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Lois M. Collins: Airlines and families seem like they should go together

Published: Thursday, Sept. 20 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

In this file photo taken June 13, 2010, a Spirit Airlines airplane sits on the tarmac at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Some airlines are reportedly charging families extra to sit together.

Associated Press

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A few years ago, I was lucky enough to cover the Nobel Prize ceremony in Sweden on assignment. In a trip that was memorable for many reasons, one of the most unforgettable aspects was the long flight home.

I quickly noticed a young boy seated separately from his mom and little brother. He was five rows ahead of me on the side, while they were in the middle section of the large airplane three rows behind me. The seating choice was clearly theirs; the plane was not full.

I'd guess he was about 6, his little brother around 3. He caught my eye because he and his mom conversed loudly across other passengers.

"Do you miss me, Mom?" he shouted playfully.

"Yes, Son!" she hollered back. "Would you like some more toys?" And so forth.

This mom's vacation was about to start, apparently, on the airplane. It was also pretty obvious that part of what she was vacationing to escape was her children. As soon as it was allowed, she put on earphones, presumably listening to favorite tunes, only occasionally trying to out-shout the voices in her ears to see how Junior was faring.

I don't mind traveling on planes with other people's kids. I've been the mom with the crybaby. And lots of small passengers travel very well. If they don't, I mostly feel sorry for the parent. But I was feeling a little annoyed at this mom and hunkered down in my aisle seat with a small pillow to doze once we were on our way.

When I woke up, the stewardess was asking the woman to corral the younger child; he'd been wandering the aisles, clutching a box of candy, leaving a syrupy trail of handprints pretty much everywhere.

Not long after, I discovered I had a couple of sticky candies enmeshed in my hair. So did a couple of other passengers. In his ramble, he'd been randomly sticking the little globs wherever it struck his fancy.

I was reminded of that family as I read recently of a flap over airline seating policies regarding families flying together. But unlike that parent, most of us would prefer to have our kids nearby on the plane.

Some airlines reportedly charge families extra to sit together. It's not a straight-forward fee, but seems to be the result of charges tacked on for "premium" seating, aka window seats and aisle seats. Most of the airlines surveyed by blogger Corinne McDermott for Huffington Post said families can book well in advance and select their seats without fees. If they don't wait until the last-minute, there are usually options seated together. And some airlines still allow families to preboard and go to some effort to make sure that small kids are with at least one parent.

But a couple of airlines are charging for advance seating assignments, which also means that parents wanting to sit with their children may have to pay extra. That's ironic. I would gladly have paid extra not to be anywhere near the little candy distributor.

At least one lawmaker is responding. As ABC's Genevieve Shaw Brown explains "The Families Flying Together Act of 2012" by Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., the U.S. Department of Transportation would have to require airlines to ensure as much as possible that a family that buys seats together can sit together. Each airline's policy would be clearly spelled out on the airline's website.

I'm at a loss as to why an airline wouldn't do everything it could to be sure that young children are seated next to responsible relatives, not only for safety and to avoid liability, but to reduce stress on the child and other passengers. Children who are fretful or worried are more likely to fuss and why would an airline want that — and the ripples of unhappiness it might create in others — if it could be avoided?

At some point, the quest for cents does not make sense.

Deseret News staff writer Lois M. Collins may be reached by email at lois@desnews.com. Follow her on Twitter at loisco.

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