Airplane Family Seating Tips: Get Comfortable and Fly Happy

Estimated read time 11 min read

Airplane family seating is a hot topic lately! Every day on social media, one of the biggest debates in travel is about whether or not to switch seats with someone so they can fly with their loved ones, friends, or children. This issue has caused a split in opinions, with many travelers uncertain about giving up their seats for the comfort of another. However, it is important to take a closer look at why airplane seating for families is essential.

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One of the most significant reasons why seating matters is safety during emergencies. Being seated together with family members provides a sense of comfort and security that can help alleviate the added stress and anxiety of flying. For young children, who may require help with various issues such as general discomfort, motion sickness, hunger, boredom, or using the restroom, the ability to sit together is especially crucial.

However, securing family seating on an airplane has become increasingly challenging due to different airline policies regarding seat selection and availability. Moreover, additional fees are often necessary to ensure families can sit together. Families who are unaware of these policies or are unable to pay these fees risk separation on their flight.

Another challenge that families face while flying is last-minute seat changes. These changes can occur due to delays, flight changes, and overbooking issues that can force separation of families or longer waits for another flight. For families with more than one child or special needs, finding appropriate arrangements can be incredibly difficult, further adding to the stress of an already tense situation.

airplane seating

Understanding Airline Policies & Airplane Family Seating

Family seating policies differ across airlines making it imperative that families understand their options when booking flights. Many airlines now have a structured fee schedule that does not include seat selection when booking the cheapest flight.  That means that a family wishing to sit together might not be able to take advantage of the lowest priced option.  

The Transportation Department has announced a dashboard to address policies for airplane family seating.  The dashboard provides an easy way for travelers to see which airlines provide free family seating, as part of the department’s work to prevent families from being separated on planes. 

The dashboard rewards airlines with a green check if they guarantee that an adult family member can sit next to their children under the age of 13 at no additional costs. As of Monday’s announcement, only three of the 10 U.S. airlines listed on the website received a green check: Alaska, American, and Frontier. This means that families who prioritize sitting together should consider booking with these airlines to ensure a stress-free flight.

When planning your flight, you should research the airplane family seating policies of your chosen airline and book seats in advance to ensure that you’ll sit together during the flight. Here’s an overview of some of the airlines that have adopted a family seating policy.

Alaska Airlines guarantee that children 13 and under will be seated next to at least one accompanying adult at no additional cost, including for Saver fares.

American Airlinesguarantee children 14 and under will be seated adjacent to an accompanying adult at no additional cost, including Basic Economy fares.

Frontier Airlinesguarantee adjacent seats for the child or children under 13 and an accompanying adult (over age 13) at no additional cost for all fare types.

Guarantees for seating require you to meet certain conditions which can include but depending on the airline, may not be limited to:

  • Adult and children booked on the same reservation
  • Choose seats for the entire reservation and do not change them once they are assigned.
  • Adjacent seats must be in the same class of service.
  • Original plane has not been switched to a smaller aircraft.
kid in airport

Tips for Securing Airplane Family Seating

One of the main benefits of booking early is having access to a better selection of seats.  Most airlines allow you to choose your seats during the booking process so when you book early, this increases your chance of choosing seating together.  Waiting until the last minute or until check-in increases the chances of having to deal with limited seating options. 

If you are trying to fly for the lowest price possible, there are still some ways to boost your chances of being seated together without paying extra.  I can honestly tell you that we have managed to fly with 5 – 9 people at a time and have never been split or had to ask anyone to switch seats with us.  (And we LOVE basic economy fares and budget airlines.)  Here are my tips for increasing your chances and avoiding future upset.

Set an alarm/reminder to check-in exactly when your check-in opens (usually 24 hours before the flight). You won’t believe how many people skip this important step! Let it auto assign if it looks like there are plenty of seats still available for sale during check-in.  Once it does, if you don’t like the seats, then go ahead and pay to upgrade after that. You could also call the airline directly and request to be seated together.  

6 strategies for securing seats together for families:

  • Check in early to secure seats together
  • Request for seats together at the time of booking or check-in
  • Consider booking seats with extra legroom or bulkhead seats
  • Arrive early at the airport so you don’t miss the pre-boarding announcement if you qualify based on child’s age or special needs
  • Never book the emergency row – kids can’t sit there.
  • Pay attention to your boarding group announcement so you can board as quickly as possible.

More Tips for families traveling with multiple children:

  • Assign tasks and responsibilities to each child to help ease the workload
  • Plan ahead and pack snacks, entertainment, and other necessities for each child
  • Use a family calendar to keep track of schedules and appointments
  • Encourage communication and cooperation among siblings
  • Allocate one-on-one time with each child to strengthen relationships and create special memories.

Southwest Airlines does not offer assigned seating, but families can take advantage of the airline’s open seating policy to ensure that they can sit together. Families with children under the age of six can board the flight early to select seats together.   Families with children over the age of six that want to secure seating together should do their best to board early which means paying for early boarding access or acquiring loyalty status which includes early boarding access. If you’re looking for the most economical flight, this might not be the best strategy so be sure to compare your options with this in mind before you book.

airplane seating

Managing Unexpected Seat Changes

No one likes it but things happen and your travel plans may be affected by unexpected delays and seat changes.  You could go to board and find that your window seat somehow suddenly turned into an aisle seat or was moved from row 3 to row 29.  It happens. Here’s what you need to do when it does.

  • Stay calm. Remember that honey attracts flies too so keep it sweet and don’t lose your cool.
  • Be prepared. Make a plan for worst case scenarios, talk about it and make sure everyone knows what to do and is ready to spring into action when needed.
  • Reach out to the airline staff to see if there’s anything they can do to help keep you together.
  • If all else fails, then ask other passengers to see if anyone is willing to swap seats but never expect it to happen.  Some of the people have paid premiums for their seats, are traveling with family or friends too, or could also have special circumstances that require them to stay where they are.
  • Stay flexible. Be willing to adjust your plans if necessary in order to have your needs met better.
  • Know your rights and compensation options in case you need to follow up afterwards and request compensation.
  • Keep an eye on flight changes and cancellations by watching the flight through Flight Aware and/or by signing up for alerts.

If you are bumped from a flight due to overbooking, ask for compensation. If they are looking for volunteers, make sure you know what the compensation offer is before accepting it.

Ensuring Comfort and Convenience During Flights

Whether you’re traveling for fun or it’s a more somber trip, there are a few more things you should do to ensure that you travel comfortably together.  The longer the flight and the more connections there are, the more prepared you need to be for delays and unexpected happenings.

  • Start with strategic packing: Keep things that will be needed in easy to access under seat personal item space, this includes blankets, earplugs, headphones, toys, games, eye masks, and books.
  • Dress comfortably: Bring a sweater to remove or put on as needed and wear easy to slip off shoes for security screenings.
  • Bring snacks: Pack a few before you get to the airport so you only need to buy a couple of drinks inside the airport since you can’t bring drinks with you.
  • Stay hydrated: Pack a collapsible cup/mug and refill before the flight at the many stations by the bathrooms so you can stay hydrated on the plane without needing to call the flight attendant.  Remember that drink service usually doesn’t start within the first 30 minutes of take-off.

Having these things with you during your travels also helps deal with the challenges of delays when they occur.

Potential Costs of Families Flying Together

Families often forego flying together due to the potential costs involved, which can sometimes be unexpectedly high. Even if they manage to find great deals on saver fares that initially seem affordable, there may be additional expenses that families need to consider. This is especially true for families on a tight budget who may not be prepared for the total impact of all these costs and the potential risks they might face.

Booking family seats for a flight can include the following potential costs:

  • Seat selection fees: Depending on the airline and type of seat, fees can range from a few dollars to over $50 per seat in order to get seats adjacent to each other.  Seats towards the front, as well as aisle and window seats are often charged a higher premium.
  • Upgrade fees: For more space and comfort, the best seats can be reserved by upgrading to a higher class which can also significantly increase costs.
  • Baggage fees: Families may need to bring extra luggage, such as strollers, car seats, or diaper bags.  Lower fares often only include a personal item.  Some airlines may include a carry-on.  Unless you have upgraded to a higher fare, you may not be able to bring a carry-on or checked bag without paying an additional fee.
  • Cancellation or change fees: If you need to cancel or change a flight, there are often fees for this as well and it usually depends on the type of fare you booked.  This can result in hundreds of dollars in fees and may not be covered by insurance depending on the reason for cancellation.

The best ways to minimize costs when booking a flight for the whole family is to book early, take advantage of airline rewards programs or credit card points, look for deals and promotions, read the fine print carefully, and compare airline policies and booking fees.  Weigh the costs and benefits of several options including lowest fares, upgrades, and seating before committing.  Always use a credit card that offers some travel protection and purchase insurance with the coverages you need most to minimize the chances of loss and risk.

Happy Wandering with the Family!

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