checks in for a flight at the start of a dream holiday. On a restricted budget, they haven’t paid for seats together, banking on the assumption that young children won’t be separated from their parents. But instead, they receive two seats together and three singles — all middle seats — spread across several rows.
On the plane, fellow passengers resist swapping for middle seats or surrendering spots for which they have paid. So the mom ends up with the smallest child, while the other two children are split up between strangers who have been suddenly saddled with babysitting responsibilities. Meanwhile, the dad continuously needs to get to the aisle to keep an eye on the kids.
It is scenarios such as these that motivated U.S. Representatives Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) to introduce last year’s Families Flying Together Act of 2015. The goal was to require that air carriers establish a policy that attempts to ensure that families who purchase tickets are seated together during a flight.
“Air travel is complicated and expensive enough for families without adding new stresses,” Nadler said. “Families should not be stuck paying hidden fees or buying ‘premium’ seats simply because they wish to be seated together on crowded flights. It is positively absurd to expect a 2 or 3 year old to sit unattended, next to strangers, on an airplane.”
The resolution stalled in the House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Aviation. However, another proposed amendment was included in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Bill, which declares it an “unfair or deceptive practice” for any airline not to alert adults traveling with children under 13 with the following statement before tickets are purchased: “It is not possible to assign two or more seats together on at least one of the flights you have selected. Please be advised that you may not be able to sit next to other members of your travel party, even if you are traveling with a child.”
The FAA Reauthorization Bill was approved by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and will be up for a full-Senate vote in April. It includes a requirement that, for any air reservation that includes a child under 13, air carriers must disclose whether it is possible to sit parents with their children in adjoining seats at no additional cost. Or, if seats are not available, an explanation on the policy for accommodating adjoining seat requests prior to departure must be provided.
Despite the efforts, the airline industry doesn’t seem to believe the rules for families need to change. This makes it no easier for mindful travel agents to secure confirmed family seating without extra cost or early booking. Or at all. If that doesn’t sit well with you, tell your elected representatives. This is a legislative battle that is only just beginning.