The Anxiety!

What To Do If Your Kids’ Seats Are Separated From You On A Flight

The first tip from a travel pro: “Don’t panic.”

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Since the pandemic, it seems like flight discourse has hit an all-time high (pun absolutely intended!), with parents and non-parents alike all sharing their thoughts on social media about how to handle flying with kids. In even the best-case scenario, flying with little ones in tow is still an enormously stressful situation. Finding out you're actually sitting in separate rows? We don't blame you for wanting to curl up in the fetal position and cry a little bit right in the security line.

Should this happen to you and your family, you're not up a creek without a paddle. Scary Mommy got the scoop from a travel pro, who explained how to handle the situation with your sanity intact as you head out this summer and beyond.

Before You Jet

Travel plans can change on a dime, so it's understandable if you have to make or adjust your plans last minute. It's worth noting from the jump that "the vast majority of the time, families with young kids are seated together on the plane without issue," as Summer Hull, Director of Travel Content at The Points Guy, assures us.

That said, if you are booking in advance, Hull says there are several steps you can take to ensure you're sitting with your kids:

  • "Book your trip all on one reservation, and be sure your kids are indicated as 'children' on the reservation."
  • "Select seats together from the beginning, avoiding the exit row whenever possible."
  • "Periodically check on the reservation in the months leading up to your trip and then more frequently in the week before your trip to make sure you are still seated together. Schedules and aircraft types can and do change, which can alter some seat assignments. The more time you have to correct this, the more options you generally have."
  • "For airline-specific info, visit the Department of Transportation's trusty dashboard that displays airline seating policies, noting which airlines guarantee seats together for families."

Hull also shares how parents can maximize their chances of getting the gang back together in the same row if they do have to book separate seats:

  • "Don't panic: The odds are good you will again be seated with your little kids, but be proactive," she says. "If you can't self-select any seats together on the airline's app or website, call the airline's customer service number and see if they can help."
  • "You can set free seat alerts with Expert Flyer to see if seats next to you open up. They sometimes do in the 24 hours before travel as plans change or some travelers get upgraded."
  • "If that doesn't work and you are at the airport, get to the gate early and be ready to speak to the agent in advance of the flight."

On the Plane

Unfortunately, airlines are not legally required to seat children alongside their parents. Still, Hull points out guidance issued by the Department of Transportation last year that "urges U.S. airlines to do everything in their power to ensure children 13 and under are seated next to an accompanying adult at no extra fee."

Since then, the Biden administration has called seating fees "junk fees." As a result, multiple domestic carriers have enacted policies to avoid being fined or the like by the government.

"If all else fails, alert the flight attendant as you board and be ready to try and trade with passengers," she suggests. "Keep in mind that it isn't really fair to trade away a middle for an aisle or window. You want to offer equal or better trades when possible. If you are in a desperate situation, though, just be ready to be exceedingly kind and hope for that in exchange."

In the rare event that your travel schedule allows for some wiggle room, Hull notes, "Some airlines will now put you on another flight if you can't get seats together with your kids at no additional charge. United, for example, explicitly makes this available without a change in fare."

Here's hoping there's no turbulence in your upcoming travel plans. But if there is, it's always good to know your options so you can get through the experience as pain-free as possible.