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Representative Jerrold Nadler from New York has introduced a bill to Congress called the “Families Flying Together Act of 2012” in an effort to ensure that families with children sit together on airplanes. I kind of shake my head at the idea that this is something that government needs to be involved with, but the sad reality is that perhaps that is necessary. As you likely know, many airlines charge for some “premium” seats on the airplane. On some airlines, like American Airlines, it seems that the majority of the seats on the plane (other than perhaps middle seats) are labeled as premium seats. On other airlines you have to pay a surcharge if you want any advance seat assignment. Needless to say, this, combined with flights going out at or near capacity, has made it more and more difficult for families to ensure that their party has seats together on the plane. This is especially true for those without elite status or the ability/willingness to pay extra for premium seat assignments.
Where you sit on the plane may sound frivolous to some, but for parents with small children it is very important. Even I have had the experience of my husband, myself, and my (at the time) one-year-old daughter all assigned to seats on different rows on the plane when we had to change flights at the last minute. We were able to convince people to trade seats so that we could sit together, but it wasn’t easy. Had we been assigned three middle seats, convincing others to trade would have been even more difficult. There are currently no regulations I am aware of in the US that state that children must be seated next to their parents on aircraft. Airlines really will assign a seat to a one-year-old that is away from any parent or guardian. The expectation I assume is that the child won’t actually end up sitting without a guardian, but they absolutely will assign the seats in that manner.
If you plan ahead and are diligent about obtaining and maintaining seat assignments on flights you can avoid this problem 95% of the time, but even then, cancellations, last minute changes, and aircraft substitutions can all throw a wrench in your advance planning. When that happens you are at the mercy of the airline to try to re-seat you, but if the plane is full, then you are at the mercy of politely asking other customers to trade seats with you. The majority of the time this strategy works just fine, but it really isn’t fair to require others to have to move at the last minute, and it also adds significant extra stress to the traveling family when you don’t know where everyone will be seated until you are done trading for seats on-board the aircraft.
What I would not want from any act or regulation is for it to become even harder for families to get seats on flights at all. For example, in the case where seats together were not available on the flight I took last minute with my family, it wouldn’t be helpful for an act to prohibit an airline from selling us seats at all just because they were not assigned next to each other. That would end up making it harder for families to travel, not easier.
For better or worse the “Families Flying Together Act” has been brought about by Rep. Nadler. The bill states the following:
(a) In General- Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Transportation shall issue regulations directing each air carrier to–
(1) establish a policy to ensure, to the extent practicable, that a family that purchases tickets for a flight with that air carrier is seated together during that flight; and
(2) make the policy described in paragraph (1) available to the public on an appropriate Internet Web site of the air carrier.
(b) Definitions- In this section, the following definitions apply:
(1) AIR CARRIER- The term `air carrier’ has the meaning given that term in section 40102(a) of title 49, United States Code.
(2) FAMILY- The term `family’ means a grouping of individuals that includes, at a minimum–
(A) a child who is 12 years of age or younger; and
(B) an individual who is–
(i) 18 years of age or older; and
- (ii) responsible for accompanying that child, including a parent or legal guardian of that child.
I like that the bill defines a child as 12 years of age or younger. That seems like a logical cut-off to me, as many teenagers are likely happier sitting a couple rows away from mom and dad. It also seems reasonable that “to the extent possible, that a family that purchases tickets for a flight….is seated together”. I’m a relatively simple person, and this bill seems to have a relatively simple purpose with simple wording. It is sad that a bill like this need even be considered, but I am hearing more and more reports of families who are having difficulty sitting next to their young children. Honestly, I find it a bit silly that we have gotten to that point, but the reality is that we have.
Is government involvement really the answer? I don’t know, but I am happy that the issue is getting attention since it is a growing concern for many traveling families. Additionally, I think my kid is cute and all, but I am not so naive as to think that a stranger actually wants to be the one keeping her entertained on a flight while mom and dad read magazines from several rows away. In my mind, nobody wins when families have to fit to sit together, and nobody would lose if it were set up that way from the beginning.