Imagine this: You plan your perfect vacation after dreaming about it for years. You book your flights, carefully picking out your ideal seat arrangement for your family. Then, when your vacation day arrives, you check in and discover your airline seat assignments have gone haywire and your family is separated in different rows. What?!?!
This is more common than you might think. It’s happened to my family several times in the past few years on long flights.
Why Do Airline Seat Assignments Change?
Many of us who book airline tickets using miles book flights 11 months in advance, or as soon as new schedules are available to book. For most of my trips, that’s the only way I’ve found award availability for five people.
But, a lot can happen in 11 months. Airlines switch out planes for another one with a different seat configuration. Low-selling flights can be eliminated. Or, schedules change, causing missed connections and necessitating new flight combinations.
Who Cares If Families Are Separated on Flights?
Well, the airlines don’t care, I can tell you that. But most parents do care, especially on flights that are longer than an hour or two.
For some, it’s a safety issue. If there is an emergency on the flight, do you trust the adults sitting next to your kids to help them out? If your kids are scared after turbulence, will they find comfort with a stranger?
On longer flights overseas where sleeping is expected, I admittedly don’t feel comfortable with my kids out of close range. Plus, my family often shares headphones, electronics and snacks.
So yes, even though my kids are older now at ages 8, 11 and 15, I still get upset if we get separated on long flights.
My Recent Experience with Seat Scrambling
My family’s seats changed on a trip to Hawaii and a trip to Vancouver (remember my rant?) But most recently, United split us up on our 12-hour return flight from Auckland, New Zealand to San Francisco.
I booked this flight 11 months in advance with all five of us in the same row. I only checked up on it (or babysat it) once a few months ago. Then just a few weeks before our trip, when I looked at our reservation I saw we were scattered across the plane. I was kicking myself for not checking on our flights more often.
My daughter and I were still seated together, but my middle son was moved to the way back of the plane by himself. My husband and oldest son were in different rows but in the same section.
The good news was that there was an empty seat next to me and my daughter. Unfortunately, I had to pay $20 to move my husband there since it was now labeled a more desirable seat. I got my son in the row behind us and my other son in the same row but across the aisle. It wasn’t a perfect layout for us, but at least we were now all close.
Upon boarding, other passengers were complaining about their changed seats. I felt bad for the man who sat next to my son across the aisle in the middle seat. His whole family got separated. But, the worst part for him was that he’s a very big man who now had to squish himself into a middle seat. He easily spilled into half of my son’s seat. But, my son is small and he could spare him the room. Better him than me or my husband!
Make It a Habit
I need to do a better job of “babysitting” or checking up on my family’s seat assignments. I got lucky that I was able to get us sitting closer on that last big flight. If I would have checked more regularly, I might have been able to get us all back in the same row again.
If you book your flights far in advance, I recommend checking on your flight schedule and seat assignments once a month. It doesn’t take long, and you could save yourself a big headache down the road.
Have you been separated from your kids on a long flight? Do you regularly babysit your airline seat assignments before a trip?
Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids. Her favorite vacations include the beach, cruising and everything Disney.