The Department of Transportation has been pressuring airlines to accommodate seat assignments for families free of charge. Previously groups of passengers that wanted to sit together might have to pay extra for seat assignments, or negotiate swaps at the gate. This effort has been largely successful.
However airline policies aren’t going to require other passengers with assigned seats to give up their seats so that families can sit together. If a family books onto a mostly full flight, there may not be available seats together. And when a flight gets cancelled, that new flight may not have seats together.
This usually gets sorted out, at the gate or on board the aircraft. Nobody actually wants to sit next to your children. Still, it’s best to get as good a seat as you can to offer up in trade. Don’t expect someone to give up their extra legroom aisle seat for your middle in the back of the aircraft, for instance.
- I was once asked to change seats so that a couple could sit together, only to learn that they were already seated together, they just didn’t like the bulkhead, and they stuck me with the bulkhead (I don’t like the bulkhead either!).
- A reader once gave up his premium seat so that a family could sit together only to have the family sell that seat to another passenger and not actually sit together.
One woman, though, is telling the world via an opinion piece in The Guardian that she’s sick and tired of being asked as a passenger to switch seats to accommodate families.
She’s also a flight attendant, so she’s also asked to accommodate the seat switchers, and she hates family travelers regardless of their seating needs, because they have other needs too (which presumably interrupt galley gossip or the latest issue of People or OK!).
Cabin crew have a term for these kinds of passengers – the Mary and Josephs; parents who act like they were the very first people on the planet to have children. You can often spot them loitering in the galley or carrying way too much luggage. They ask cabin crew to heat their baby bottles and food; they complain about the temperature.
The argument against switching seats is that the passenger has paid more for a better seat that they’re being asked to give up – and also that that passenger is always a woman so it’s sexist. But this simply doesn’t ring true:
The woman travelling alone is seated in the emergency exit row with extra legroom. Moving her to the seat behind would mean a less comfortable flight for her. Why should she have to give up her comfort for someone else’s children? I am fed up of solo passengers having to accommodate other travellers just because they have kids in tow.
The example of being pressured to give up an exit row seat makes no sense, because passengers are not asked to move from exit row seats in order to provide them to children:
- In the U.S. the specific age to sit in an exit row seat is 15.
- In Europe you must be an adult, and families traveling with children are expressly not permitted in exit rows.
The author references “a recent flight to Los Angeles,” where “one parent even told me to be quiet because their baby was sensitive to noise.” So let’s assume she’s talking about the United States. There is no reason to move to accommodate a family so that a 15 year old can sit with their parents. A 15 year old is allowed to travel on a plane in the U.S. by themselves, without being in unaccompanied minor status.
Moving seats to ensure families sit with children evokes images of parents separated from their five year olds, not their fifteen year olds. The Guardian should be fact checking their opinion pieces. When I’ve written op-eds for major newspapers there has been a rigorous fact check process.
You do not have to give up your seat. If you’re indifferent between seats that are on offer, it’s the nice thing to do. It’s even better when you’re offered a superior seat for your trouble. Consider offering $20 or at least buy the passenger that’s moving a drink on board as a thank you.
At the same time don’t resent someone for asking, of worry that someone might be getting something for free that you had to pay for. Too much of our politics is about giving things to specific groups when it benefits the giver politically. But that’s a problem of our politics, not the harried traveler who also wants their baby’s bottled warmed, and who needs to sit with their three year old to supervise them responsibly.
(HT: Michael C.)