A recently published report highlights the possibility airlines may assign different seats to families traveling together.
Reduced Mobility Rights has taken a closer look at the issue, submitting a questionnaire to airlines across the world. Today we analyse replies provided by major UK airlines, to see which carrier has the most advantageous approach for families wishing to be seated together.
While parents traveling by air with teenagers may cherish the option of keeping some distance from their offspring, families traveling with younger children fear the possibility of being separated from their little ones, ending up scattered across the cabin.
Airlines are under no legal obligations to seat families together. The Civil Aviation Authority's requirements and guidance material for air carriers (CAP 789) state that 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. Where the above is not possible, children should be separated by no more than one seat row from accompanying adults.
The rule applies to airlines providing seat assignment. However, the CAA states that airlines that use a free seating policy should have procedures in place to ensure that family groups are seated in accordance with above criteria.
Interestingly enough, the policy focuses on safety concerns. The CAA notes that the separation of family groups, especially children, may lead to problems in emergency situations. During emergency evacuations, family members separated from other members of the family or group might seek each other out during the evacuation process, a case that could slow down passenger flow rates towards emergency exits and might seriously affect the outcome of an evacuation.
The Civil Aviation Authority also highlights that infants and young children would need assistance from adults in the donning of oxygen masks during decompression.
So far with the legal requirements and the reasons behind them; but which UK airline is most helpful for families who wish to be seated together?
"British Airways is a family-friendly airline and does everything it can to ensure that families travel together," a spokesperson for BA explains. "If passengers choose not to reserve the seats for their flights in advance, agents will allocate seats for them five days before departure."
British Airways charges anywhere between £10 and £60 per person to make a seat reservation at booking or anytime up to 5 days prior to departure. This means that a family of four traveling business class would pay £480 to reserve their seats for a return flight.
"Every possible effort will be made to seat families together, but if the whole group cannot be seated together, all children will be seated with an accompanying adult," the BA spokesperson also explains. "Passengers flying with infants can reserve their seat for free from the time of booking."
Budget airline Easyjet traditionally operates a non-allocated seating policy. However, the airline is in the test phase of an allocated seating procedure.
"On non-allocated seating flights, easyJet’s cabin procedures require children to be seated next to (in the same seat row) as their accompanying adults, or be separated by no more than one row," a spokesperson for Easyjet explains. "For allocated seating the system will try to seat the children next to their travelling companion but failing that within 2 rows.
If a family is not on the same booking reference or has not been described accurately at the time of booking, we would encourage them to get in touch with us via the easyJet contact centre to help resolve any issues."
"At the airport, we will endeavour to sit parties together, however, can’t guarantee that this will always be possible. Therefore, the option to reserve seats together is offered in advance of the departure date in order to give customers peace of mind that they will be seated together," a spokesperson for Thomson Airways explains.
"Customers who purchase seats together with Thomson Airways will also be given the added option of choosing their seats on the aircraft free of charge, however this is subject to availability and CAA regulations and therefore exact seat numbers cannot be guaranteed. Costs to select seats together vary depending on the length of the flight and age of the passenger."
Thomson charges a fee to book seats together. Thomson says it complies with the CAA CAP 789; therefore, children may be seated one row apart from their parents.
Charter operators Monarch declined the opportunity to participate to the questionnaire. Monarch also charges a fee to be seated together. The fee ranges from £6 to £10 per person. In compliance to CAP 789, children may be allocated separate seats one row apart from their parents.
Virgin Atlantic repeatedly promised to reply, but their comments did not reach us by the time of publishing. Their reply will be added to the article when received.
One final thing to remember; no matter if you had to pay to reserve your seats together, every airline reserve the right to assign or reassign seats at any time, even after boarding the aircraft. Carriers justify this clause by saying that a last minute seat reassignment may be necessary for operational, safety or security reasons.