How BA ignored my baby on board

by , Money Editor Transport & Travel 7 February 2013
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With airfares always on the up, it was an enormous relief to know that my 10 month old daughter would fly for free when we took her to the States this Christmas. But sadly, that was where the good news ended…

A baby in a toy plane

To be honest, the thought of being cramped up in economy with a baby on my lap for 10 hours didn’t sound like much fun. So we were encouraged to hear that most big airlines provide cots or baby seats in a few select rows, allowing you to put your baby down and, if you’re lucky, get them off to sleep.

The only thing we didn’t anticipate was how difficult it would be to get our hands on one of these coveted seats.

Babies on a plane

We were flying with British Airways. When we booked our flights in the summer, we were delighted to find out that one parent could book a spot in the so-called ‘bulkhead’ rows without having to pay a premium. The second parent, unfortunately, cannot book into the same row without paying a premium for extra legroom – but this was something we could live with.

But it soon became apparent that these reservations didn’t count for much. For example, if the plane changes to a model with a different layout, all the seats are reallocated with no guarantees that you’ll get the bulkhead seats you’ve booked.

And that’s what happened to us in December. When we called a few days before the flight to check we still had a bulkhead seat, we were given the bad news that the plane had changed and told there was nothing they could do. They told us to call back the day before and talk to the staff at the airport, but they couldn’t make any guarantees.

On the day of the flight, my wife was placed on a waiting list for an upgrade as a consolation prize. But unfortunately there was no upgrade and she, along with the six other parents with babies on the same flight, all ended up in regular economy seats. None of the people in the bulkhead row had babies with them – just long legs.

No guarantees for parents and babies

When I took to Twitter to make a complaint, BA’s response was rather disappointing: ‘We realise that the bulkhead position does make a big difference but unfortunately we are unable to guarantee seating.’ But why can’t they?

Surely it wouldn’t be difficult to prioritise parents with young children and allocate them seats in the bulkhead row, even if the size of the plane changes. Yes, there may be times when there are more babies than baby seats, but why not allocate seats on a first-come first-served basis?

I’ve always been a big fan of BA and, to be fair, even the flight attendants seemed a little embarrassed about the situation. This is a problem that frustrates thousands of parents a year – as I found when I took to Twitter and Facebook with my problem.

Next time we fly to the States, I’ll be looking for an airline with a more family friendly policy. Have you ever run into problems getting child-friendly seats on your flights? Have you ever booked seats only to find you didn’t get them on arrival?

14 comments

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Travelling with a baby on your laps is quite an exhausting experience. It’s sort of fine when they’re really small and only nurse and sleep, but when they get nearer the age of two (the limit in age before you have to pay a full fare for them), it’s a real challenge.

My partner travelled on her own with our 22-months old toddler recently on an Easyjet flight. She had a seat with the baby on her lap and other passengers on each side.
After take off, she noticed that there were quite a few unoccupied seats further down the plane. So she moved there to have more space for our toddler to wiggle around and be less annoying for the passengers immediatly next to her. Only to be told that she could not seat there as, in order to choose a seat, she would have had to select that option at the time of booking and pay a fee for it.

In the future we would be happy to pay a small fee to select a seat if it meant we could be sure we would have more space, but there is no way of knowing which seats, if any, would be left free next to us at the time of booking.

At the end, the stewardess was quite accommodating and my partner was allowed to stay in that other seat whilst airborned and only had to return to her allocated seat for landing, which was fine. Thank you for human kindness. And I’m sure it meant other passengers had a more pleasant flight as having to restrain a toddler on someone’s laps for two and half hours wouldn’t have been fun for anyone.

Swiss airline on the other hand always accommodates us to another set of seats if free sests are available on the plane to give us more space. And they give our toddler toys (and Swiss chocolate). Thank you Swiss! No wonder they topped the Which? airline survey ;)

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nick davies

“but there is no way of knowing which seats, if any, would be left free next to us”

There is. Book two seats.

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Christian Arms

But what can you do, eh? Swings and roundabouts. Imagine if you took your child on a bus and you were sitting in a disabled seat with your child and then a disabled person got on – you’d have to get up. It’s the same principle, really. If you want a bulkhead seat – lovely expression, that, bulkhead, I’ll be using that if you don’t mind, did you make it up or is it a standard expression, anyway, lovely turn of phrase – there may be someone more deserving like an excessively tall person or someone with a knee brace or someone who has big shoes like a clown. All I’m saying is you’re better off taking a ship.

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nick davies

A bulkhead is a partition in a ship or aeroplane; I can think of lovelier engineering terms but each to their own.

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Malcolm R

It seems to me this is a sensible concession offered by airlines – providing appropriate seating is available, but not as a right. No more than the leg room required by tall people. My son had a much better flight than normal to Hong Kong by upgrading to premium economy – wider fully reclining seat, lots of leg room, worth the extra because he is tall. You get what you pay for.

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woodgreener

I have no sympathy. I have lost the number of times that I, and my fellow passengers have been disturbed by crying and screaming babies on long intercontinental flights. I now always try to book a seat well away from the extra leg room seats because of baby disturbances! I travel with ear plugs just in case. Why do people travel such long distances with babies? Are they emigrating?

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nick davies

You’re brave. Usually the slightest criticism of people with screaming babies guarantees a storm of abuse.

Don’t get me started on kids in pubs.

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Christy

Occasionally we like to see our parents if they live in other countries and we’d like them to see their grandchildren too.

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Malcolm R

This topic seems to be principally about whether travelling with a baby entitles you to extra space at no extra cost as a right, rather than a concession. You cannot complain if, due to an aircraft change for example, your concession cannot be provided. The sure way of guaranteeing your wish is to pay for the extra space, just the same as other travellers. It cannot be assumed that just because you have a baby you cannot afford the extra, or that others should effectively subsidise you.

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wavechange

Basically I agree with Malcolm. I do think the airline should be a lot more careful when making offers because making a concession and then removing (even if there is a very good reason) it is bound to create bad feeling.

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Clive

After reading this article, I think BA must have changed their policy recently.
We flew from Heathrow to Vancouver with our (then) 7 month old. When we booked, we requested the bulkhead seats and a bassinet – we got both. The bassinet is incredibly small though – our daughter’s not very big but her head and feet were pretty much touching top and bottom.
On the way back, we asked for the baby seat – which is basically a baby rocker – but again, we got the bulkhead seats.
In addition, we didn’t have to pay extra for the extra parent – both of us paid the same.

BA’s website currently says that the bulkhead seats are reserved for those with children <2, and other travellers are unlikely to be able to book them http://www.britishairways.com/travel/choose-your-seat/public/en_gb

I think maybe it was v.poor organisation of your particular flight and you were v.unlucky.

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Earl S

I think that all the while people have an expectation that they are deserving of special treatment, they shouldn’t be surprised if they are disappointed. I personally think that being able to take an under two year old for free is concession enough. If parents think that they won’t be able to cope unless they have a bulkhead seat, they shouldn’t fly. I didn’t take my own children on flights until they were old enough to know how to behave and weren’t going to disturb the other passengers by screaming or kicking seats. Tall, wide, pregnant, elderly, those with mobility difficulties could all give good justification for seats with easier access but who is to say who’s need is greatest? If space really is an issue, the simple solution is to pay for an upgrade.
That may sound harsh but I’m someone who offers to swap seats if I see someone has a need. What I’ve never done is booked an economy seat and expected VIP treatment.

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Jess

Just FYI, Earl- Under 2s DO NOT fly free. It varies from carrier to carrier, but BA is pretty standard with under 2s costing 10% plus the full fees and taxes. This adds up surprisingly- I don’t think parents have an ‘expectation of special treatment’ but perhaps see this disproportionate fee as not getting them much….

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Malcolm R

Jess, James Daley’s intro majored on “fly for free”. I don’t see 10% plus taxes as disproportionate – “not getting them much” is saving a large chunk of a ticket price. Taxes and fees is a separate issue.

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