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We are just weeks away from the busy holiday travel season when tons of families will hit the skies…yes, I said just weeks away.  Crazy.  Many of those families that will be lining up at the airport are ones who don’t travel that frequently, so it can be an extra anxiety ridden and stressful experience for anyone that either isn’t prepared or simply doesn’t know what to expect.  This is totally understandable as there are so many nuances for everything from getting through security, to the boarding process, and more.

The Most Important Logistic for Flying Families:

seats together on the planeThe one thing that most young traveling families worry about in advance of their trip is whether their infant or toddler will be the one crying though the flight.  That’s a legitimate concern, but it’s not the one that you can do the most about ahead of time.  The logistic that traveling families should be most concerned about ahead of their trip is whether the have seat assignments together. 

This isn’t a new issue of course, but I read a post this week about a mom (presumably flying on Southwest) that had a very unfortunate experience.  I highly recommend you simply read the post, but the gist of the situation was that a family of four was flying on a flight that did not offer advance seat assignments.  The eight-year-old son is a very nervous flyer, but was adequately prepared to fly sitting next to his mom.  They had boarding passes in the early boarding groups (A?), but for whatever reason when they checked bags they somehow got bumped to a later boarding group (B?).

Boarding started late and the boarding process sounded a bit frenzied.  There weren’t two seats together, and while the eight year old got more and more terrified (like, shaking terrified), no one gave up their seats so the mom and boy could sit right next to each other.

The mom became upset and frazzled, and the flight became way more stressful than it needed to be.  Here’s a quote from her post:

It’s such a helpless feeling to watch your frightened child—your terrified child— and not be able to hold him. To comfort him the way he wants. He was trying to be strong, but he was so, so very scared.

Again, I encourage you to give that post a read, colorful language and all.    There is also a more bird’s eye view of the story as it relates to airline seating policies.  Not only might it reinforce how important seat assignments can be for families, but also plant the seed to help a flying family in the future.  More on that in a minute…

How to Ensure Your Family has Seats Together on the Plane:

There is no way to 100% ensure your family has seats together, but there are ways to dramatically increase the odds of success.  Here are ten tips on how to ensure your family has seats together on the plane.

1.  Internalize that it is your job to make sure your family has seats together, not the airline’s job.  Whether or not it should be that way doesn’t matter.  Make it your mission to secure seats together for your family, and keep an eye on your reservation until you are safely buckled in and ready for take-off.

2.  Make sure you get seat assignments together at the time the reservation is made.  If you aren’t able to do this at the time of booking online then immediately call the airline and secure seat assignments over the phone.

3.  Check your reservation again shortly after it is made to ensure your seat assignments “stuck”.

4.  Make flight bookings for your family well in advance, if possible, as last minute reservations are more likely to have problems with seat assignments due to the plane already being full of passengers.

5.  If you can’t get complimentary seat assignments together even after talking to the airline and explaining your “small child” situation, then be ready to open your wallet.  Often times there will be “premium economy” seats available for sale even when the complimentary economy seats are already assigned.  This is not the time be frugal in my view as the dollars it costs to secure seats together for your family are well worth skipping the stress that you may face on the day of your trip when you may be begging for strangers to take pity on you and trade seats.

6.  Monitor your reservation at least monthly leading up to the trip to be sure that your seat assignments haven’t changed.  This is especially true if your reservation has a schedule change or an aircraft type substitution, as that is when seat assignments can often go askew.

7.  If you are flying Southwest (who does not offer seat assignments), seriously consider paying the extra $12.50 per person for Early Bird Check-In.  This way you are automatically given a boarding group 36 hours in advance, and it will almost always be in the A group.  Otherwise, be sure to check-in exactly 24 hours in advance to get as high of a boarding number as possible.  Families with children under 5 can board during “family boarding” between the A and B groups.

8.  The week of the trip is a great time to try and snag seats together if you don’t already have them as elite flyers get upgraded out of economy or travelers change their plans.  The 24 hour mark is another very good time to check the seat assignment map, though I don’t recommend waiting this long to secure seats together if having them is imperative for your traveling success.

9.  Plead your situation to the gate agent before boarding and flight attendant at the time of boarding, but be nice and don’t blame them for your seats not being together.  It is not their fault that your seats are separate and you are relying on their help.  If the plane is full they may not be able to get you seats together, but even getting something decent to barter with, such as two aisle seats, can really help.

10.  Beg fellow passengers in a nice and sincere way on-board.  If you have gotten this far without seats together then something really went wrong, and you are now relying on the generosity of strangers.  Hopefully you have an aisle seat or similar to barter with.  If you are asking someone to trade an aisle for your middle at the back of the plane, be ready to sweeten the pot.  Offer an on-board drink, a gift card, or even cash.  I’m serious.  Desperate times should call for bribery and many thank-yous.

Help a Traveling Family:

Even if a traveling family follows all of that advice and more, life happens, and they can end up boarding with seats 10A, 17E, and 24B for their young children.  That has happened to us.  If the flight is full, that family will be relying on the generosity of travelers like you and me to help.  I know that you probably did everything in your power to secure the most comfortable seat possible for your journey, and trading 8C for 24B stinks, but if you are able, please consider doing so every now and then if it will help a young family stay together.

A couple of hours of a less-than-ideal seat for you, can make all the difference for them.   I hope they thank your profusely. I hope the flight attendant rewards you with some extra drinks or snacks, but if they don’t, let me thank you on behalf of all of the traveling parents out there.  Seriously, thank you.  Sometimes it will just come down to one traveler helping another, and as the busy holiday travel season approaches, please consider being the person who saved the day, not that person who wouldn’t make eye contact with the pleading mom and her young kid.

I promise to help a traveler in need the next time I have the opportunity, and I hope you will too.

Know before you go.

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