No flying solo: Airlines try to keep families together
Updated: September 5, 2012 2:42PM
Dear Fixer: I read your column all the time and you are amazing. I am actually writing on behalf of my children and grandchildren, but also for the benefit of all children.
My problem is with the airlines! My son purchased tickets from American Airlines for an upcoming trip. He and his wife have three children who are 10, 14 and 17. He paid extra money for three of the seats so they would all be seated together in the same row and across.
About 10 days ago, he happened to check his flight and discovered that now they were not all seated together. He called customer service and spoke to two people, including a supervisor. They did nothing. He was told to get to the airport early and try to change the seats then. So now he has paid extra money for these seats and the seats are not together.
One month ago, my daughter was traveling to Chicago on United Airlines with her three children. They are 3, 5 and 6. The flight to Chicago was a nightmare resulting in my daughter spending the night in the airport with the three boys. The original flight was canceled and they were put on a different flight the next day.
She had requested seats together but now was told she had four seats all in different rows throughout the plane. The plane was full. Finally they were able to give her two seats together and they suggested she ask passengers to change seats when she boarded. Can you believe it? My daughter is supposed to get on a full airplane with three young boys, carry an iPad, games, food and all the things she needs to bring on the plane, and move around trying to get four seats together. She cried and finally they got her three seats together. The man in the other seat refused to move.
Where is the responsibility to keep children safe? My grandchildren could be sitting next to a sex offender. Children NEED to be with their parents. If there were a terrorist or turbulence on the airplane, should you be five rows ahead of your child?
In addition, if there is a change in your seating, can’t the airline notify you?
As you can tell, I am thoroughly disappointed and disgusted. My family has already been inconvenienced and upset by this, but maybe something can be done to help others.
Dear Linda: The Fixer has been in this same situation when the Junior Fixers were little. Luckily, people were willing to move. But we’ve always wondered why an airline would potentially inconvenience its other passengers by seating a frightened kid next to a stranger.
The good news is we were able to help get your son Adam and his family back together for their upcoming trip. American Airlines spokeswoman Mary Frances Fagan looked into it, and they discovered the problem was caused when the original aircraft was switched with a different type of plane. That threw off all the seat configurations, and while the computer system tried to restore everyone’s seat choices, your son’s daughter ended up in a different row.
American escalated the issue and was able to get all five back together.
Fagan said they’ve reminded their frontline employees to be as flexible as possible in trying to keep kids and parents together.
As for other airlines, United spokesman Rahsaan Johnson said United doesn’t charge extra for its economy window or aisle seats. So as long as families book early enough they should be OK. (Of course, that didn’t help your daughter, who had her flight switched on her unexpectedly.) Johnson added that employees do what they can to encourage other passengers to switch seats, if necessary.
Southwest spokesman Brad Hawkins said their flight attendants try to help families with kids older than the “family boarding” age of 4 by asking volunteers to move, sometimes offering a free drink as compensation. (Southwest does not have assigned seats.)
Bottom line: Book early and periodically check your reservation. And be ready to enlist your 3-year-old in complaining if there’s a problem.
Costly flight lessons
We’ve got a double dose of woe today.
First there’s Nancy, who paid a whopping $596 for round-trip airplane tickets from Chicago to Harlingen, Tex. Everything was fine until Nancy fell in love — with a sweet Chihuahua puppy that also likes to travel.
“I wanted to take her with me, but the airline had booked a connecting flight through Houston,” Nancy wrote The Fixer. “They wanted $125 each way, per flight, for my baby to travel in-cabin with me. That’s $500 extra for the whole trip.”
Nancy tried switching cities but that would have cost even more. The airline wouldn’t budge, of course.
Our second tale comes from Guadalupe, who bought tickets for her family to fly out to California to attend a relative’s military commencement ceremony. Trouble was, after they bought the tickets, the relative informed her that he didn’t pass his exam.
“We tried to cancel, but we were told we could not,” Guadalupe wrote to The Fixer.
The family had sunk close to $2,400 into the tickets. They can use them on another flight, but they must do so within one year and they’ll have to pay a penalty on each re-booked ticket.
Unfortunately for consumers, airlines haven’t been in a generous mood for many years now. The lesson for the rest of us: Plan as well as you possibly can, and consider getting travel insurance (or use insurance available on your credit card) if you have any inkling that your trip might change.