There are at least two sides to every story, and in the recent controversy involving kids and airline seating, the other side didn’t get a lot of airtime.
I’m here to correct that.
It’s voices like Carla Overbeck, who recently overheard a flight attendant ask a passenger if he wouldn’t mind moving so that a family could sit together. (As a refresher, airlines are charging extra for more desirable economy class seats, leading some to conclude that families would be separated — a claim I doubted).
“Of course I wouldn’t mind if I had a middle seat to give that up for another seat,” says Overbeck. “But I think I would be upset if I were asked if I were willing to move from an aisle seat. There would be a guilt factor if I said no, but I would be unhappy with myself and the airline if I said yes.”
In fact, there’s a largely silent majority of non-parents who who meekly suggested they shouldn’t have to give up their seat for a family. And that’s especially true if they’ve paid extra for a premium seat, they say.
As reader Jennifer Minchau, herself a mother, admitted “those who have paid for premium seats might be reluctant to give up their seat up for my special snowflake.”
All of which raises the question of who has more rights: flying parents — or paying passengers?
It shouldn’t ever come to this, of course. But it apparently has and it could happen with more frequency in the future.
So let’s go there.
No doubt, parents do enjoy special rights when it comes to air travel. Some carriers allow them to board early. Babies are offered a drink first, along with first class passengers. Parents with young kids are sometimes given bulkhead seats in order to manage a toddler on a long flight.
Yet at the same time, airlines cater to those who pay extra. Even if you’re in the back of the plane, if you’ve shelled out $25 for an exit row seat, you have the right to that seat — maybe even a special right to the seat as opposed to the passenger who requested the exit row at check-in.
Airlines place their flight crew in a difficult position. They’re rewarded for their company’s profitability. Yet they’re also asked to keep passengers happy and to mediate any in-flight disputes, including those between parents who think they’re entitled to sit next to their kids and other passengers who think they’re entitled to the seat they reserved.
This money versus morality argument — oh, that’s something the airline industry doesn’t do very well.
I’m reminded of Raj Wadhwa, who was flying from San Francisco to Chicago on United Airlines with his wife and kids, ages 10 and 12. The flight was completely full, and his family had paid for the trip with miles. That’s an important detail.