While international airlines still cater to families, many domestic lines have changed how they manage seats, boarding and baggage policies — and not necessarily in a family’s favor. While I have never been separated from my children, I have been approached several times by mothers and fathers asking me to switch seats with them because they weren’t able to secure seats next to their children. While I am happy to switch from an aisle to a window so that a mother and son can sit together, a middle seat is always hard to off load. With these types of burdens on families, as well as increased baggage fees and the elimination of pre-boarding on airlines, some travel agents may be wondering what family-friendly offerings are available for clients and on which airlines.
1. Baggage fees. Paying for checked luggage can be an extra heavy burden for families. Look for an airline such as Southwest, which offers two bags for free. Clients can also pay for bags in advance, when they check in online, or can even pay when the tickets are booked for a small per-bag discount.
2. Pre-boarding. Several airlines have stopped offering pre-boarding for families. So for families who haven’t flown in a while, it is helpful to check with the airline they are flying and advise them of the policy. If the airline does offer pre-boarding, find out when that takes place so that families can be ready when they are called for boarding. Several domestic airlines still offer pre-boarding to families, but after their priority passengers such as first class and frequent-flyer members.
3. Seating policies. Keeping families seated together is a challenge and, as a travel agent, you can distinguish yourself by knowing the ins and outs of booking air for families and keeping them seated together. Watch out for airlines that do not let clients choose seats at the time of booking but only at check-in or at the gate. Just being able to keep a family together on a plane could result in regular bookings.
4. In-flight entertainment. Don’t underestimate the importance of in-flight entertainment when dealing with families, especially on long flights when batteries on portable devices are apt to die. Some newer planes offer power in economy plus and even in economy, which are a great option for families. More commonly, planes and economy-class seats are equipped with video and on-demand entertainment.
“Having televisions onboard the plane makes everything easier. We don’t have to worry about the iPad dying and, when it does, there’s still something to do.”
— Michelle, mother of 3
“I have seven kids, and that means that baggage fees — and airfare in general — is a big expense. ”
— Daniele, mother of 7
What features are important when you fly with your family?
Guaranteed seat selection 50%
On-demand, in-flight entertainment 35%
Free baggage 8%