I remember my first flight. I was eight and had to wear a dress for the occasion—albeit a handmade one with a matching headscarf. It was the 70s. Our destination? Cartagena, Colombia. (This was before prostitutes and the Secret Service gave the lovely seaside resort city a bad name.)
Flying used to be a thrill all on its own. An adventure. Now the airlines are about to make it one again. For unsuspecting passengers in those window and aisle seats.
The first time my son flew was when he was two; we were moving from Baltimore to our then-new hometown of Birmingham, Ala. (We’ve since relocated again). My husband had traveled ahead of us.
A few times, like that initial flight to Birmingham, I’ve been stuck flying with our kid(s) without my husband to help. When my son was four and my daughter two, the three of us flew back to Baltimore for a visit. I booked the tickets last-minute and couldn’t get our seats together; we were all stuck with dreaded middle seats a few rows apart. The ticket agent said not to worry, they’d take care of it at the gate.
They did not take care of it at the gate.
They told me not to worry, a flight attendant would take care of it once all had boarded the plane.
He made an announcement. No one volunteered to trade seats with us.
I settled my two-year-old with her blankie in her seat. I settled my four-year-old with his stuffed bunny in his seat. I shot a pleading look to the flight attendant, who shrugged his shoulders. So I took my seat, looked at the man to my left and the woman to my right and said, “Let the crying begin.”
The crying began.
I stood up and walked down to my daughter and told her it would be okay. Then I told the people in the window and aisle seats next to her that I was sorry, and that hopefully she would fall asleep in an hour or so. I told my son to enjoy the flight. (He was jabbering away, but not crying. Not yet.)
The flight attendant became desperate. He got on the PA speaker and said, “People! Do you hear that poor child crying?!” He offered free drinks. Free movie tickets. Free snacks. Finally, two takers. They were parents, traveling without kids. I don’t know whether they acted out of guilt, or empathy, or if they just didn’t want to hear the annoying sound of my daughter crying for two and a half hours.
Last week several U.S. airlines announced that they’re planning to charge extra for window and aisle seats beginning this summer. So families trying to book seats together will have to pay hefty surcharges–upwards of $30 per premium seat each way, or $180 for a family of four traveling round-trip (with one member sitting across the aisle). Otherwise, it’s all middle seats for them.
But no worries. Airlines assure families who can’t get the upgrades that they’ll be “taken care of” at the gate.
Yeah, I’ve heard that before.
- moneyland.time.com/2012/05/31/hey-airlines-do-you-really-want-to-split-families-up-on-planes-really (time mag blog)
- ‘Preferred’ Seating Plan Doesn’t Sit Well With Airline Passengers (dfw.cbslocal.com)