One of our Facebook followers has recently reached out to me with her story. I asked for permission to publish it on the blog and she agreed. Without further ado:
“I wanted to hear your thoughts on how to handle a certain issue with American Airlines. We are AAdvantage members and fly AA, a lot! My flight this morning from LGA to MCO was the second time AA separated my family on a domestic flight, sitting my toddler son by himself. The first time it happened my husband, son and I were flying from LAX to LGA. And we were in three separate rows, and two separate aisles. AA fixed the issue quickly once we brought it to their attention.
This time, my son and I were traveling together on a 6am flight. When we bought the tickets, we requested seats together, and put that my son was only three years old. Not to mention, his boarding pass said he was a child. Still I was seated across the aisle from him when I went to check in!
I asked AA staff at the airport three times to help: first when I was checking in my bags, a second time at the gate, and a third time while boarding the plane. AA staff responded by telling me I had to ask other travelers to switch seats! I tried to stay calm because my son was fast asleep and I was by myself trying to juggle bags, a stroller, and sleeping toddler.
But AA’s refusal to accommodate me left me with the responsibility to beg strangers to switch their seats with me. I was especially shocked that in the process of trying to get someone to switch seats, a flight attendant told me to sit separately from my son because I was disturbing the boarding process.
Without any help from AA staff, and with only a few minutes before the doors closed, a couple offered to change seats so my son could sit next to me. I was so shocked that AA staff refused to help that I couldn’t even relax on the flight. Once we got to our hotel and got settled, I called AA to complain and I was told that: 1) It was my fault for booking a flight through a discount website, 2) FAA and DOT regulations allows them to seat us the way they did and 3) The issue is not AA’s fault but the fault of staff at LGA (who btw happen to work for AA).
That makes no sense whatsoever. The whole thing seems like a massive safety issue, and to me defies logic. But I welcome your thoughts, and whether you think I should escalate this up the chain at AA. I wonder also how many other families have had this happen to them.”
This sort of thing really makes my blood boil.
Surely, most of the AA workers have children themselves, and therefore would understand the precarious position this mother was in. Nobody would think that it’s OK to put a toddler away from the parent on a public bus, so how is airplane different?
Frankly, I would not want my 10-year-old daughter to sit separately from me, especially if there was a man next to her. Considering all the perverted stuff you hear on the news, can you really blame me?
Last year Nancy wrote a post on experiencing a similar issue so this problem appears to be quite common. She mentioned that Congress passed a law that requires airlines to sit families with kids ages 13 and under together without having to pay for it.
H.R. 636—FAA Extension, Safety and Security Act of 2016 became law on July 15, 2016. Section 2309 Family Seating states:
(a) In General.–Not later than 1 year after the date of enactment
of this Act, the Secretary of Transportation shall review and, if
appropriate, establish a policy directing all air carriers providing
scheduled passenger interstate or intrastate air transportation to
establish policies that enable a child, who is age 13 or under on the
date an applicable flight is scheduled to occur, to be seated in a seat
adjacent to the seat of an accompanying family member over the age of
13, to the maximum extent practicable and at no additional cost, except
when assignment to an adjacent seat would require an upgrade to another
cabin class or a seat with extra legroom or seat pitch for which additional payment is normally required.
You can read the entire text here.
The Secretary of Transportation had until July of 2017 to establish a policy for the airlines, but it looks like it never materialized.
What you can do in order to avoid this sort of thing from happening to your family
1) When flying with young kids, get your seat assignments as soon as you book the tickets. Check on them periodically in order to catch any changes.
2) If you see that the seats were reassigned without your permission, call the airline and demand (politely) that your kids are seated next to you. HUCA (hang up call again) and ask for a supervisor if you have to.
3) Print the page outlining the law mentioned above and carry it with you to the airport. Be polite yet firm, and try to get the seat assignments taken care of before you go through security.
4) If everything fails, ask fellow passengers to switch seats with you. While most people will ignore your pleas, there will probably be a few kind souls who will understand your predicament.
5) Reach out to airlines and demand that they establish a firm family seating policy, so parents don’t have to beg to sit next to their kids. My blog is fairly small, but I plan to tweet this post to American Airlines. The more noise families make, the more likely we are to be taken seriously. Pass this on if you agree.
Update: the reader has forwarded me the email from American Airlines as well her response.
Hello (name removed)
Thank you for contacting American Airlines.
As a traveling mother myself to a toddler, I understand that it is very important for parents and their children to be seated together and not across the aisle from one another. I sincerely regret the concerns and frustration you and Ronin experienced, as a result of the two of you not being able to obtain reserved seating on the same side of the aisle.
After further review of this matter, our records indicate that you purchased your tickets through a third party travel agency and at the time of your seat request, all adjacent seating was either reserved by other customers, “blocked” to allow our airport personnel to handle unexpected seating issues that may arise on the day of departure, or they are part of our Main Cabin Extra or Preferred Seats travel options.
We have internal processes in place, both in the days leading up to the departure date as well as at the airport, to assist families in obtaining seating together. Many of these families will check in and find that they have already been assigned seating together. For those who have not yet received seating together, our airport agents are able to assist families in obtaining appropriate seating. In any case, we make every effort to ensure that families traveling with children are seated together at boarding time. Per your correspondence and our records, you and your son were placed in the only available adjacent seats together. While I do understand your concerns, adjacent aisle seating is considered continuous seats.
Thank you for taking the time to share you travel experience with us and provide us with valuable feedback to promote and drive change for traveling families. We do appreciate your business and thank you for contacting American Airlines Customer Relations.
Reader’s response to American Airlines:
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.