Complaints By Parents Sitting Rows Away From Their Kids On Commercial Flights Continue To Pile Up With Some Parents Paying Extra Fees Just To Keep Kids Nearby   

Schumer Reveals Law On Books From 2016 Mandating Feds Look Into Establishing A Policy For Airlines So Kids Under 13 Sit With Their Parents At No Extra Cost; Senator Wants It In Place 

Schumer: The ‘Friendly’ Skies Deserve A Family-Friendly Cabin       

Citing an upcoming holiday travel season that is going to put more families with children under the age of 13 in the skies, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer said, today, that airlines continue to lack policy assuring kids under the age of 13 sit with their parents—not rows away—on flights. Schumer noted recent complaints by parents to the federal Department of Transportation (DOT) obtained by Consumer Reports and revealed that in 2016, a law was passed to help fix this entire problem. 

“While complaints by parents seated rows away from their own kids on flights continue to climb, what’s flying under the radar is the fact that the feds were supposed to fix this problem in 2016 via a law now on the books, but they haven’t, and they should,” said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. 

Schumer detailed the FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016, which contained a directive to the Secretary of Transportation to get a handle on this issue with the goal of solving it.

“The friendly skies deserve a family-friendly cabin, and it is clear-as-day that for many parents aboard flights, the real turbulence is the family seating policy which has become a game of musical chairs that is neither fun nor fair. It’s either costing parents more or delivering a giant headache that includes pleading with strangers to swap seats,” Schumer added. 

Schumer said, to date, nothing has been enacted, and that some parents just begrudgingly pay more fees to sit with their kids. In some cases, even when parents had paid extra fees, they found their seat assignments changed at the gate and the family forced to sit apart with no refund or relief. In a just-released letter, he urged the federal DOT to enact a universal family-friendly seating policy for airlines and says it absolutely should not cost parents more money.   

According to Consumer Reports, which filed a Freedom of Information Request with the Department of Transportation, complaints by parents detailed “a pattern of insensitivity by the airlines against hundreds of families with young children.”  The report said that, “It is clear from these complaints that when families with young children seek to sit together inflight, airlines regularly impose or attempt to impose fees for “preferred” seat assignments and/or priority boarding, the very issues that Congress directed DOT to stop.” 

Schumer noted that the report also revealed that several complaining parents made clear that they did not understand that purchasing a ‘Basic Economy’ class ticket would prevent them from being able to sit with their children. Even more shocking, numerous complaints involve “airlines knowingly assigning seats apart from family to children as young as 2 years old.” 

Schumer has long been a champion of holding airlines accountable. Most recently, he was successful in his effort to force the FAA to address shrinking seats that continue to be compact for air travelers.

Schumer’s letter to DOT Secretary Elaine Chao regarding his push for a universal family-seating policy appears below. 

Dear Secretary Chao,

I write to you today regarding the disturbing matter of children being separated from their parents aboard commercial aircraft and the Department of Transportation’s lack of action to establish a family-friendly policy on this matter.

Every day, parents booking flights are told to pay the airlines for the right to guarantee a seat next to their child, and too often even when those fees are paid many children under the age of 13 are seated apart from their families. This is simply wrong. Therefore, with the holiday travel season upon us, I urge you to establish a policy to ensure that children 13 and under will not be seated apart from their parents on commercial aircraft.

In recent years, airlines have begun to charge passengers fees to choose their seat assignments and this has had disastrous consequences for families attempting to sit together on their flights. A recent Freedom of Information Act request filed by Consumer Reports revealed 136 complaints against airlines for separating parents from their children. For example, in two cases, United separated families traveling with 1-year-olds, and in one case on a two-leg international trip. In seven cases, 2-year olds were seated separated from their family. Alarmingly, in three other cases, the separated children were autistic.

Even when families pay to be seated together, some of the complaints reveal that their paid seat assignments together were given away and they were re-assigned seats apart from each other as a family. And in one case, a family on American were separated from each other, with one child who suffers from seizures being separated from the rest of the family and the other child, a 2-year-old, having their Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-approved car seat denied, posing a potential safety concern. The list of disturbing complaints goes on, and no doubt there are many more instances that have never been reported to the Department of Transportation.

The FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016 directed the Secretary of Transportation to “review and, if appropriate, establish a policy directing all air carriers […] to establish policies that enable a child, who is age 13 or under […] to be seated in a seat adjacent to the seat of an accompanying family member over the age of 13, to the maximum extent practicable and at no additional cost.” To date, the Department of Transportation has declined to establish such a policy or direct the airlines to establish such a policy, citing a “low number of complaints” for your inaction.

Complaints numbering 136 are not a “low number,” and even one instance of a young child being separated from their family on a commercial flight is unacceptable and quite frankly, disturbing. Airlines should have a responsibility to put families first over profits and fees, and the Department of Transportation must act now to come up with sensible guidelines. 

I urge you to create a policy with all due speed to keep families with children 13 and under together when traveling aboard a commercial aircraft, to prevent these disturbing instances from ever occurring again. 

Thank you for your prompt attention to this serious matter. Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me or my staff.


Charles E. Schumer

U.S. Senator

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