Are Airline Seat Fees Bad for Families?

June 7th, 2012 by Andrea Bennett

Some balk at charges that would separate families flying together.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

For some time, airlines have been converting to a model that will allow them to charge extra for the seats that are most in demand. And now, because an increasing number of carriers are reserving window and aisle seats for frequent fliers or passengers willing to pay $25 or more for a seat, even families who booked trips for this summer may not be able to find seats together.

A recent Associated Press article notes, “At the peak of the summer travel season, it might be nearly impossible [to find seats together]. Buying tickets two or more months in advance makes things a little easier. But passengers are increasingly finding that the only way to sit next to a spouse, child or friend is to shell out $25 or more, each way.”

On American, Delta, Frontier and US Airways, you can pay extra to get an aisle or window seat – or one nearer the front of the plane. Spirit charges an extra $5 to $15 for any advance seat assignment.

According to George Hobica, founder of travel site AirfareWatchdog, the problem is that the seat selection process isn’t as fair now as it once was. To travelers who haven’t earned elite status in a frequent flier program, choosing seats on airline websites will be a guessing game: Airlines actually set aside seats for premium paying passengers, so flights can appear more crowded than they are. “Airlines are holding these seats hostage,” Hobica explains, as many passengers will think they have to pay more for premium seats when, in fact, there are more seats available than the airline is letting on.

Calling on the airlines to show some responsibility for not jeopardizing the safety of children by splitting up families in the air, Senator Charles E. Schumer issued letters to the major U.S. airlines and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood imploring them that, “unnecessary airline fees shouldn’t serve as a literal barrier between mother and child.”

Aside from the obvious cost implication, Senator Schumer called on the Department of Transportation to regulate airlines’ policies regarding families on planes, noting that a single parent traveling with two children could wind up having one child seated out of direct sight and next to strangers. He questioned whether airlines that charged fees for consecutive seating on an aisle or window would assume liability for the safety of a child who wasn’t seated next to their parent. He questioned the airlines as to why they would push a pricing strategy that would require the additional attention of airline crew and flight attendants, who would have to respond to children who weren’t seated next to their parents. “This ill-conceived ploy to foist more fees on travelers could have profound implications for the safety of children on airlines and it needs to be revisited, “ Senator Schumer wrote.

What do you think? Are the seat fees a minor inconvenience, or an irresponsible choice on the airlines’ parts that compromise safe travel for families? Will seat fees affect your family’s air travel this summer?