US Airways Uninterested In Seating Small Children With Parents

You probably don’t want to be sandwiched between a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old on an airplane. Know who does, though? Their mother. Unfortunately, one parent, blogger Sierra Black, writes that US Airways is not terribly concerned with making sure that parents and children get to sit together. On a seven-hour flight. The airline placed Black and her two children in the center seats of three different rows in different parts of the plane, but no airline staff seemed to understand why she thought that this was a problem.

Here is a part of her lengthy account:

A word about security theater: I let this go on as long as I did because we were on an airplane, and I was afraid that if I stepped out into the aisle to pick up my crying baby, or moved one row back to comfort my daughter, I would be arrested for felony “acting weird on a plane and not listening to the stewardess flight attendant”. The TSA may not be able to keep bombs off our planes, but they certainly succeed at terrorizing me.

I also worried that I would arrested if I did not intervene quickly or effectively enough to stop my kids’ tantrums. It happens. Parents have been pulled off planes and charged with felonies for refusing to listen to a flight attendants absurd demands about their kids, and they’ve been pulled off of plans and stranded for failing to comfort them fast enough to make the other passengers happy.

And my family wonders why I get so stressed when I fly with my girls.

Anyway, eventually my terror of being arrested for leaving my seat against orders cancelled out my terror of being arrested for letting my kids cry and I scooped them both up and took over TWO ADJACENT SEATS. The stewardess flight attendant just glared.

Eventually, someone came to claim my contraband seat. She was a mom with a 9-yr-old boy in tow, and before she even tried to sit down, she grabbed the stewardess flight attendant and insisted on having her seat moved because she had been assigned a seat two rows away from her son.

The ever helpful stewardess flight attendant told this woman she could not sit with her son or go to her assigned seat, and had to move to the opposite end of the plane. She was extremely rude about it.

“Don’t give me that attitude!” the woman said. “I just want to sit down with my son.”

“Lady, we have BABIES that are being separated from their parents. Your child is old enough to sit alone,” she said.

NOTE: This was the only time on the entire flight that anyone from US Airways acknowledged in my hearing that my being separated from my toddler for a seven hour flight might be less than ideal. Every person I spoke to about it acted like I was being outrageous for expecting such a privilege, and stupid for thinking they could or would accomodate it.

The woman, to her amazing credit, said, “Don’t try that on me! You wouldn’t separate a baby from her parents. That would never happen. That is not happening. Now give me my seat.”

Yes, our seating snafu was so appalling that other passengers assumed the stewardess flight attendant was lying about it to avoid helping them with their problems. I wish.

All told, my sister and I counted at least five families with kids under 12 whose seat assignments would have forced the kids to fly alone. This in spite of the fact that airline policy prohibits minors from flying alone if they are under 12. We also saw two other families with teens or older relatives who had been separated.

Sierra eventually followed up with a polite but ultimately unhelpful representative from the airline’s executive customer service.

Here’s what Cynthia told me about US Airways seating policies:

  • They are in fact first come first served, with no preference given to parents traveling with young children
  • When parents are not assigned seats with their children, they are expected to deal with it by getting on the plane with the unacceptable seating and asking other passengers to swap with them.
  • Flight attendants are supposed to help persuade other passengers to swap seats, but are not allowed to require anyone to move.
  • Gate agents and customer service personnel are not allowed to change seat assignments; it has to be handled by a flight attendant on the plane.
  • If satisfactory seating can’t be worked out, they will accommodate families on a later flight.
  • In my case, the gate agents and flight attendants I spoke with probably declined my offer to go out on a later flight because they were confident they could resolve my problem – and they did, in the end, by getting other passengers to swap seats.

“The majority of the time, passengers are able to be seated,” Cynthia said.”We do rely on the cooperation of the other passengers.”

I asked the obvious question: What if they don’t cooperate? Would US Airways really let a two-year-old fly by herself, sandwiched between two strangers on a long flight?

“It’s not a situation that would normally happen because nobody wants to sit next to that child,” Cynthia told me.

It’s true that the vast majority of people will cede their seat to either the parent or the child in this situation, but is “oh, we’re sure someone will switch seats with you” a valid official policy?

US Airways Hates Families and Kids [ChildWild]
US Airways: Polite, Still Not Helpful [ChildWild]