Traveling with children? Better to pay extra for seat selection.

It’s nearly Labour Day, which means that another summer travel season is nearly over. For some traveling with children, those summer trips have brought some unpleasant surprises this year as parents found out the hard way that airlines no longer guarantee that they will be seated with or even near their children unless they pay extra for seat selection.

“I recently discovered that Air Canada does not have a policy whereby a 4-year-old child will be guaranteed to sit next to her parent even when the seats were booked together,” one passenger recently noted on the Skytrax airline review web site.

“Air Canada personnel chastised me for not paying the fees in advance and said it was my fault that my child and wife would not sit together.”

The situation was scarcely any better on Delta: “We tried to book our seats in advance and noticed that all 3 of us, 2 adults and one child of 9 were seated apart,” one passenger complained.

“No one at the gate would help us . . . [the flight crew] made it clear that it would be my job to negotiate with other passengers if I wanted to sit with my family.”

Such unpleasant surprises have been one of the consequences of the airlines’ shift toward charging passengers extra for all the extras, including seat selection. While paid-for seat selection offers passengers the assurance of getting the seats they want, and is an important source of revenue, they also deprive the airline of flexibility in seat allocation.

Those who have paid for seat selection have already volunteered to pay more than the lowest possible price. It would be foolish of the airline industry to inconvenience these passengers in favour of more price-sensitive buyers who clicked on the “No Thanks” button when presented with the seat selection option.

Yet the airlines could do a better job of alerting customers to the importance of paying extra for seat selection if it is important for them to be seated next to their travel companions.  Air Canada, for example, does not promote the usefulness of seat selection during the purchasing process, even if the user is obviously looking for flights for a combination of adults and children. This might be leaving people with the mistaken impression that the airlines will be as accommodating in seating families together as they were in the bygone all-inclusive era.

WestJet, to its credit, notes on its web site that pre-paid seat selection “gives you the peace of mind that comes with knowing you’ll get the seats you want on the aircraft and you won’t be separated from your family, friends or colleagues”.

That fee-free all-inclusive era will not be returning. The fees might be unpopular, but they don’t stop people from traveling, and they were worth $27.1 billion (U.S.) to the global airline industry in 2012 — greater than the entire economic output of Estonia. So, if you’re traveling with children or know people who are, let them know that paying extra for seat selection might be worth their while.

Seat Selection Fees — Airlines Operating at Winnipeg Airport

Air Canada: $18 to $31 per passenger each way on flights within North America, depending on distance. Complimentary on longer flights.

WestJet: $5 to $17.25 per passenger per flight segment for regular seats; higher for exit row and roomier seats.

Delta: $9 to $59 per passenger per flight segment for certain aisle, window, bulkhead or exit row seats. Higher for roomier Comfort seats.

United: Seat request available when booking, but seats are not guaranteed. Economy Plus seats available for an additional fee.


About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

One Response to Traveling with children? Better to pay extra for seat selection.

  1. Riverman says:

    Westjet allows free seat selection 24 hours prior to departure time. I’ve never had an issue securing the seats I wanted at no charge.

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