Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Dear Airlines:

We've flown for years.  Not always by choice, mind you, and perhaps that's the problem.  In most instances when we're flying, we have to take an American airline.  It's one of those "Fly America" crossed with "airline X has a monopoly on so many of the routes" issues that eliminate our ability to choose an airline that cares one whit about its patrons.  I understand that airline, you know, the one that cares, can be as elusive as the yeti, but I believe that they do in fact exist. I've heard stories.

Well, I'd like to inform you that flying isn't fun.

It's not just "not fun," it can be downright miserable depending on how uncomfortable the seats are, how little space there is to move, how exhausted the patrons are (including the kids, because kids actually are people and paying customers, just FYI), how long the delays are, and how many new restrictions and fees are squirreled away and rolled into ticket fees.  I suppose I should mention the food and drink thing?  Not today, that's a topic for a different day.

It's tough to travel to a new home in a new country and have your belongings weeks behind you, and be limited to a single carry-on bag and a single checked bag which must weight 20 pounds less than was allowed a few years ago.

Just sayin'.

We watch the release of new rules and restrictions with trepidation.  Since we joined the Foreign Service nearly 10 years ago there hasn't been a single one that has improved our flying experience.  We thought being separated from our kids on our very first flight was a pain.  At the time our kids were 7, 5, 2, and 1 years old and with our tickets none of us were sitting together.  It took a little begging and a lot of demanding that someone be moved so our toddlers weren't sitting next to strangers.  Eventually it worked out enough that our older 2 kids were alone in other rows but the toddlers were situated with parents, even if we also were in different rows.  Far from ideal for a long haul flight.

You know what's even further from ideal?

The new regulations that have come out this week.

It was hard keeping our family together years ago.  Now airlines are adding in seat reservation charges.  The attempts previously to either have the airline representatives arrange family seating, or a last ditch effort of asking folks already in their seats if they'd be willing to move, those are all out the window now.  The moment someone pays for a particular seat, they won't be moving.  Do you understand what this means?  You're charging families for the privilege of not having their toddler babysat by the single traveler who has paid for that precious window seat.


I'll ignore the whole unaccompanied minor aspect of this, there might be a financial incentive in there somewhere for you... prevent families from sitting together and then forcing an unaccompanied minor fee.  I could see it.

So, families have a hard time sitting together.  On top of that airlines are now dropping preboarding for families. So the families that can't sit together are also not allowed to preboard and set everyone up in their various sections and aisles before having annoyed other passengers board and wait in those tiny aisles.  When my kids were little I was thankful for those few extra minutes to buckle in a carseat, to settle in a toddler, to get bags out of the way and snacks issued before everyone else piled in and blocked every angle of movement.  Flying is so full of restrictions, what is gained removing this very small "perk" and not only irritating parents and kids but all the other passengers as well?  Trust me, they don't enjoy the delay of standing in an aisle anymore than the parents enjoy the dirty and exasperated looks they get for causing the delay.

What is the deal with making flying as difficult as possible for families?

So here's my suggestion:

Family Section.

Let us preboard.  Come on, just let it happen.  Even better, let us preboard and put us all in the back by the bathrooms.  We don't mind, our kids use those bathrooms far more than any of the other passengers.  Cordon off a section.  Sound-proof it if you want.   But ensure that our kids are with us.  Even better, all those singles, couples, and business-y types won't be bothered by our noise and movement.

Actually, what's really better is that when you put all the kids together, they entertain each other.  They don't care if someone accidentally kicks their seat.  They don't mind if someone watches a movie with them over their shoulder.  Tablets, handheld gaming systems, eReaders become group activities.  Noise doesn't matter.  Less crying is always a good thing.  Kids moving between rows is no biggie.

Think about it. Parents would love you.  So would the rest of the travelers.

Families travel.  Some of us travel out of need.  There's really no need to treat us like the barely tolerated black sheep of the traveling world.  Instead, treat us with respect and recognize that kids are part of your clientele as well as the parents that travel with them.  And that they are different than traveling adults.  We don't need special treatment, just considerate treatment.

Think about it.


  1. They can even add a "kid friendly section" fee. I'd pay that in a heartbeat if it meant flying wasn't such torture and my kids weren't treated like second class customers.

  2. Sing it sister! We have had so many nightmares with airline seating, I couldn't even begin to tell you.

  3. I LOVE LOVE LOVE this idea. It would be heaven to not have to worry about my kids irritating other passengers.

  4. It's a brilliant idea. Now how do we get the numbskulls at the airlines that make the rules to think of it?

  5. Amen! I have never understood the hassle they give families. I always want to scream, "I BOUGHT 5 TICKETS!! My kids are older now so it is not as big of a deal, but I still have nightmares of flying from Manila to Kansas City with a 2-year-old, four-year-old and 6-year-old while Scott was on TDY.

  6. OH MY GOD YES. Coming from the other side of this, I would be perfectly delighted to pay a "kid-free section" fee to guarantee that there won't be a shrieking infant next to me or a squirmy toddler kicking the back of my seat on the 16-hour red-eye. Family section: everybody wins!

  7. A friend of mine and her three kids were all seated separately on her return flight from Brazil. She begged for people to change seats and not a single person budged. UNTIL she said screw it, and let her toddler drive the people in his row mad. It didn't take long after take-off for to at least get to sit with her son. Her two daughters, slightly older, did okay on their own, but she's devised a plan for if this ever happens again. They are to bug their seat buddies with non-stop talking/singing/questioning/touching until someone switches. LOVE your idea for family seating!

  8. Michele, Well written, I experienced this in every flight in my last home leave My two kids and I were separated and were seated in 3 different seats far away from each other. On one of the flights my younger one had fever and he was sitting next to a stranger. I was very fortunate to have gracious passengers who were willing to help us sit together in all these flights. Seems like passengers have more sense than the airlines. That does not rule out the begging part from my end.