Should Airlines Be Allowed To Split Families On A Flight?

Paying an extra charge for a seat allocation is something that many passengers are not too preoccupied with. However, when traveling as a family, especially with young children, seats need to be chosen or there’s a risk of being split up. There is no strict one-rule-fits-all when it comes to seating families on an aircraft but should there be?

Two children sat alone
Not all children get to sit with their parents. Should airlines make sure that they do? Photo: Getty

Why do families get split up?

Sitting next to a stranger may not always be your first choice when your friend or relative is on another aisle of the aircraft. But when it comes to traveling with children, most parents would opt to be seated together. Although, that is not always the case.

Many airlines have their own policies and bodies such as the UK Civil Aviation Authority provide suggestions to airlines, such as the one below:

“The seating of children close by their parents or guardians should be the aim of airline seat allocation procedures for family groups and large parties of children. Young children and infants who are accompanied by adults should ideally be seated in the same seat row as the adult. Where this is not possible, children should be separated by no more than one seat row from accompanying adults.”

But there is no requirement for airlines to seat families together. Where seats have not been preselected by passengers, there is no guarantee on all airlines that members of the same family will sit together. However, some airlines do consider this.

Family together for airline dinner
Some airlines to exercise goodwill and seat families together. Photo: Getty

That’s because this compassionate concern is not only in the interest of the family in question. It has something to do with safety as well. In the event of an emergency, it is easier for members of the same family to be able to locate each other. And that’s one of the main reasons why splitting families on aircraft should be avoided.

Families should remain together

If it is the interest of airlines is to keep their passengers safe, then seating members of the same family apart should be avoided. That’s not only for the safety of the family but for all passengers on board.

Imagine the chaos of a mother going against a crowd of passengers trying to exit an airplane because her child was sitting behind her. Also, what if oxygen fails in the cabin? Can you imagine any parents calmly fitting their own oxygen mask whilst assuming that another stranger is doing the same for their child? The situation is unthinkable.

But it’s not just safety concerns that ought to dictate rules about whether families should sit together. It’s the whole aspect of customer sentiment. Like all brands, airlines rely heavily on perceived customer value. If passengers have a memorable experience with an airline, they’re likely to return. Seating away from your children does not make a good advert for a family-friendly airline.

Mother and daughter on aircraft
An airline’s reputation relies on its nature and seating families together gives off a good impression. Photo: Getty

Families don’t need to sit together

However, despite the strength of the reasoning above, there must be a justification for allowing families to sit apart. Otherwise, cases of family separation would be unheard of. Wouldn’t they?

The argument for splitting up passengers in the same family comes from where you lay onus for seat allocation. Should it be the airline’s responsibility to seat families together? There are many other things to think about not to mention the commercial value of seats. Not all seats are equally profitable and airlines could lose out on that extra revenue by putting family seating preference ahead of commercial interests.

What’s more, when it comes down to it, there are usually kind passengers willing to give up their seats so families can sit together. It might not be the first choice but you can almost always guarantee that a child will be allowed to sit near to their parent through an act of goodwill from a stranger.

The verdict

The conclusion to this argument comes down to whether airlines or families should be responsible for seating relatives together. At the moment, the obligation lies with the passenger. And that’s fair enough. But then perhaps airlines shouldn’t charge passengers for the privilege.

As with any business, the customer comes first and airlines must think about forsaking the extra revenue generated on seat allocation to keep their customers happy and above all, safe. That said, it is equally as important for customers to check with their flight providers about seating policies. This will avoid being caught out at the last minute.

What do you think? Should airlines be required to sit families together? Let us know in the comments below!