/ Travel & Leisure

Why should families pay extra just to sit together?

Why should families have to pay more to sit together on a flight? I don’t think they should, and I think it’s common sense for airlines to put children together with their parents.

After all if you’re off on holiday without children, the last thing you want is to be seated next to a six-year-old who’s upset at being separated from their parents. There are also safety issues – how can a parent sat in a different row help their child in an emergency?

The official regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority, agrees. It has guidelines for airlines, stating that they should ideally put young children and infants in the same row as the accompanying adult. But airlines and big tour operators have decided it’s a good idea to charge parents for the privilege.

For two adults and two children, charges for picking their seats can add up to £84 on top of a long-haul holiday if the family flew with Thomson, or £80 if they were with Cosmos or Thomas Cook.

And even if you pay the charges, it seems you’re not guaranteed to sit next to your child. Thomson says a family who pays the charge might be ‘in front, behind or across the aisle’ from each other.

Charged more to sit together on family flights

One Which? member who decided not to pay the charge when travelling with children aged ten, eight and three, found that all of them were initially given separate seats spread around the plane, which was then delayed while cabin crew moved people around in order to put the family closer together.

Not surprisingly, our member paid the extra charges for the return flight, before contacting us to highlight what she believes is ‘purely a money making exercise’.

Another Which? member, who booked a holiday from the family section of Thomson’s website, was called by the company sometime after the booking asking whether he wanted to pay for the family to be seated together.

I think these charges are wrong. They unnecessarily bump up the price of holidays at a time when many families are struggling to pay for holiday breaks at all – a report from the Family Action charity this week found that many couldn’t even afford days out in the UK.

Why should airlines and tour operators charge so much for a service they should offer as standard? You have to say how old your children are when you book a holiday, so why can’t the travel companies pick out the families with children under a set age, and automatically put them on a priority list to be seated together?

Should families be charged extra to sit together on a flight?

No - airlines should try and seat families together free of charge (96%, 203 Votes)

Yes - families should pay extra to select their seats (5%, 11 Votes)

Total Voters: 214

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Chris says:
10 March 2014

I have flown with Virgin in feb 2013 and jan 2014 and on both occasions have been able to select our seats up to 90 days beforehand. They are only a request at that stage but on all 4 flights have been assigned these seats so the best way is to request seats as soon as you hit the 90 days (and its free).

Meinir Hall says:
3 November 2014


We had this problem on our return flight yesterday. We couldn’t check in on line with Thomson, we didn’t pay the extra (I refuse to). I telephoned when I couldn’t check in on line and Thomson said that the children would be sitting with one of the parents. The outbound flight was fine, but the return flight we were all over the cabin, the children are 6 and 9. The Cabin Crew on the Thomson flight were great and also said it had been happening all summer and said that legally the children had to sit with the parents as they were under 16 and one of the crew was going to complain to the CAA.

Debbie says:
15 March 2015

Flying with Thompson on a long haul flight, I totally refused to pay to sit together which would bump the cost up of the holiday. I believe when you book a package holiday you should automatically be allocated seats together. If all passengers refused to pay these rip off costs then they would have no option but to sit families together. They say its to give passengers the choice where to sit, but Its just another way to con money out of us,as families panic and pay out the money to sit together.

The cost to the airline of the administrative arrangements needed to accommodate families and other passengers flying together in seats together is nothing like the seat selection fees charged to passengers which are clearly an extortion. And some of the companies with the worst behaviour in this are putting it about that they are in the business of creating happy family holidays and can take care of you all along the way. This Conversation has been running for nearly three years, a lot of good stuff on this issue has been said, there has been not one comment from the travel trade or airline industry to justify the rip-off, the next holiday season is nearly upon us – and I wonder what has changed.

Speaking on behalf of child-free travellers I would say that we would all benefit from taking this particular hassle out of the journey. The delays, noise, disturbance, and continuous messing about on the plane when children are separated from their parents and from each other is a a major stress-factor for all passengers and the affect on the parents is occasionally traumatic. Reference was made earlier in the Conversation to the increasingly boorish or anti-social behaviour of some passengers that cause parents to worry if their child is allocated a seat alongside them. I have seen examples of this; it seems to be worse on return flights, and parents also on return flights can behave more emotionally than normal it seems and soon get angry when things become difficult. Apart from the profit motive, I can’t see why it isn’t in the tour operators’ and airlines’ interests to remove this unnecessary aggravation from the holiday experience.

Just a thought . . . Why don’t they line up the seats in the boarding gate waiting area in formation to mimic the interior layout of the aircraft? The gateline staff [who seem to spend a lot of time chatting to each other and the aircrew while awaiting clearance to board] could then spend their time more usefully disposing the passengers in the correct positions and doing any justified re-allocations before the the onboard scrummage makes it difficult [with the attendant problem of transferring carry-on luggage from one overhead locker to another]. Would probably make the boarding call-up more efficient too and cut out queue-jumping.

i have paid 12k for a holiday for 4 adults and 4 children. despite letters saying we can check in on line, we have been denied this opportunity. the computer allocated our seats and all 8 of us are on separate rows between row 22 and 40. our children are in front, not one next to us. surprise, the holiday company is THOMSON. i have spent hours on the telephone trying to resolve the issue without success. i struggle to believe that a company that i believed to be reputable treats its customers so badly. i wish i had seen this site/posting before booking

wendy says:
21 August 2015

I have just come off the phone with Thomson as they have allocated my family 4 seats all over the plane. I was told as my children are 13 and14 they do not have to sit them with a parent but for an extra £120!! We could all sit together and have extra leg room “its well worth it” I was told even thought I tried explaining that I have just paid almost £1900 for my holiday and an extra £120 was too much to pay when they should sit children with their parents anyway. I’m appalled its just a massive money making exercise.

I have just returned from a holiday to Tenerife flying with RYANAIR, we were a party of 2 adults and 5 children ages 14, 13, 12, 12 and 6, we had no seats allocated together, our seats ranged from row 11 right up to 33, with no rows near each other. No one wanted to change their seats, but I insisted I had to sit near my 6 year old as he has behavioural issues, in the end I was given a seat across the aisle from him, but all the poor other children were sat alone…crazy system!