A Must-Have Parent Travel Miracle

Lars Plougmann via the Creative Commons

Great news, Must-Have Parents: Air travel with kids is about to get better. At least in theory.

A new law was passed that provides that -- are you ready for this? -- parents will be allowed to sit with their own children on planes. Because that has, historically, been too much to ask.

We can thank Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet for the law, by the way.

You see, for at least six years (When I did a search on this topic, I saw blog posts from that far back complaining about it. I have no idea when airlines first decided this was in any way, shape or form a good idea), airlines -- like, all of them -- have had an official policy that went something like this:

1. Customer goes online to book seats for travel.

2. Customer carefully selects seats for each member of her family, taking into account Hailey's tiny bladder and Jacob's tendency to drool on shoulders when sleeping. Customer even cross references the selected seats on SeatGuru.com to make sure other customers have been happy sitting there. Customer purchases the seats, feeling maybe even a little smug about her preparedness.

3. Customer logs on to the site 24 hours in advance to check in. Everything's peachy.

4. Customer -- haggard and stressed from navigating a whole family out of the house and through airport security -- gets family seat assignments and learns that she will be in seat 5B, 2-year-old Hailey will be in 26B and 5-year-old Jacob will be in 12E.

Sitting. With. Strangers.

5. Horrified, but still smiling, Customer goes to the counter to laughingly tell the gate attendant, "Hey, I don't really want to sit with them, either, but I wouldn't wish that on anyone. Can you fix this so we can sit together?"

6. Customer gets told "No."

That's right. For years now, this has been happening in the same country where it's illegal to leave your kids in the car while you run inside to pay for your gas; the same country where people called for the execution of a mom whose kid slipped out of her sight for one minute and into a gorilla pen at the zoo. It has been the official policy of all the airlines to separate very young children from their parents and force them to sit with strangers.

Because this makes sense to no one. Ever.

Only a pedophile would actually not be infuriated by being the stranger who has to sit with someone else's toddlers. Only a completely negligent parent would be OK with trusting a total stranger to do all the things a parent does for a child during a flight.

But. That's all about to change.

In theory. The law requires that the airlines allow children under age 13 "to be seated in a seat adjacent to the seat of an accompanying family member over the age of 13" for no additional cost, with an exception for when the swap would require some kind of seat upgrade.

It's a shame that it takes a law to fix this. It can't have been in anyone's best interest to keep the policy as is, and certainly there's never been a gate attendant who enjoyed telling a paying customer that she would have to beg and plead with strangers just to have the seating situation she thought she'd purchased to begin with. And it she was unsuccessful or unwilling to beg, she'd have to subject her child to an at best scary situation and, at worst, a dangerous one.

When I wrote about air travel in the past, I talked about how this exact situation had happened to me but, thanks to my bad attitude and persistence and an accommodating customer service representative at Delta, it was remedied before our flight. In that column, I wrote about how road trips with children are favorable to air travel, precisely because of the travel stress that comes with policies like these.

Well, folks, maybe the skies are about to be friendly for families again, particularly to solo parents flying with children. Here's hoping.

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Parenting Family and Spouse