Long haul flights are a common aspect of family holidays; today we determine which long haul airline has the best seats for families traveling with children.
It should be common sense to have families traveling with toddlers and children seated together. However, this may not always be the case. Airlines reserve the right to assign or reassign seats at any time for operational, safety or security reasons.
Reduced Mobility Rights interviewed a number of airlines performing long haul flights to collect and evaluate their booking seat policies and fees.
Air New Zealand, Eva Air, Emirates, Thai Airways and American Airlines took part to this case study.
We asked if the airline accommodates families requests to be seated together free of charge, or if they charge fees at the time of booking flight seats.
"Air New Zealand assigns flight seats free of charge," Air New Zealand Communications Manager Tracey Palmer explains. "If a family has booked under the same reservation number, then they will be seated together; they do not need to make a seat request to ensure this."
However, the same warranty does not apply to families flying with children who do not book seats ahead of the flight. "Passengers will have to contact us to assign seats to guarantee to sit together when the reservation is made till 1 to 2 days before the flight. This is subject to space availability."
"EVA Air accommodates the requests for family members to be seated together free of charge," a spokesperson for the Far East airline says. “We offer free seat selection service online or by phone from 100 days up to 24 hours before departure. Parent/parents who travel with a child can use the service to be seated together.
Our check-in staffs always give priority to organize children under 12 years old to be seated together with their parents or at least as close as possible. If the seats together are not immediately available upon check-in, flight attendants will collaborate with other passengers for seat rearrangement."
"Emirates does not charge anybody an additional seat charge additional to the normal ticket fare paid," a spokesperson for Emirates explains. "All seats are subject to availability; however, passengers can request their preferred seating together at the time that they purchase their ticket."
Provided the family is booked less than one booking reference then Emirates will ensure they are seated together. However, it is advised to make a group seating request at the time of booking."
"At Thai Airways, it is possible to book seats together free of charge any time after the booking has been made," Thai Airways Communications manager Arthorn Dhamabutra explains. “Passengers will have to contact us to assign seats to guarantee to sit together when the booking is made till 1 to 2 days before the flight. This is subject to space availability."
Booking flight seats for a family traveling together proves slightly more difficult at American Airlines than other carriers. "As long as there are seats available, passengers can get seats assignments during booking," American Airlines explains. "If adjacent seats are not available at the time of booking, AA will attempt to accommodate families traveling with a child and groups of 5 or more by assigning them adjacent seats,"
The airline's best seats, known as "Preferred Seats", are available to select frequent fliers, and other passengers for a fee. This practice lowers the number of seats available to all passengers, increasing the likelihood of families being separated.
Air travel is not an exact science, nor is airline seats allocation. We asked how airlines deal with the possible situation of children age 12 or under who are allocated airline seats away from their parents.
"If a family has booked under the same PNR, then they will be seated together," Air New Zealand explains. At no time, the airline will separate parents from children.
"That occasion only occurs when the family makes a late booking and the flights are fully booked," Eva Air says. "But in that situation, our flight attendants will coordinate with other passengers for seat rearrangement so that parents can take care of their children. Normally, there will be some other passengers who are willing to cooperate for the convenience of the families who have children."
"Emirates ensure that children are seated with their parents," Emirates explains. "However, unaccompanied minors are of course looked after by the cabin crew during the flight."
"Yes, it is possible that this may happen if seats have not been requested," Thai Airways explains. "The crew will pay attention to the minors."
Because of restrictions on available inventory because the airline best seats are blocked for frequent fliers or available for a fee, American Airlines can only guarantee adjacent seats for families traveling with kids.