At the end of September this year, the Family Travel Association is hosting its first annual Summit at the Mountain Sky Guest Ranch in Montana. Over the course of two full days, an assembly of industry executives and family travel experts will expand upon topics essential to a rounded understanding of the challenges we face today with family travel and the efforts we can make as an industry moving forward. In anticipation of that, we will count down the 12 weeks leading up to the Summit by spotlighting 12 core family travel topics to the public. Each week, we will publish an introductory essay written by an authority on the topic, which will open it up for public discussion. Following the Summit, we will initiate a 12-month process of digging much deeper into each of these topics, one per month. By the time we gather for the next Family Travel Association Summit in September 2016, we expect to have a much more powerful grasp of what’s at play in family travel.
TOPIC 3: Flying with Children Shouldn’t Be as Stressful as It Is
Travel may be more affordable than ever, but it’s also littered with fees, many of them aimed squarely at families. And no industry does it better than airlines, it seems.
The last time I flew with my family, our carrier hit us up with a surcharge for sitting together (we refused), a charge for a snack (we tried, but our kids wouldn’t let us) and, of course, baggage fees (we had no choice but to pay those). All told, the extras made our flight about 20 percent more expensive than originally quoted.
So Where Does It Stop?
Baggage fee, seat reservation fees, a la carte food service and per-device entertainment fees are already common. Can it get any worse? Maybe it’s time to ask ourselves this: what’s an airline’s responsibility to families?
Believe it or not, that’s a question lawmakers are considering, and families should chime in too. Loudly. We need to be clear about what we see as a family’s rights when traveling.
Do we have the right to be seated together? Or should that be an added expense?
Isn’t it obvious that a toddler needs to sit beside a parent?
But at what age are children independent enough to sit on their own? Is that something the airline or the parent should decide? If I’ve already paid for five airline tickets, does a desire not to shell out extra make me a cheapskate – or just a sensible parent?
The Reality of Flying with Families
Today, parents can be reduced to begging other passengers to switch seats with their offspring. Sometimes, they use unorthodox schemes to get their way.
I’ve seen it. I remember a woman explaining to the gentleman seated beside her son that he should remind the boy to use the bathroom or he might wet himself. The young man, around 10 years old, was understandably embarrassed. Another mother with a lap child warned her assigned seatmate that her daughter was terrible at sitting still and prone to spitting up. In both cases these parents were successful at securing the desired seats, and at no extra charge.
But these conversations don’t help relations with childless passengers already disturbed by crying infants, loud toddlers and kicking grade-schoolers. How are we to respond reasonably to the obstinate #ChildFreeFlights movement, for example? (Here is one interesting way.)
Remember When Service Mattered?
There was a time, not all that long ago, when airlines were sensitive to the needs and wallets of families. In those days, in addition to keeping families together for no extra expense, strollers didn’t count as additional paid checked luggage and groups with kids, especially those with special needs, were routinely given generous boarding time and assistance. Now these are premium services are reserved largely for business travelers who can pay for them but, let’s be honest, don’t really need them.
Would air travel be less stressful if we didn’t have to worry about so many issues?
Instead of having the airlines and angry childless passengers tell us about what they want, we could start a conversation here about the things we need. Or at least the things we desire. (Could family travel be more affordable with tickets for youths discounted when traveling with an adult? Wow, I like that idea a lot.) As a group we may have a better chance of being heard.
Tell us about your experience of flying with children. Could it be easier? In what ways? The Family Travel Association is committed to breaking through the intractable situation in which families and airlines find themselves.
Please share your feelings in the comments below or, for more interaction, on the Outbounding discussion board prepared specifically for us. And stay tuned in the weeks ahead for more articles about core family travel topics.
Kari Haugeto is a world traveler, photographer, videographer and serial entrepreneur. She’s currently on the road with Christopher Elliott and their three young children, sharing visual stories about fantastic destinations, family travel, virtual schooling, parenting and the perils of togetherness on their AwayIsHome.com blog.
For more essays in our FTA Spotlight: Re/Defining Family Travel series, click on the topics below.
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