Schumer: Will New Airline Seating Separate Parents From Children?

May 27, 2012 Updated May 27, 2012 at 1:32 PM EDT

By WKBW News

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Schumer: Will New Airline Seating Separate Parents From Children?

May 27, 2012 Updated May 27, 2012 at 1:32 PM EDT

WASHINGTON D.C. ( release ) United States Senator Charles E. Schumer called on U.S. airlines to allow families with children to sit together in consecutive seats without having to pay a premium for an aisle or window seat assignment. Over the last year, airlines have begun to charge additional fees for aisle and window seats, which if not paid can result in children and families being separated from each other on flights. With the busy summer travel season set to begin for families this week, Schumer is calling on the major airlines to allow families with children to sit together without an extra fee and is asking the United States Department of Transportation to regulate the practice.

“Children need access to their parents and parents need access to their children,” continued Schumer. “Unnecessary airline fees shouldn’t serve as a literal barrier between mother and child.”

Major Airlines, including American, Delta, and US Airways charge for “preferred seats” at the window or on the aisle, or both. American charges upwards of $25 for a preferred seat, Delta can charge up to $59 and US Airways charges up to $30. A recent Associated Press report pointed out the growing trend of charging more for aisle and window seats and noted that on a July flight from Dallas to San Francisco only 28 seats out of 144 that were available to passengers without having to pay an extra fee and 21 were middle seats.

Schumer made the case that a family of four, traveling on a traditional McDonald Douglas MD-80, with two seats on the left side of the plane and three seats on the right side of the plane, would have to either separate or pay an additional $100 total in order for the family to sit next to each other for the round trip flight. If the flight has a layover in both directions that cost could skyrocket to an additional $200 on top of the base price and fees for checked baggage.

Besides the cost implication for travelers, Schumer raised concerns with the U.S. Department of Transportation over the safety implications of children being forced to sit separately from their parents because of onerous fees. Schumer noted that a single parent, traveling with two children could well wind up having one child seated out of direct sight and next to strangers. Schumer questioned whether airlines that charged fees for consecutive seating on an aisle or window would assume liability for the safety of a child who wasn’t seated next to their parent because of onerous airline fees.

In his letter to the airlines, Schumer called on the carriers to voluntarily reconsider their pricing scheme, particularly for families traveling with children. He also questioned whether it made sense for the airlines to push a pricing strategy that would require additional attention of airline crew and flight attendants who would have to respond to children who could otherwise be accommodated by their parents.

“Requiring parents to pay an additional fee to make sure their kids are sitting next to them and in sight is ridiculous and simply over the top,” said Schumer. “This ill-conceived ploy to foist more fees on travelers could have profound implications for the safety of children on airlines and it needs to be revisited.”

Copies of Schumer’s letters to airline trade association, Airlines for America and Secretary LaHood can be found below.

Dear Mr. Calio:

I am greatly concerned by the decision of certain airline carriers to implement new pricing schemes that charge extra fees for so-called “preferred seating” for aisle and window seats on domestic flights. I am particularly concerned with the implications that these new fees will have on families traveling with children, who could wind up sitting in different aisles and out of the direct line of sight of their parents because of cost. The last thing an airline should be doing is making it more difficult for parents and children to have access to each other. I am urging your member airlines to reconsider the practice, particularly when it comes to consecutive seating for families with children. A parent should not have to pay a premium to supervise and protect their child on an airplane and abstaining from charging such premiums should be the industry standard.

Preferred Seating fees have had the effect of severely limiting the availability of window and aisle seats, making it more difficult for families, particularly with children, to sit in consecutive seat assignments without incurring substantial additional cost. In fact, for a family of four to travel together on a round trip flight on American Airlines, on a standard McDonald Douglas MD-80 with one layover, it could cost an additional $200 just for the four members of the family to sit together, due to the fact that most aisles seats on the airline are considered premium and can cost an additional $25 per seat.

Parents and children should be seated in adjacent seats while flying, as children often require additional assistance and supervision. Unfortunately, the practice of charging additional fees for window and aisle seats will have a profound impact on parents’ ability to provide that attention. Additionally, these new pricing schemes raise safety concerns for children who are traveling out of direct sight of their parents. Will airlines that charge a premium for consecutive seating assignments assume liability for the safety of a child who isn’t seated next to their parent because of these onerous fees?

Flying with children is a stressful endeavor for any parent and saddling them with additional fees or the burden of not being able to attend to their children while flying only makes this experience more difficult. The practice of charging families additional fees to sit together is not only onerous, but it also raises safety concern for children sitting alone in another part of the aircraft or with strangers, to say nothing of the additional attention it requires of airline crew and flight attendance would will be needed to respond to children who could otherwise be accommodated by their parents. Airlines should not come between a parent and a child. It is unacceptable that parents would be expected to pay a premium to simply supervise their children throughout the duration of a flight.

I strongly urge you to commit to working with your member airlines to make flying a safe and family friendly experience by making it an industry standard to forego additional fees on seating assignments for parents and children wishing to sit in adjacent seats. Thank you for your attention to this important request. Please contact my Washington office at 202-224-6542 with any questions.

Dear Secretary LaHood:

I write today to urge the Department of Transportation to issue a new guidance for airlines separating children from their parents due to new pricing schemes that place a premium fee on aisle and window seats and serve as an obstacle to consecutive seat assignments. The decision to charge additional fees, in some cases as high as $59 a seat, to have parents seated with their children raises safety concerns for the well-being of the child passengers and the ability of parents to properly supervise and access their children.

The practice of airlines charging additional fees for window and aisle seats could result in the separation of parents and their children. In fact, for a family of four to travel together on a round trip flight on American Airlines, on a standard McDonald Douglas MD-80 with one layover, it could cost an additional $200 just for the four members of the family to sit together, due to the fact that aisles seats on the airline are considered premium and can cost an additional $25 per seat. The onerous nature of the fee may well result in children being separated from their parents – and out of sight – to avoid these substantial costs. This is unacceptable and it raises safety and liability concerns for the airline, as children potentially have to sit with strangers out of the sight line of their parents in another part of the aircraft. Parents should be granted the peace of mind knowing that when they purchase tickets for a flight they will be allowed to sit adjacent to their children without having to pay a premium. Often, children require special attention that only a parent can provide. This practice unrealistically burdens flight attendants and unknowing passengers with this responsibility. Airlines simply should not be able to come between a parent and a child.

I urge the Department of Transportation to issue a new guidance that will prevent airlines from charging a premium for a parents and children wishing to sit in adjacent seats during a flight. It is critical that this issue be resolved as it has serious safety implications for families flying across the country. Thank you for your attention to this important request.