February 8, 2023

Chicby Karina

Think exceptional travel

Airline Family Seating: What to Do If You’re Separated From Your Kids on the Plane

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It’s a situation that’s becoming more and more commonplace: a family books airline tickets on the same reservation, only to find out at the airport that they’re seated separately from one another. This issue—particularly problematic for parents with young children—has escalated in recent months, as air travel in general has felt more unpredictable.

Indeed, the recent patterns of jam-packed planes, delayed or canceled flights, and last-minute aircraft switches can complicate airline family seating arrangements. The situation became so bad over the summer that federal officials issued a notice “urging U.S. airlines to do everything in their power to ensure that children who are age 13 or younger are seated next to an accompanying adult with no additional charge.”

Even after the federal warning, I was separated from my two kids on a multi-leg flight to Hawaii. Even though I had purchased my family’s seats under the same online reservation, we still ended up in separate seats. Our itinerary was to fly from Washington, D.C., to Maui via a connection in Chicago. A few weeks before the trip, our flight from Chicago was canceled, and we were rerouted through Denver on a different plane—and delayed flights made matters worse.

Here’s how to prevent this from happening to your family—or address it if it does.

Always check in online prior to your flight

Most airlines allow passengers to check-in online at least 24 hours before the flight, and you should do so as soon as it’s possible. Not only does online check-in allow you to access your seat assignments and other available seating options, but on some airlines it also offers a better chance of being placed in an earlier boarding group. Of course, you can always access your entire flight details, including seat assignments, on the airline’s website using your last name and booking reference.

Normally, I would have checked in online and reconfirmed our seat assignments, but the day before my kids and I were to fly from Chicago to Maui, we were in jeopardy of not even making it to Chicago—a route we took through Chicago because of a flight deal.

Our feeder flight from Washington’s Reagan National Airport was delayed four hours. Eventually, we did board our scheduled flight, arriving in Chicago around midnight local time. Sleepy and exhausted, I didn’t check in online or check the seats for our 8 a.m. flight the next morning.

Arrive at the airport early

Arriving at the airport early will give you more time to address any seating and other issues. You can check your flight’s seat map using the airline’s kiosk and change your seat assignments, if needed.

While it helps if your family is booked on the same reservation, if your family is booked on different reservations, you can try asking to be placed on the same record or asking that your reservations be linked. (You can also call the airline customer service number to request this ahead of time, too.)