How to get seats that work for your family without losing your cool
A major travel controversy has been sparked this week by a blog post entitled, “US Airways Hates Families and Kids”. They probably don’t, but that’s beside the point.
If you’ve taken more than a handful of flights with your kids (especially award travel), this has probably happened to you: you buy your ticket (or redeem miles), and then find out you can’t get seats together. Maybe you even knew your seats sucked going in, but figured you’d get preferential treatment as a parent traveling with young kids.
If only it were so easy.
So now it’s the day of your flight. You’ve called customer service a bunch of times, but you’ve still got seats sprinkled all over the plane. What should you do?
1. Forget the ticket counter
The agents at the ticket counter can’t help you any more than customer service could. They’re just looking at an extremely uncooperative seating chart. Keep your powder dry for the gate agent.
2. Be the first one to the podium
When the gate agent shows up, be the first one to approach him or her. Politely explain that you’ve already checked bags , but that you don’t feel comfortable boarding the plane and rolling the dice that someone will be nice enough to trade with you unless you’re within at least a row or two of your kids.
If at all possible do not cry or make threats. You can ask to speak to a supervisor, but it probably won’t change things.
3. Ask about seat upgrades and/or paid priority boarding
United has Economy Plus. Southwest has EarlyBird Check-in. All planes have business class. Could your family sit together if you paid more? Maybe. In a perfect world you wouldn’t need to, but unfortunately we don’t live in that world.
I was on a United flight from Denver to San Jose two days ago in which the first 14 rows (those with extra legroom and extra price tags) of the plane were virtually empty while the flight attendant was forced to reorganize things in the back to accommodate me and another family.
4. Be realistic
If you’re traveling with two parents and two children, don’t expect to sit all together. If the gate agent manages to get two pairs of seats for you, take them and be grateful. Yes, it’s a pain to share snacks and entertainment from 15 rows away, but you can make it work.
5. Bring cash
On a flight from San Francisco to Hawaii two years ago (a notoriously oversold route that’s tough on families without good seat assignments), we had four very bad seats—no two were together. I brought four crisp $50 bills, and was planning to bribe or shame people into switching seats with us if necessary. Luckily the gate agent hooked us up, so it didn’t come to that.
So, should you board a plane with spread out seats if you’re traveling with kids and hope for the best? Only you can answer that question. I wouldn’t. Can you board the plane and get off if things don’t work out to your satisfaction? I don’t honestly know. Any flight attendants out there want to weigh in?