Why Families Think Airlines Suck

Please note this site has financial relationships with American Express and this post may contain affiliate links. Read my Advertiser Disclosure policy here to learn more about my partners.

Apologies upfront for this post having a slightly less than Polyannaish-tone.  I don’t normally like to get negative toward travel related topics, so I’ll at least partially blame minimal sleep last night.  With that out of the way….

I’m sure you have seen the stories on TV or online about families who simply put, think airline suck.  They think that airlines treat families poorly on many occasions, and view air travel as a necessary evil at times, but certainly not something to be enjoyed.  This perceived or real less-than-ideal treatment takes many forms, but a common complaint from families comes in the form of seat assignments.

In my view, everyone on the plane benefits when families are seated together.  For one, hopefully no one else then has to sit next to the little ones.  For another, there is a greater chance of the kids being kept happy when the adult caregivers are all nearby and available rather than scattered around the cabin.  Except in cases where the kids do better apart due to bickering, there is no real winner when families are split up.  While my focus is families, this isn’t really just a family issue.  Couples, friends, etc. all are likely happier on-board when seated next to their traveling companion.

However, on many flights you often see family members and flight attendants trying to beg and bargain during boarding to get folks to trade seats in order for family members to sit together.  The attitude I see and hear often during these situations is that the family is somehow to blame for their situation.  The assumption is often that they took seat assignments for granted and didn’t take the necessary steps to be seated together ahead of time.  I’m sure that is true sometimes, but other times, many other times, it simply isn’t the family’s fault.

Here’s our recent example…we are getting ready for a trip in a few weeks to Aruba (more on that soon), and I was checking on some trip details today, including seat assignments.  We are flying US Airways, an airline I don’t frequently fly, and have no status on.  When we booked the tickets many months ago we were assigned seats together (as shown below), but we all know stuff happens to reservations so I wanted to make sure we were still all squared away as departure neared.  If not, since the flight was still a few weeks away, I hoped we would be able to get any issues fixed in advance.

US Airways Seat AssignmentsWell, the flight back from Aruba to Charlotte had changed from being operated by an A319 to a 757 since we booked the tickets.  In addition to a schedule change, our seat assignments had been messed up on one segment, which can happen with equipment swaps.  My husband and daughter kept their same seats, but I had been moved from their row where I was originally assigned to several rows away.

Luckily, I logged on and saw the seat I was originally assigned next to them was still available, so I picked up the phone to call US Airways and try to get my original seat next to my family back.  I couldn’t do this online for free as the seat I used to be in is apparently now a “Choice Seat” that sells for $44.  For those not familiar, these seats do not have extra legroom, they simply are designated “Choice” as they are toward the front of the plane.  I had hoped that common sense would prevail, and since the seat was still available, and I was originally seated next to my family pre-equipment swap, that the agent could simply put me back there without charging a fee for a change I didn’t want in the first place.

US Airways Seat Assignments

After a few minutes on hold a nice agent came on the line and explained that my only option to sit in the same row as my family as of right now was to pay the $44, or hope that the day of departure it is still available and can be assigned for free at the airport.  The fact that I originally had that seat before I was moved involuntarily via the equipment swap didn’t matter, and wasn’t a reason for the fee to be waived.

Now, the world would obviously keep turning if the three of us weren’t seated in the same row for this four hour flight.  It has certainly happened before for various reasons, but in this case it just seems like a totally unnecessary thing.  If a family (or anyone for that matter) has seat assignments together, and then is scattered by the airline for whatever reason, it seems reasonable for the airline to be willing to put them back together without an additional fee if the seats are still available.

There is no reason to make the flight less enjoyable or add to day-of-departure seat assignment antics when the problem could be solved in advance very easily.  However, while the agent was very nice, that is not what happened.  I was told the problem can’t be fixed now without us paying more money.

I can “hang-up, call back” and try again with someone else, or ask to speak to a supervisor, and maybe I will eventually get a different answer.  That is the advice I would give to someone who really wanted the issue resolved without being charged anything additional.   Seriously though, who has the time and patience for that kind of stuff just to keep the seat next to their family they had in the first place?  I’ll likely end up just paying the $44 to avoid additional time investment and frustration…which of course is exactly the resolution the airline wanted in the first place.

This is why families sometimes think airlines suck.


The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.


  1. they stink. Had similar issue with US Air. I had purchased extra leg room seats with USAir but a few months later it was switched to a AA flight and equipment. They did refund me the cost of the extra leg room but then seated me in back of plane for new flight and wanted me to pay the AA cost for extra leg room which was about $10 more per seat then I originally paid on US Air. Was told they know it’s wrong but nothing they can do. I just ended up paying they higher fee for the extra leg room.

  2. Heading to Aruba in a few weeks as well, also flying US Airways.. I check my flights daily to ensure we’re with the kids. Its no fun doing the beg, borrow and steal on the airplane for seats…

  3. Isn’t there some language in the new rules about how you can’t change/charge a new fee once a flight is ticketed? Perhaps you can try coming at it from that way. Of course they will argue that a ticket does not guarantee a specific seat, but this does seem like a classic bait and switch.

  4. Airlines are the worst nightmare of any family. The only reason I use them is that I cannot walk with my wife and kids from the US to South America to visit family 🙂 They have no respect for anything other than your pocket. I just booked 4 tickets for us to fly to South America for next Tksgiving (yes, 320 days in advance) and I realized that Delta has changed the rules and now for us to fly Economy Comfort I had to pay extra $600 to get “better” seats. That was a perk that I had as Gold medallion last year but they took that away. Thus, every year we have to give them more to get less. They indeed suck!!!!

    • Don’t think DL golds have ever had free economy comfort internationally….domestic and regional yes; intercontinental no

      • Just flew with wife and 2 kids during Tksgiving and I selected Economy Comfort in the domestic and international legs at no extra cost. Wife and kids flew using my miles and I had paid ticket. Also, flew all of us to Hawaii in Economy Comfort and did not pay a penny for it. Now I am lucky if I can select those seats for free within 48 hours of my flight which will be basically impossible to get 4 seats in Economy Comfort. Delta sucks big time!!!!

  5. If I understand the seat map correctly- to move from 17C (an aisle seat) to 9B (a middle seat), one will have to pay $44 extra, even though both seats have the same legroom?

    If so, is there any reason for someone to do that, other than to sit next to a family/friend? Maybe airlines try to make more money by using random seat assignment and seat cost, and count on family/friends to rectify it through payment 🙂

  6. Santastico– GMs don’t get free EC on flights to South America, Europe, or Asia this year, and didn’t last year, either. They do get it on domestic flights, as well as flights to the Caribbean and Central America, but for years, GMs have only gotten a 50% discount on international EC seats on Delta.

  7. With a family of 5, forget about it. We’ve prepped them for sitting with strangers, no talking about yourself, be polite, and put headphones in is the best tactic. $44 could be a meal or two on vacation. Not gonna fork any more money over. With southwest we can usually get groups of 2 together. But long haul flights are so hard. Disappointing. I feel for you.

  8. Summer you should tweet USairways and explain the situation and see if they’ll do something about it. Not sure how responsive their tweeter team is or if they even have one but it’s worth a shot. You could also tweet AA if USairways doesn’t respond. Doesn’t take much time and no long holds on the phone.

    • Buddy, yeah I’m not sure how good US is in Twitter, but may be worth a shot. Risk of course is getting more annoyed if I try harder and then still am stuck paying.

      • If you tweet from your @mommypoints account, I think you’ll be taken care of quickly. I personally wouldn’t pay the fee. I’d argue until I got my seat changed, and then let them know how stressful and time consuming the whole ordeal was to get an extra apology out of them (from a supervisor).

        I know the value of time, and $44 isn’t worth the hours and aggravation, but it’s a principal thing with me. If people just fork over the extra money the airline will be encouraged to continue the practice. If consumers fight back en mass they’ll be more likely to change their policies.

        • I have tweeted them now, so far nothing. They don’t seem near as good as aa on Twitter, but we’ll see what happens. Will keep you posted. I’m under no illusions I’ll have any impact on getting a policy changed, but I suppose I am willing to push a little harder (my luck the seat will be bought by someone in the interim).

  9. Hey, I think you just gave the airlines another money making idea! Find reservations with multiple passengers, split them up and then change their seats to premium!

  10. Extortion sucks. If you give in, chalk it up as a business expense on your taxes since you wrote about it. If you don’t give in, maybe the 4 hours of Dad and Daughter time will be special for them.
    Just returning from a absolutely Wonderful week in Aruba, I think you all will soon forget about the 4 hour inconvenience forced upon you.

    Off topic, don’t forget that US Customs is in the Aruba airport. You clear US customs before you board your return flight home. Just reminding you to arrive extra early for your return flight. On one hand clearing customs there is a plus, but on the other hand, it means you have to cut your trip several hours shorter.

    • Joe, good reminder, and I’m sure the trip will be great. I’m equally sure it would be four hours of mommy daughter time. In fact, maybe Josh is in in the conspiracy with US to sit away after several days straight with us. Ha! If you have any Aruba suggestions I’m all ears!

      • Trikes-Aruba tours was fun. We did that on our Aruba 2013 trip.
        However for little C., minimum passenger age is 8. Keep this in mind for your next Aruba trip.
        http://Www.trikes-aruba dot com.
        Aruba Carnival is happening right now thru mid February, I see there are many youth activities scheduled during this. You might luck out and be there during some fun activities.
        Away from the highrise hotel area, Palm-Eagle beach area near Manchebo resort have the widest, least crowded beach areas.
        Check out the jeep tours.
        Have fun on the Happy Island!!

  11. What US Airways did was rotten, but it wouldn’t be any less so if you were flying solo. Changing aircraft and then charging $44 extra to keep your seat is unethical under any circumstances.

  12. The underlying problem is that airlines are run by their accounts and not a management team with brains. The accounts make the decisions but they don’t add to the carrier’s revenue because they fly as “non-rev”. Your problem is not that US Air wants to split up families, those bloodsuckers try to squeeze every last cent out of their passengers. Fortunately, in America, we can vote with our wallets.

    My carrier is Alaska Airlines. My wife and I booked a March trip PDX-SJC-OGG in first class. Whenever there is a time, flight number or equipment change, AS always sends me an email. Last month, I got an email stating an equipment change on the PDX – SJC leg from a B737 to a Q400 turboprop (no first class). I called AS and was rerouted PDX-SEA-OGG so I could get my first class seats all the way to Maui and back. I didn’t have to fight with them, they made it right with NO change in fare. Unlike your situation, I do have GOLD status with my carrier and that may have mattered.

  13. The underlying problem is that airlines are run by their accountants and not a management team with brains. The accountants make the decisions but they don’t add to the carrier’s revenue because they fly as “non-rev”. Your problem is not that US Air wants to split up families, those bloodsuckers try to squeeze every last cent out of their passengers. Fortunately, in America, we can vote with our wallets.

    My carrier is Alaska Airlines. My wife and I booked a March trip PDX-SJC-OGG in first class. Whenever there is a time, flight number or equipment change, AS always sends me an email. Last month, I got an email stating an equipment change on the PDX – SJC leg from a B737 to a Q400 turboprop (no first class). I called AS and was rerouted PDX-SEA-OGG so I could get my first class seats all the way to Maui and back. I didn’t have to fight with them, they made it right with NO change in fare. Unlike your situation, I do have GOLD status with my carrier and that may have mattered.

  14. So….here’s the other side scenario:

    X pays extra for an aisle seat.

    A family of three comes in, and expects X to move to accomadate them.

    Did you notice that X paid extra for the aisle seat?

    Now Mama huffs and complains to her Hubby that they can’t sit together. Doesn’t wait for X to move, steps on X’s foot and plops the kid in the window seat. X gets up to let her in the middle seat. Which of course, she complains about.

    Then the Hubby goes all male alpha about how X should move to his seat- a middle seat itself- so that the family can be together. Of course, when X says no, X is anti-family and anti a whole bunch of things.

    Did X meantion that X paid extra for the seat? So when X brings it up, are you going to reimburse X for the cost…well, that’s a big no.

    Then X has to listen to a whole bunch of 1st world DYKWIA nonsense.

    All because they hoped that the problem would resolve itself. I.E. that someone else would be burdened with their problem instead of them.

    How is that fair? Plan ahead. Keep track of those plans. Pay the extra costs.

    I have no sympathy in this situation. Yes, it sucks but not my problem.

    Btw, a similar scenario did actually happen to me over a decade ago. I did move my seat instaed of staying in it- guess what? It was a Delta flight; the air conditioner, in my ‘new’ seat dripped on my silk jacket and ruined it. Delta employees did not apologize. No one offered to replace it even though I complained. So I was out my original seat, my original cost, and a silk jacket.

    So no, no sympathy. Pay the $44.

    • Except no one asked anyone to give up a seat. My seat I had is still open. The airline just moved me out of it for whatever mysterious reason even though we all originally had seats together.

  15. Hi Summer–Super lame of US Airways. Sorry to hear of this hassle.

    Why don’t you try reaching US Airways executive offices? I bet they’ll have it resolved in under 15 minutes. Just gotta call M-F during normal business hours. Here’s the switchboard # (480-693-0800) for US Airways and I’d ask for “executive customer care” or “office of the president.” Insist they transfer you to someone in the executive offices because the regular customer care department was unable to assist. Best part is you’ll skip all the phone tree BS and either speak to someone immediately or get to leave a message and they’ll call you back.

  16. I would just move them to 14A & B and then they’ll be right behind you. 15c will probably stay open – because why pay $44 for THAT, and then you can likely talk 14c into moving to 15c…

  17. When I have a problem I immediately tweet my problem to in this case@usairways for all to read and most airlines immediately tweet back with help or they follow you and ask you to DM them. United is great on Twitter and has moved me several times. I find that pretty much every business has better service on Twitter.

  18. Honestly, given that it’s a pretty short flight I’d look on this as a free few-hours-off for one parent. Obviously, if all three seats were split such that your daughter was expected to sit alone, that would be quite different. It’s absurd that anyone should be asked to sit next to an unaccompanied toddler on a plane, or pay extra to have a parent sit next to a child.

    In fact, it’s pretty unreasonable to expect any two people traveling together, even as adults, to pay extra to sit next to each other. This is one fee that strikes me as simple extortion.

    Also, in the case of equipment change it seems a reasonable accommodation that keeping already-assigned parties together should take precedence over selling incremental seat upgrades (I assume you got moved and not your hubby and child because only the aisle seat in that row was “Choice”). It can’t happen so often that an equipment change takes an already assigned non-prime seat off the “can be sold” list as to make a measurable difference in operating income.

    Oddly enough, I had the exact opposite happen a few years ago. I was on a PNR with my two daughters in two different rows (one child in the row in front of the other two people). Just before boarding we were paged to the desk where a helpful agent had moved the child into the same row of three. Very kind and thoughtful.

    Of course, what they didn’t know is that my wife (different last name) was on a separate PNR seated next to the other daughter and that we deliberately booked that way. They were not impressed when I asked them (nicely, and after thanking them for their effort) to put us back the way we had been.

  19. I remember when my daughter was 2, Frontier split all three of us up so we were not even close together. When I asked to sit by my toddler, the agent was incredibly rude and told me that if I wanted to choose my seats, I should have paid extra. Finally, we got someone to switch with us on board. I should have let a stranger sit with my daughter and see how that worked out. I would have if she would not have been scared to death to sit by herself. I don’t know why they can’t sit families together, even if it’s in the back of the plane. At the very least, they don’t have to be rude if you ask to sit next to your small kid.

    • Agree! I’ve traveled with my son and given seats away from each other. The FA said we should just ask a passenger to switch seats. On two different trips, two couples in their 30s as well as solo traveler in his 50s refused to switch seats so we could sit together. He was well traveled by this point and only a few seats from me. But common courtesy isn’t so common anymore.

  20. Our family has been put in very difficult spots by equipment changes several times. We always choose seats together. The airline agents and even supervisors (United specifically) have been very rude and refused to seat us back together when split up. One time I noted that our 7 month old would be seated alone on a 10 hour flight and the supervisor told me “we have no way of knowing the age of your child.” I said “I just told you her age and you aren’t fixing it.” We ended up getting moved into Economy Plus to be together that time, but even with that the supervisor said she could give me no guarentees that we wouldn’t be charged for the move at the airport. I also bring cash when I fly just in case I have to bribe someone for a seat swap.

    If a family (or couple) is seated together and then gets split up due to equipment change, the airline should fix it. Period.

  21. I sometimes think that they must do things like this on purpose, just for fun. A few years ago on Continental, where there was no charge for preferred seats, my family of six (children 3-11) was split up into 6 different rows and a combination of middle, window and aisle seats. Gate agent could do nothing for us. When we got onto the plane and started trying to at least get us at least paired up, we discovered that another family of 6 had a seat next to each and every one of our seats. I can think of no conceivable way that this could have been random, nor can I think of a business or operational reason why this would make sense. There had to be somebody just messing with us!

  22. I agree that the airlines seem to do this on purpose. My family of 3 (2 parents and a teen) flew to DTW and back for the xmas holidays. I booked the tix in July on Delta and made sure we had seats together both ways. They separated all three of us on each leg of the trip. I called DAL on the day of departure, the agent put us back together and yet we get to the airport, she had apparently lied to me as we were again separated in different rows some ways apart with only Choice seating left open. When we tried to trade seats with other nesrby passengers, we discovered that they were family members with a baby and they needed to be together more than we did. I can understand a last-minute equipment change, but I can’t understand why they would not seat a family together when we are on the same reservation. So yes, it seems very much like an effort to make some money off of families who have been separated.

  23. What US did to you is clearly wrong: if you had seats together originally, you should have seats together after an equipment change. (By the way, I’m guessing they didn’t reassign you seats together because you’re booked in more than one itinerary, right?)

    That said, I don’t think they’re hassling you because they’re “mean,” I think they’re hassling you because they’re being bureaucratic. The problem is that they don’t allow their agents sufficient discretion to fix unusual problems — undoubtedly because they think this will needlessly cause the airline to make “unnecessary” exceptions to their revenue policies.

    I would first ask to speak to a reservation dep’t supervisor. They MIGHT have the discretion to get that seat reclassified as a “regular” seat so you can all sit together. Otherwise, you’ll have to go the “Executive Offices” route and see if you can find somebody nice enough to put in the effort to make an exception to policy for you. As you note, though, the question is whether it’s worth the super-human effort.

      • If you were in one reservation, that’s a pretty significant oversight on US Airways’ part. If a rez supervisor won’t help you, I think you should make a stink about it with the Executive Offices so that other family travelers don’t get hosed, too. Aircraft/schedule charges are remarkably common at US now with the AA integration: I would say half my US flights get changed before I fly them. If the system isn’t set up to “automatically” keep families together, that’s a significant problem.

        • iahphx, I agree it is a real issue and we were indeed on the same rez. I do have a resolution for this I am finishing up right now…stay tuned.

  24. Urgh. In my experience USAirways are masters of making customers pay for changes that are the airline’s doing. Anyway : let me share a story to restore your faith in the traveling community: less than a year ago whilst flying FC from W coast to Hawaii I witnessed a big/tall man learn how his neighbor’s adult daughter was riding in economy and first offer, and then INSIST on switching seats w/ her so that she could fly up from with her Mom. I just hope he didn’t end up in a middle seat! and… that the grateful recipient of such generosity “pays it forward” someday!

  25. In this specific case, yes you are right, airlines suck.

    However often families want to be able to sit together and risk it by not buying seat assignments together, or buying early bird checkin and then risking it when they do checkin. If you know going into it that there is a chance you may not sit together but can for a certain fee, then that fee should be accounted for when budgeting your ticket- just like baggage fees.

    Family with 3 and 5 year old went to Aruba in September and loved it. It was a great beach vacation and glad we went. However, i didnt find it that special as compared to Hawaii, or other Caribbean beaches. I could have gone to Destin and had the same beach experience.

  26. We had something similar happen to us (family of three with 4 year old and 1 year old lap child) with AA last summer. Original reservation had us all together, but we wound up in three separate rows. Ticketing and gate agents were no help; and then the flight attendant said that we all needed to be together (no kidding). Since it was a full flight, this resulted in (unappreciated) moving around of passengers. In your case, assuming that asking USAirways for a solution doesn’t work, I’d think about asking 13B&C to move up to 8B&C, since most wouldn’t object to being able to get off the plane faster, etc.

  27. US Airways dropped the ball on this one, and criticism is deserved. At the same time, having one parent with Little C and another elsewhere on the plane, if it comes to that, isn’t the end of the world. I would imagine one or the other of you flies with her without the other present at times. Maybe the thing to do is get the focus back onto enjoying the trip to Aruba.

    • Dave, totally agree. I’ve flown all over the world with C by myself, but that doesn’t make it okay to split families up and then refuse to fix them simply because there are designated “Choice” seats in the way. We are super excited about our upcoming beach trip!

  28. We’ve recently flown on Austrian and BA in economy where each of their policies is to charge for seating assignments ahead of time. It is also each of their policies that families will have at least one parent with each child. We’ve been on full flights and all four of us either been in the same row or 2+2 in front of each other or 3+1 either front back or across the aisle. Then we got a snack and a complimentary alcoholic beverage (if desired) on a ~1hr flight. The experience of flying is actually enjoyable. Why can’t airlines in the US do this? Ok, the disappearance of the snack and drink I suppose are part of cost cutting measures, but putting families together as a policy shouldn’t cost anything extra.
    USAirways doing this to the MP family (and many other families stinks). The worst part of it is the way it negatively impacts your excitement about the trip. Yes, obviously it is “fine” to have 2+1 for a family of three, but it is not great and that’s why MP chose 3 seats together originally. And for the person who innocently referred to a 4 hr flight as a short flight, that’s all in the eye of the traveler and there are certainly some days where a 4 hour flight with kids is definitely not short.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *