You finally make it to the airport and through those lengthy security queues when you check your boarding pass and realise you have been seated apart from your group, a worst-case scenario if you are travelling with children.
With so many flights today that are full or overbooked, seat selection is not guaranteed and parents could be separated from their children, seated rows apart. Preferred seating is also a lucrative ancillary revenue stream for most airlines.
In 2016, lawmakers in the US agreed that children under the age of 13 would “be seated in a seat adjacent to the seat of an accompanying family member over the age of 13” at no additional cost, except when it would mean an upgrade to another cabin or seat with extra legroom or seat pitch.
While the rules do not reflect global airline policy and only apply to families, the Association of Southern African Travel Agents (ASATA), has good advice to avoid being split up…
1. Book early
When it comes to air travel and sitting with your loved ones, it pays to be at the front of the queue at the time of booking.
Booking several months in advance can save you money in ticket prices but can also mean that you get to choose your seat and avoid being bumped from a flight that is later overbooked.
Always remember to check your seat assignments when your reservation is first confirmed.
2. Know your airline’s policy regarding children
Remember to capture your child’s age at the time of booking. The general rule of thumb is, if a child is 12 years or younger, the computer system with automatically attempt to pair an accompanying adult in an adjacent seat the day before departure.
British Airways’ policy is that when travelling with an infant (under two years) and the infant is not travelling in a seat of their own, passengers can reserve a seat for themselves and everyone in their booking, free of charge, at the time of booking, except for bookings over nine people.
If passengers do not choose their seats in advance, where possible, British Airways will reserve suitable seats for travellers three days before the flight.
If you are travelling with children between two and 11 years of age, the airline will allocate seats five days before departure.
3. Arrive on time and check-in early
Most airlines have online check-in services that open 24 hours before departure, so pick or confirm your seat as soon as it does. If you are not already seated as a group, you will have the best chance of switching seats.
Get to the airport early so you are first in line to request an empty seat or row.
4. Check your booking
It is important to check every detail of your booking and itinerary has been recorded correctly, including seating arrangements. Go over these details at check-in and again at the boarding gate if there have been any changes.
Seating arrangements can change without notice in the event of an emergency or a change of aircraft.
5. Human intervention
If you cannot complete your seat reservation request online, call the airline in person and make the change over the phone (ask about additional any charges that may apply). Be sure to mention your child’s age or any other special circumstances. IF any new seats are assigned, double check the new reservation when you get to the airport.
6. Try for aisle seats that are close together
If you can’t find an adjacent seat, look for an aisle seat that is nearby.
7. Paid-for options
It could be worth paying extra for your preferred seat and many airlines have this as an option.
Emirates’ policy, according to its website, is to make every effort to seat passengers in the same booking together, depending on availability. Seat selection charges may apply if a passenger requests a change.
However, group bookings that include ten or more passengers will not pay extra to select regular seats, Emirates says. Seat selection charges may apply “when selecting preferred, twin or extra-legroom seats”.
8. Talk to your travel agent
Make sure your travel agent is aware of any special needs or seating requirements at the time of booking.
Not only will a professional travel agent offer expert advice, they could save you time and money by logging your request through the correct channel, at the right time.