Flying With Children: A Tale of Two Fathers

Yesterday the American morning news and talk show had a story about a father who claims has was forced to pay $88 so that he could sit next to his 4-year-old daughter who was assigned a seat 11 rows away from him. The father said that when he was booking his flight online there were no seats next to each other in the economy class section that he was booking in so he was told he would have to upgrade to the economy plus section which meant that an $88 surcharge was applicable.

Of course, when he boarded the flight, it was only half full with many seats side-by-side in the section that he originally wanted and so he made a complaint to the airline. And I for one think that is fair enough.

You can read the Today article here and watch a video of the segment on their television show by clicking here. You can read the dad’s version of the story on his blog which he called How Airlines Like Delta Hold Parents Hostage by clicking the link I’ve added.

It’s funny that this story is out today…

About a month ago my wife booked a flight for her and our two boys plus her brother and his girlfriend. We have all been invited to the wedding of my wife’s cousin which is in Noosa on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. As Noosa is a 12 hour continuous drive, or 14 hour plus drive with kids, and seeing that this is not for a two week family vacation, rather just a weekend away, we decided to book flights from Sydney to Maroochydore which is the location of the Sunshine Coast’s airport.  From that airport we still have an hour’s drive north to our destination, but I would rather fly for 90 minutes and then drive for a further

My ticket wasn’t booked because there is an exhibition and conference in Perth, Western Australia that my company is attending. The conference runs from Wednesday to Friday and as a result my company was going to fly me straight from Perth to Maroochydore instead of back home to Sydney. But it turns out, our area manager from Germany is coming to Australia to see us around this time so he’s going to take my place at the conference this year which is okay by me. As a result I can now fly direct from Sydney to Noosa with my family.

I found this news that I didn’t have to attend the conference  just last night so I had to be quick and book my flight today so I didn’t miss out. Now seeing that my family booked their tickets almost a month ago I needed to get on that same flight so I went to the airline’s website and not only was their tickets available for the same flight, but seeing that this type of aeroplane has three seats either side of the aisle and my family has booked five of them, I was able to select that spare seat next to them.

Although I checked the availability of a seat on that flight online, I tried booking it over the phone at first to make sure that I could get the seat next to them (because speaking to a human would be helpful, right?), but after they asked for a further $35 to book it on the phone, I simply hung up the phone and booked online. Sure it wasted my time seeing I was already on the phone, but it wasn’t a hassle seeing that I was saving so much money.

The funny thing is, back when my wife booked, she asked me for my assistance as I’m fairly experienced booking flights, and some airlines know how to make things really confusing…

Photo courtesy of MA1974 on Flickr
I’d be happy to let me kids ride up here… Photo courtesy of MA1974 on Flickr

One thing that I experienced whilst booking my flight today and the flights of my immediate and extended family a month ago was paying a premium on seat allocation. As I mentioned in my post Should Male Airline Passengers Be Subjected To This Sort of Treatment? about treating all male passengers as potential paedophiles on planes, when I check in online 24 hours before my flight I tend to pick a seat in the very last row. I never pick me seat up front because when travelling alone for work, I really don’t care where I am sitting on the hour long flight to either Melbourne or Brisbane, my main two interstate destinations.

With the airline that we are flying with, one of Australia’s two main discount airlines, picking your seats means that you need to pay a further $5 per ticket. The way that I read it, if it was just my wife and I flying and we didn’t pay this $5 premium on both tickets, chances are the airline could allocate her to sit wherever, and me to sit so many rows away. Now even though she was travelling with children, all of the age of 6yo and 3yo, to guarantee that she’ll be sitting next to them, she had to pay the premium. And because one of the reasons why her brother and his girlfriend were travelling on the same flight was to help her out, she wanted them to sit next to her, so their tickets also attracted the $5 premium. Even if she didn’t need them to sit near her, for them to guarantee that THEY would be seated next to each other, they had to pay that extra $5 each anyway.

Because this is a discount airline and we’re selecting the economy class, everything that we could possibly want greater than the seat we’re booking requires us to pay extra. From checked in luggage or a meal or snack on the flight, to in-flight entertainment and some other add-ons, there are many additional boxes on the website they need to be ticked or left blank in order for us to get what we want, and at the premium that we’re willing to pay.

Now, after reading this dad’s story today, and thinking back to that month ago when I helped my wife book her ticket, I wondered what the airline would have done if say my wife or I or both booked the same flight and didn’t pay the premium. Would they have sat the kids away from us? Would they have intentionally allocated them to sit alone in the back row as the unaccompanied minors tend to do with us a few row away sitting on our own? I mean, if that’s how the airlines want to play it, that’s fine with me. If the flight attendants want to look after our 3-year-old for 90 minutes, that’s fine by me and I expect my wife would be just as happy.

Have you flown with kids? How was the experience for you? And what do you think about this dad’s story? Seeing that he could have fixed things without going to the media, and for the most part he did, is there much merit in his story?

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