Petition urges airlines to waive fees, seat families together for free

Airlines routinely try to sway travelers into buying a pricier regular economy ticket (which may or my not come with a free seat assignment) or into paying a fee for seat assignments.

SHARE Petition urges airlines to waive fees, seat families together for free
Airline customers have begun an online petition requesting airlines waive seating fees for families wishing to sit together on flights.

Airline customers have begun an online petition requesting airlines waive seating fees for families wishing to sit together on flights.

AP

Travelersbuying airline tickets today are increasingly faced with a costly decision: pay up forseat assignments or risk not sitting together on the plane.

Blame the proliferation of pricey airline seat selection fees, which have spread from no-frills airlines like Spirit and Frontier tomajor carriers includingDelta, United and American, and the advent of basic economy tickets. The latter don’t come with a free advance seat assignment,and airlines routinely try to scare travelers into buying a pricier regular economy ticket (which may or may not come with a free seat assignment) or intopaying a fee for seat assignments.

Anna Laitin, director of financial policy for Consumer Reports’ advocacy arm, said it’s a calculation travelers with younger children should not have to make.

The organizationlast week launched anonline petition urging American, Delta and United to allow adults traveling with children 13 and younger to sit together without paying a fee. The initial goal was 25,000 signatures, which was quickly surpassed. On Monday, the number of signatures was approaching 45,000.

The plea:”I expect you to put safety over profits, and seat children with their families without charging them extra for it.’’

A Consumer Reportsreview of more than 130 complaints submitted to the U.S. Department of Transportation on family seating issues found that airlines have separated or suggested separating children as young as 2 years old from their parentsona flight.

Laitin said the number of complaints lodgedis small compared with complaints on topics including mishandled bags, but that the tales are worrisome.

And they keep coming. Consumer Reports has collected more than 400 complaints since it set up asite last fallwhere travelers can simultaneouslylodge complaints with the organization andthe DOT.

Airlines have frequently asked other passengers if they are willing to switch seats to help accommodate families but, travelers today who have paid a fee to seat in a specific seat are reluctant to move, Laitin said.

And Twitter is filled with passenger complaints. Last week, St. Louis Cardinals right fielder Dexter Fowler,who has nearly 275,000 followers, took Delta to task for separating his 6-year-old daughter from her mother on a flight because “you did not want to inconvenience other adult passengers by asking them if they would switch seats.’’(The tweet has since been deleted because, Fowler said, the “situation was handled.’’)

The petition says separating children from parents or other adults they’re traveling with is a safety hazard for the child and other passengers, especially during an in-flight emergency. It’s different than, say, separating spouses or couples traveling without children.

“If youand your spouse are separated on the planeand there’s an emergency, you can both take care of yourselves,’’ Laitin said. “If there’s an emergency on the plane and my child is 10 rows away, I am going to disrupt the plane to get to my child.’’

Consumer Reports tried to get the DOT to establish a policy requiring U.S. airlines to enable adult and young family members to sit together at no additional cost, butfollowing a review of the matter dictated by 2016 federal legislation, the DOT said aseating policy isn’t required given the small number of complaints.

“It was really surprising to us that the DOT took no action,’’ Laitin said.

The agency said it is reviewing complaints on a regular basis and that through June 2019, the number of complaints is still low.

To help families with the issue, theDOT did add asection on family seating tips to its website. The agency all but says not to buy basic economy tickets, noting that they “may not meet the needs of families with young children.’’

The site does not note, however, that travelers are not guaranteed the ability to reserve a free seat assignment when booking aregular economy ticket. Its advice: Book tickets as far in advance as possibleand put family members traveling together on the same reservation.

Representatives for American, United and Delta, the initial targets of the petition because they received the most complaints, said they have taken steps to ensure families booked together, sit together.

United spokesman Charlie Hobart said United started automatically scanning reservations for passengers traveling with children on the same itinerary to find any cases of seats not assigned so they can work to seat them together before check-in whenever possible.

“It’s in everyone’s interest to make sure that families are seated together,’’ he said.

In addition to reducing passenger anxiety, Hobart said, it smooths things out for United agents at the gate and flight attendants during boarding.

American spokesman Ross Feinstein said the airline has spent a “considerable amount of time’’ on the issue, developing a system to ensure children younger than 15 are seated with an adult.

The airline does this two ways.Beginning 48 hours after a ticket is purchased, American’s computer system scans reservations for families traveling with children who don’t have a seat assignmentand automatically sits children with at least one adult in the party, he said.

American also blocks a certain number of seats for assignment at the gateto help families and others who need seatsat the last minute. On a typical Boeing 737 with 160 seats, American holds 12 seats back, Feinstein said.

“We are confident that this process works well for families who choose to fly with American Airlines,’’ he said.

Delta spokeswoman MariaMoraitakissaid in a statement: “Regardless of the type of ticket purchased, Delta works with customers on a case-by-case basis to ensure their travel needs are met. When customers have seating questions, we encourage them to reach out to us as soon as possible to allow for the opportunity to address their concerns.”

Read more at usatoday.com

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