How Families Can Sit Together Despite Airline Fee-Induced Seat Shortages

Not so long ago, all but the biggest procrastinators could book a flight and be fairly confident of having their pick of coach seats. Today it’s not so easy (but not impossible – see the tips below).

Listen as air travel analyst Rick Seaney tells editor Anne McDermott why Moms and Dads can relax.

Which is Better: Window or Aisle Seats?

Shrinking Numbers of Free Seats

Airline passengers have fewer options when it comes to seating – and sometimes none at all – unless they’re willing to pay extra. Call it the one-two punch of airline capacity-cutting strategies (which leaves fewer empty seats overall) combined with a ramp-up of revenue-producing fees including fees for preferred seating.

Families May be Separated on Some Flights

What this means for families with children – and other passengers who want to fly as a group – is it can be harder to find multiple seats together. For solo travelers, it can be harder to find an aisle or window seat.

Which Airlines have Changed Family Pre-Boarding Policies

Some carriers make this more difficult than others. For example, on ultra-low cost carrier Spirit, there is a fee to reserve any seat. Those who choose not to pay will be assigned a seat by computer at check-in, which in no way guarantees family members (or others) will wind up in the same part of the plane. As the Spirit website notes, “We recommend [paying the seat fee] if you would like to guarantee a preferred location onboard the aircraft, and to ensure that traveling companions are seated together.”

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Multiple Seats are Not Extinct

However, it’s not impossible for families and others to find seats they want. As American Airlines Tim Smith told FareCompare, “The concept of having a good supply of free aisle and window seats when we first open up a flight for booking has not changed,” although some may notice fewer freebies especially during popular travel periods such as holidays like Thanksgiving.

How to Find the Best Seats Without Paying a Fee

Air travel analyst Rick Seaney has advice on how to find the best possible seats without paying for them.

  1. Act quickly: Check in for your flight online exactly 24 hours before departure. This is when the premium seats are typically released for free, but remember everyone else on the plane will attempt to get these better seats, so do not delay.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask: At the airport, throw yourself at the mercy of the gate agent – they can sometimes can rejigger seats for those that didn’t check in early enough.
  3. Stay loyal to an airline: Work harder on getting elite status with your miles program which waives many fees, not only for you but for those in your party on the same booking.
  4. Let nature take its course: If all else fails, let your cranky toddler sit by himself in a middle seat for a few minutes. Passengers on both sides of the tot will soon be begging mom or dad to take their places.

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Published: May 25, 2012