Flying with family and hoping to sit together on the plane? Ask at the gate or pay the fee. When flying with family, there’s no guarantee. But we do have some travel tips to improve the odds on your family’s next flight!
Reduced availability and increased fees have made it harder – and more expensive – than ever for a family, or group of friends, to sit together when flying. On budget airlines, and mainstream more airlines “no frills” fares, it’s even more difficult. That’s because most of these fares don’t let you pick your seats. You – and your family – will sit wherever there’s room.
Help is On the Way
Thankfully, help appears to be on the way. The U.S. Department of Transportation has unveiled the to make it easier to navigate domestic carriers’ seating policies. Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress continues pressing for legislation forcing airlines to offer family seating without additional charges.
Pressure from Washington appears to be working, too. In February 2023, United Airlines became the first to roll out a new family seating policy that makes it easier to find seating, and offers complimentary upgrades to available Preferred Seating.
Until legislation is approved, or more airlines adopt similar policies, flying as a family can still be a challenge. But we have a few travel tips for you to consider, so you can be the family that flies together and sits together.
Pay Your Money and Take Your Chances
Admittedly, this is a longshot and, generally speaking, hope is not a good strategy. It’s not that the airlines are heartless beasts intent on making things as difficult as possible. The problem lies more in automation. There are a lot of computers involved, and they only see a bunch of 1s and 0s looking for seats. Some fliers swear that checking in early and together – as in, online as early as possible – will increase your chances. While that’s true, we don’t see it as a risk we would take when flying with children.
Upgrade Your Seats to Sit Together
The most obvious answer is to book the more expensive fare and choose your seat. Booking early is the best way to find seats together, or at least in close proximity. Sometimes, you’ll find empty exit rows, but remember that children cannot occupy those seats. It’s a good place if you’re flying with adult friends or family members, though.
Keep in mind that basic economy tickets often come with other restrictions, like no included luggage – not even a carryon. If you’re flying with a family, you probably need that carryon space, so upgrading may be less expensive than adding on extras.
Even when you book those seats, you can still end up being separated. This happens most often when there is a change in aircraft before your flight. Remember that your contract of carriage only guarantees you “a” seat, not that you will get the seat you’ve chosen. So it is important to check back on your reservation from time to time. Equipment and other changes that could impact your seating are most likely to happen as your flight gets closer. We check on a weekly basis starting about two months before a flight, and then more often as our trip gets closer.
The Forgotten Travel Tip: Keep Looking
Go ahead and book your flights and check the seat maps. Don’t see any free seats together? Don’t give up. In the computerized ticketing systems – a modern day ring in Dante’s Inferno, to be sure – things change. All. The. Time. Seats held by an aggregator may open up. Other fliers may move or cancel. Or the airline may have changed planes. It is not quite the longshot you might think, so it’s definitely worth checking.
That does not mean you should not select any seats when booking your flight! That gives the airline free reign to stick you wherever there is room. Which likely means middle seats scattered up and down the fuselage. Instead, pick the best seats you can find. Hopefully, you can at least find a few seats together so you can divide and conquer that flight.
After you’ve booked your flights, keep checking back to see if any seats have opened up. It costs nothing to move to another seat, unless you paid for economy and the seats you want are premium or above. This is particularly important if the airline has changed your travel plans in any way, such as a new flight time, or different type of airplane.
Make Nice with the Gate Agents
You know who can change your seat with the wave of her Fairy Godmother Wand? The gate agent. (Sometimes, not always.) Check in early and approach the gate agent as early as you can to ask about changing seats. Unfortunately, as airlines have dealt with staffing shortages (meaning fewer flights) and increased travelers, flights are full and switching seats is less likely to happen. But it never hurts to ask.
Calmly and politely explain your situation, and ask if there is any open space you can switch to so your family, or at least a parent and child, can sit together. If your flight is not jam packed, more often than not they can work wonders. Regardless of your success, thank them profusely. (For the record, no good has E V E R come from berating a gate agent.)
Your Last Rays of Hope
So you’re boarding your flight, and your family still doesn’t have seats together. Don’t give up! A few more people can still make this happen. Maybe.
Remember what we said about the Gate Agent? Same goes for the flight crew. If you don’t already (and you really should!), greet the nice Flight Attendants welcoming you on board. Smile nicely, and calmly explain that you’re flying with children who don’t have assigned seats close to yours. They will know if and when an empty seat turns up, and can keep an eye open to help you out. Even if no seats turn up, many FAs will check on kids sitting solo during the flight, and update mom or dad.
Then there are your fellow passengers. Explain the situation to those sitting around family members. You may be surprised how often someone will agree to switch seats so that you can sit next to your child, friend, or spouse. Coming prepared with a token of appreciation never hurts. We have been offered free drinks, and even Starbucks gift cards to switch seats!
What’s your strategy to be the family that sits together?
What travel tips do you use to get seats together for your family? Please share in the comments, and we’ll re-post the best. (Be sure to include your Twitter handle and a link to your blog, if you have one!) Or click here for more #Travel140!