/ 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:
12 August 2012

I am sorry but I really think there are child protection issues here if a family cannot be seated together so why on earth should parents pay!! This is outragous!

M Hall says:
16 August 2012

We are travelling with Thomas Cook and have just succumbed to paying for the privelage to ensure Me my wife and 9yr old son are sat together on a long haul flight. We tried to resist and were waiting until the online check-in was open but it didn’t open until you chose your seats and then had to pay £10 each for them. You also had to print your boarding pass out otherwise they would charge £5 each to print them out when you checked your bags in at the airport. Luckily we caught that rule! However we then had to telephone them as we couldn’t print out return passes as the check in for the flight was not open. This is all extra hassle. We assumed that our son wouldn’t be isolated on his own away from at least one parent but with a 10 hour flight ahead of us we didn’t want to take the chance. He would probably have been fine, can talk for hours, but we would worry and why should we, when we are on holiday and supposed to be enjoying it all, even the “adventure” of travelling?

Chris says:
16 August 2012

What I find interesting is that easyJet allow families with young chilldren onboard after ‘speedy boarding’ which customers pay for. Good move but Ryanair does not so besides the mad scramble at the gate, there is the worry of whether you can sit together. My daugher recently travelled withRyanair with her 4 yr old and 2 years (and she is pregnant) and of course they are slow at walking to the plane! One way wasn’t too much of a problem due to the number on the flight but on the return the flight attendant had to ask passengers to move to accommodate them. Much easier to allow them to board first. I can’t understand why airlines, in this age of advanced technology cannot allocate seats together on check-in when you can check-in on line and yes the companies must know how many customers have children and allocate those seats first! What a weird world we live in when the safety of kids is less important than profit.

Karen says:
20 August 2012

I have a holiday booked with Thomas Cook and was asked by the travel agent if i was willing to risk sitting away from my young children (4 & 7) on our long haul flight. I said i was as refused to pay the for the privelege. She made out there was no chance we would sit together! I am happy enough if at least 1 child is sat with each parent.

This is very sinister behaviour, and whilst technically she has done nothing wrong by advising you what may happen if a little money didn’t change hands [ Hold on isn’t that what the Krays used to do, advise bookmakers of what may happen if a little money didn’t change hands]. She is morally and ethically wrong and this practise needs to be made unlawful.
How dare these people use your concern for your child to weasel money out of you.
Report this woman and ask Thomas Cook for recompense for the psychological distress she had caused you to suffer by her thoughtless words.

Chris says:
20 August 2012

I am absolutely appalled by the blatant blackmailing of Karen by a travel agent!!! I honestly think that they should be taken to task over this practice.They should be reported to Social Services for not protecting children. I really cannot believe this – is there an ombudsman that should be alerted to this malpractice?

Trevor & Kay says:
26 August 2012

We,a family of five have just returned on a Thompson flight from Alicante.Four seats were together & one was in a different part of the aircraft,I had just settled into the separate seat when the stewardess came up & asked me & the chap next to me to move.When i asked why she said this family have paid to sit together.The chap who had been moved with me then said well ime with a group of eight & wheve paid to sit together & the rest of them are right down the aircraft.With this chaos broke out,the cabin staff where very good & re-jigged the seating to keep everyone happy.This took so long that we missed our take off slot & sat on the tarmac for half an hour.

I got on a 12 hour flight London to Cape Town with my 20 month old son. I had looks of horror but claps on arrival because he didn’t moan once.

I like to sit with my kids, one is 5 years old and disabled. The other is 3 years old. I shouldn’t have to pay extra for seats together on the plane.

Canary1953 says:
18 September 2012

Its actually worse, I recently went to Mexico with my wife and another couple with Thomsons. A few days before leaving I checked seat availability and discovered the configuartion for the flight was 2x3x2 and there were no 2s left, the cost for the 4 of us to book seats both ways would be £120, we decided not to bother. On checking in I optimistacally requested 2 x 2s together and was immediately offered a choice of rows. Remember just days before there were no 2s left. Clearly the trick and scam is to panic people into buying seats. we are to blame as if nobody booked seats then it would all be sorted at check in like it used to be. I estimated on that flight alone if 90% paid to book seats Thomson trousered 6k, its a disgrace

sharon le prevost says:
22 September 2012

I booked a holiday in Egypt last January for this Christmas, so not exactly last minute. Yesterday I received a call from Thompsons ‘inviting’ me to pay out more money for the privilege of sitting with my husband and daughter! This is an outrage, and I left the lady in no doubt that should my family be separated it will be the last time we travel with them. We have travelled with First Choice and Thompson many times and it is totally offensive that this is how their loyal customers are treated. Do not stand for this blackmail and hopefully it will come to an end.

Johnny L says:
7 December 2012

Recently had this problem when flying with Ryan Air from Faro to Manchester.
We arrived at the gate in fairly good time, but still found ourselves near the end of a queue, so by the time we got on the plane my wife had managed to sit with my 5 year old son, but my 8 year old daughter and I were in different seats at the other end of the plane.
She was sitting one row ahead of me – in between an old man in an aisle seat and a woman in a window seat.
I had an aisle seat by the emergency exit and offered to swap with the man sitting next to my daughter. He refused, stating that he’d reserved his seat. I told him he could have my aisle seat one row back – and with double the leg room. He still refused. I was very frustrated, especially as I couldn’t see my daughter once we were strapped in and taking off.
Once we were in the air and could move around I checked on my daughter who needed the toilet. Instead of moving to let her out his man tried to lift her over by grabbing her waist and picking her up. I immediately took her off him and went to the front of the plane. Whilst my daughter was in the toilet I asked a hostess if we could sit together at the front, nearer my wife and son and where there were several empty rows. She said they weren’t allowed to use them – no idea why – probably some crazy safety issue. I mentioned my daughter was a nervous flyer and she suggested I ask someone to move. I told her I had without any success. She then informed me that “this is why we always recommend familys make seat reservations so they can sit together”. She didn’t mention the price, but I assumed I’d expect to be fleeced out of the thick end of £40 for that “service”.
Thankfully the woman by the window offered to move although it meant I had to sit next to the grumpy old pedantic who snored, farted and hogged the arm rest for the remainder of the flight. Everytime he dropped off to sleep I nudged him awake to get past to the loo although I felt like exacting a more severe form of retribution.

lauraheintz says:
3 January 2013

Please sign the petition below to require airlines to place children next to their parents on airlines. This happened to use over the holidays and I can assure you, it was unenjoyable for my family and all those around us. The alternative is that, you, a single passenger, will be responsible for the needs of a separated child, whether you want to or not.


jonny b says:
11 January 2013

reading some of th e coments and i travel a lot on budget airlines i can never undetstand why thease parents come on to the plane always last then moaning that they can t sit with theire kids i sugest that they get up of theire backsides and get in the que intime or booke priority booking or booke aseat you get what you pay for

It’s not that easy Jonny. In many cases the arrival time at the airport [especially on the homeward flight] depends on what time the tour operator’s coach collects people from the various hotels and delivers them to the terminal.

Chris says:
11 January 2013

Hi Jonny b

Whilst I understand what you are saying it is not easy with young children to get to the gate first. You can only go to the gate once it is up on the board with budget airlines and then there is usually a long walk to the gate especially at Stansted. Have you tried that with young kids in tow?

This issue here is whether families should be charged to guarantee sitting together and I personally feel that this is wrong. Things are easier now wirh easyJet since they brought in allocated seating.

David D says:
11 January 2013

Johnny B,
If you would like to advise when you are next travelling I will book on the same flight and let my nine year old sit next to you. During the flight she could teach you how to spell correctly and also give you the basics on punctuation and grammar.
I can only imagine you are single with no children otherwise you would never have made the comments in your post.
Airlines need to sort this out to ensure families travel stress free and also to reduce any inconvenience to other passengers who should not have to have to be in a position where they feel responsible for other people’s children.

Chris says:
11 January 2013

easyJet have brought in allocated seating for all passengers and have stated that they will endeavour to seat all passengers together who are on the same booking form. This certainly happened to 4 of us on a recent flight to Berlin. Passengers can pay to select their own seats if they do not wish to take pot luck. This isn’t confined to families with children so no discrimination there. We didn’t pay the extra and the 4 of us were seated in one row on both flights.

What I don’t know is what happens if most of the seats have been allocated and a family the tries to get together without paying the extra.

At least it is a step in the right direction but it is very recent so time will tell how it works for families travelling with children.

Paul says:
6 March 2013

We booked flights with KLM/Delta before Christmas for my wife and son from London to Florida. At the time we booked their seats together – for free. In the past week we were told that one of their flights had been changed, but NOT told that all their seats had been affected. Our 6 year old is now sitting alone on all four legs of the return flight. My wife has no sit allocated despite there being seats available. We only found out because I was able to join them (late decision) and when booking my flight saw that the seat next to where we thought my son was allocated was free. Well, he had been moved and my wife not allocated a seat so who knows who he is sitting next to! My wife called KLM and was hung up on when she tried to complain. Delta not answering the phone.
Until reading this and other reports I didn’t appreciate that this was an issue.
Simply bonkers customer relations. Bad for children, bad for parents, bad for those sitting near distraught children, bad for flight attendants. It will only take one public allegation of inappropriate behaviour and some airline is going to look pretty sick themselves.
We’ll try to fix it on the phone – for free – and then take the airport option. If that fails then maybe some hysterics as they close the doors will work 😉

Gary Kennedy says:
7 March 2013

KLM have to seat your 6 year old with at least one parent. It’s civil aviation law I believe.

This reminds me why i prefer to fly long haul with Virgin Atlantic when travelling with my daughter, i can choose seats in advance for free, if i travel BA i can choose seats 24 hours prior to travel, then again i’ve never been seated away from my daughter when travelling with her as they will only seat a child with an accompanying adult, fairly easy for us as there’s only me and her! I’ve just read a very similar thread on another forum about UA and other US airlines seating children and adults all around the plane so it’s not just a UK issue

Alison Ewing says:
22 June 2013

I was coming back on a Thomson flight today in a party of 7, On the outward flight the seats were allocated for us by thomson when we turned up at airport today for the return flight our bus was the last one there and we were told that there were no seats left together. I have got a four year old son and none of us had seats together were spread out of over the plane. I spoke to Thomson reps downstairs and said how can you allocate seats and let a child sit by themselves. They said there was nothing they could d, I had to speak to cabin crew on board the plane.

I was so angry that they had not even put me or my husband next to our child. They said we should have paid the extra to prebook seats,. I said we have always before got seats together. I spoke to Air steward on board and explained no way was my child sitting by himself. We had to stand in middle of plane till everybody was on and then see what seats they could find. They eventually realised they had 3 seats together so not sure why we could not have had them downstairs.

Travel agents should not be charging families to sit together,.

Caroline War says:
21 November 2013

We, myself and two year old daughter, have just returned on an EasyJet flight where we were sat across the aisle freon each other (I need to add, I paid for seats together on the outbound flight, on the return the only viable seats were across the aisle or individual middle seats , I chose to book the aisle seats as I assumed it would give me more leverage to swap with other passengers)

On boarding the flight I asked the crew for assisance as I explained that controlling a 2 year old toddler would be impossible across the aisle.

They crew refused, first telling me I should have pre booked – I advised I had.
Secondly they had quote ‘rearranged the whole aircraft for another family who weren’t sat together so there was no option to help me’
Thirdly, CAA regulations state that a child (2yrs +) can legally sit only one row in front, one row behind or across the aisle from their parent or guardian.

Despite me trying to rationalise the impractical irises and safety issue of a 2 year old sat by strangers the crew and EasyJet refused to help me.

Easyjet’s response to my complaint

CAA regulations state

8.2 Operators’ procedures in respect of seat reservations, seat allocation, check-in procedures and cabin crew duties should take into account the following factors:
a) Children accompanied by adults should ideally be seated in the same seat row as the adult. In wide-bodied aircraft, children and accompanying adults should not be separated by more than one aisle.
b) Where the above is not possible, children should be separated by no more than one seat row from accompanying adults.

Tony says:
10 March 2014

We booked flights with Virgin Atlantic via Thomson’s travel agency. We checked in and pre-booked our 3 seats (2 adult + 1 child) to Orlando from Manchester with no probs.

On the return flight we tried to check-in online 24 hours before and book our seats…. but the Virgin website was not working….so we rung Virgin customer services (quite an ordeal when you’re in America and have got loads of packing to do) and he told us it would be fine to check-in in person.

Thus, we decided to get to the airport early so we could guarantee our seats together. However, (Surprise, Surprise) we were told that we would be sat at the front, in the middle and at the back….

We were then informed that the only way we could be sat together would be to pay for the extra Leg-room seats at $40 dollars each!!
In other words, we had to cough up an extra $120 dollars just so a 6 year old can be sat with his parents….
I am livid that we had to pay for our seats twice just so that our son does not sit next to strangers for a 9 hour flight – TOTAL ROBBERY!!

And, if you take a look at the *NEW* Virgin updated website it even allows children from the ages of 5-15 to fly alone!!! It seems like Sir Richard Branson likes to makes his own rules up to justify ripping off honest families…..

A very unhappy parent

Hope you complained to Virgin, it states openly on their website that they’ll seat a child with at least one adult, on the unaccompanied minors that practice has been allowed by airlines for years, you have to pay the adult fee and a fee for your child to fly as a UM, airlines have been allowing it for years VS included