Skip to content

Are Airlines Purposely Splitting Up Families to Make More Money?

Nov. 29, 2018
3 min read
Flight attendant helping woman and daughter disembark airplane
Are Airlines Purposely Splitting Up Families to Make More Money?
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
Sign up for our daily newsletter

If you are a parent flying with your kids, you've probably experienced the same pit-in-stomach feeling as many other families out there. You questioned your seat assignments when you booked your flight, the week leading up to your flight and, most likely, the morning of your flight. "Will my family actually be able to sit together?"

Airlines are now charging an arm and a leg to pick your seats in advance solely to ensure that your 4 year old doesn't end up in row 23 while you are all the way up in row 15. You hear horror stories of families being split up and probably wonder to yourself, "Why would the airline do that not only to my own family, but also to the other passengers on the plane?" (Side note: This is one of the reasons TPG votes Southwest as one of the most family-friendly airlines. There are no seat assignments and family boarding ensures that all families with children 6 and under can sit together.)

Don't assume you have seats together. Check and recheck. (Photo by BraunS / Getty Images)

In June 2016 Congress added an amendment, the Families Flying Together Act, to the FAA Reauthorization Bill. The amendment states that airlines should seat any child under the age of 13 "adjacent to the seat of an accompanying family member over the age of 13, to the maximum extent practicable, at no additional cost." This should have put any seat assignment worries to rest, right? Unfortunately, no. The FAA has not yet implemented a way to enforce the Act and has not setup ramifications for airlines if they do not comply.

UK Airlines May Split Families on Purpose

Family seat assignments aren't just a problem in the United States. According to a recent report by, some airlines in the UK are actually purposely splitting up families. The UK's Civil Aviation Authority found certain airlines may be using an algorithm that recognizes passengers with the same last name with the sole purpose to then split up their seat assignments. The study surveyed more than 4,200 people and found that Ryanair was their biggest culprit: 35% of traveling companions were split up if they did not pay to sit together.

They may be using an algorithm to essentially force families to pay more. Low-cost carriers, especially, rely on those add-on fees — like paid seat assignments — to increase their top-line. Splitting up a family will only increase their opportunity to sell premium seats next to one another.

When the CAA looked at all of the other airlines, it was just an 18% split, which is still too high. Of course, this is a UK study and we have not yet seen a similar study within the US. But based on many negative experiences shared from TPG families, US passengers may suffer from similar issues. Airlines are businesses and, at the end of the day, they exist to make money.

Bottom Line

While no family is 100% protected from being split up on an aircraft, there are definitely steps you can take to help ensure your family does get to sit together. Has your family even been split up on a flight? Feel free to share your experience below.

Featured image by Getty Images/Hero Images