In a purely business sense, it’s easy to understand why airlines are more or less forcing passengers to pay fees for seat reservations on planes: more fees equal more profits. But the scheme is hated by families — and is likely to be hated even more by passengers who wind up sitting next to nervous, whiny kids who are rows away from their parents. That’s not good for business at all.
Earlier this week, New York Senator Charles Schumer released a statement urging U.S. airlines to do right by families and allow them to sit together in the same row without paying extra fees. The Senator was reacting to a recent Associated Press story detailing the rise of fees for window- and aisle-seat reservations on most planes — a trend that leaves only middle seats for those unwilling to pay the fee and potentially leaves parents far away from their children onboard aircraft. Among Schumer’s comments:
“Requiring parents to pay an additional fee to make sure their kids are sitting next to them and in sight is ridiculous and simply over the top … This ill-conceived ploy to foist more fees on travelers could have profound implications for the safety of children on airlines and it needs to be revisited.”
The fees aren’t chump change. Schumer writes that a family of four could incur $200 in seat-reservation charges just so they could sit together on both legs of a round trip. He also points out that “children sitting alone in another part of the aircraft or with strangers” is potentially dangerous:
Additionally, these new pricing schemes raise safety concerns for children who are traveling out of direct sight of their parents. Will airlines that charge a premium for consecutive seating assignments assume liability for the safety of a child who isn’t seated next to their parent because of these onerous fees?
The nonprofit Consumer Travel Alliance (CTA), which works on behalf of travelers’ rights, has chimed in to criticize the rise of fees for seat reservations and baggage as well as the decrease in policies allowing passengers with special needs to board planes first. It isn’t just families that are affected by such policy changes:
“Families traveling with infants and toddlers often can’t avoid checking extra bags filled with everything from the many clothes changes needed for small children to diapers, toys, special blankets, and baby bottles,” says Charlie Leocha, director of the Consumer Travel Alliance. “Meanwhile, elderly passengers who lack the upper-body strength to get carry-ons into access overhead bins, also must check baggage and pay extra fees.”
To address the situation, the CTA suggests that “voluntarily waiving all seat-reservation fees for children aged six and younger would be a good start. Then, gate agents and flight attendants could be encouraged to use common sense in dealing with families, making every effort to seat them together.”
The problem, from the business point of view, is that using common sense may decrease the amount of fees collected. In the CTA’s announcement, the organization notes that it “does not believe the airlines actually hate families.” And yet “their current policies do a poor job of reflecting that.”
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What the airlines seem to not realize is that while their policies may be increasing revenue, they are also making people hate flying. Is that good for business?