The Frustrations of Family Seating on Airlines

Kid sitting behind parent on a plane

Air travel has become an integral part of our lives, allowing us to explore new destinations and create lasting memories with our loved ones. However, one common frustration that frequently arises is the challenge of seating arrangements for families on airplanes. 

Club Bébé Voyage parents recently shared their frustrations and concerns about being separated from their children on flights. The stories were heart-wrenching, with parents recounting instances of distress, discomfort, and safety worries. We understand the emotional toll it takes when families are unable to sit together and the importance of finding solutions to this problem.


Airlines Taking Action: “Family-Friendly” Seating Policies

U.S. airlines have recognized the need to prioritize family togetherness during flights. In March 2023, American Airlines introduced a family seating policy to address this issue. Other airlines followed suit. The policy enables families with children aged 13 years and younger to secure adjacent seats at time of booking at no additional cost.  

The problem is how airlines define “adjacent seats.” According to most airlines “adjacent seats” means those that are “next to each other or in close proximity.” So depending on the layout of the plane and seat availability, “close proximity” could mean across the aisle, in front of or behind a seat. 

But anyone who has flown with kids under the age of 5 knows that “close proximity” isn’t good enough. Sitting across the aisle or in front of or behind your child is not a feasible seating arrangement. A parent can’t really check that the seat belt is properly put on. They can’t cut up their child’s meal. Or heaven forbid, they can’t reach their child’s oxygen mask with these seating arrangements. And even for older children (until they’ve gotten to their too-cool-for-parents years) having to sit on a flight next to a stranger, even with a parent in “close proximity”, can be very scary. 

Airplane seating map

Technology to the Rescue? Family Seating “Solutions”

The Department of Transportation’s Family Seating Dashboard “displays which airlines guarantee family seating” at no additional cost. The idea seems to be to pressure additional airlines to offer fee-free family seating. At time of writing, only 3 of the 10 US carriers listed made the guarantee. 


Government Regulations and Advocacy for Family Seating

In addition to the DOT’s dashboard, Senator Edward Markey introduced the “Families Fly Together Act.” This legislation aims to ensure families are seated together on flights. It also urges airlines to establish policies that prioritize close proximity seating without additional fees. The act not only highlights the importance of family togetherness but also serves as a catalyst for change, fostering a more inclusive and family-friendly travel environment.


Looking Ahead: A More Family-Friendly Future

The improvements made so far are a baby step in the right direction. There is still a way to go. Airlines must continually review and update their family seating policies. They should align with basic safety standards and the needs of families. We urge airlines and government agencies to consult with traveling families. Together they can refine existing solutions and explore new approaches to ensure that family togetherness is prioritized.

After all, as many Club Bébé Voyage members point out, airlines in every other part of the world seem to be able to find ways to seat families next to each other without charging exorbitant fees to do so. 


You might also be interested in these other articles:

US Legislators Deliver Amazing Gift for Traveling Families

Flying with a Toddler through US Airports


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