The hard work has paid off! Within a year, airlines will be required to keep families flying together.
Since 2015, Representatives Rodney Davis (R-IL) and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), both members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, have been championing a legal provision requiring airlines to seat any children aged 13 and younger “adjacent to the seat of an accompanying family member over the age of 13,” all “to the maximum extent practicable and at no additional cost.”
And now the latest version of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization legislation includes just that, though there is a notable and understandable exception taking into account a seat assignment that already comes with extra costs — cabin upgrades or other premium fee-based seats.
“The Families Flying Together Act will put an end to the absurdity of toddlers sitting separate or unattended on an airplane — requiring airlines to plan ahead so that families with young children can fly together,” commented Nadler. “For several years, we have tried to force the airlines to enact family friendly seating policies, and to not shift the burden onto other passengers to vacate their seats so that children can sit with their parents. Thankfully, the new FAA bill includes this common sense measure allowing families with small children to travel together safely and reliably without disrupting other passengers.”
“Traveling with young children can already be very stressful for parents and when you can’t sit together on a flight, it only makes this process more difficult,” added Davis. “All we’re asking is for airlines to do a better job of accommodating parents ahead of time so we can make flying a better experience for families and other passengers aboard. I think most airlines have the same goal. This provision is important to updating an industry that continues to see growth in family travel.”
Sticking Up for What’s Right
We at the Family Travel Association have been lobbying for and keeping tabs on this process since early February when we threw our weight behind the congressional effort led by Representatives Nadler and Davis. Progress appeared to have stalled shortly after, but, despite the dire outlook, all hope was not lost, especially when, in early July, Davis and Nadler announced that the core provision to make it easier for families to fly together had been included in the latest FAA extension. This received bipartisan support in both the House and Senate and was signed into law by President Obama on July 18.
“We’re encouraged that Congress has recognized the challenges families face when traveling and is making it a priority that airlines ensure they sit together when flying,” said Rainer Jenss, President of the Family Travel Association. “After all, families represent one of the largest economic drivers of the travel industry, so ensuring their satisfaction isn’t just the right thing to do. It makes economic sense.”
We were also pleased to note that several undesirable provisions included in an earlier version of the bill were stripped away. After making contact with the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), we had learned about a provision making it an “unfair and deceptive practice” for travel agents to fail to disclose to families flying together that they can’t necessarily sit together, even though the airlines control seat maps. If not for the advocacy efforts of ASTA, this language would have exposed agents to fines of $27,500 per infraction.
“We want to thank these policymakers for listening to the views of ASTA and its members and not imposing new and unwarranted disclosure obligations on the agency community,” commented Zane Kerby, ASTA President and CEO. “These would have presented massive new costs to our members, ranging from reprogramming systems, to training staff, to ‘talk time’ and opportunity costs from lost sales.”
There Is Still Work to Be Done
It is important to note that this FAA bill is merely an extension of existing law with a few new policy items like the families flying together provision. This extension only reauthorizes funding for the agency at current levels through September 2017. The process of crafting a long-term bill will therefore recommence in mid-2017 and we fervently hope there will be no effort to turn back the clock.
As stated by Jenss in a recent interview on WSPA news (see above): “There’s no doubt that the traveling public has gotten quite frustrated with their experience whether you’re a family or not. So the fact that our representatives are looking out for us hopefully will signal that the airlines are starting to put customer satisfaction back on their priority list.”
Representative Davis no doubt agrees. “While my first choice is a long-term bill that includes major reforms that I believe are necessary to improve safety and increase global competitiveness within our aviation system, I am glad this provision and other sensible reforms are included in this extension.”
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