Opinion: Kids shouldn't be separated from their parents on planes. Why is this hard to understand?


I’ll never forget the first time my family went on a trip abroad - or more specifically, the journey to get to our final destination.

At the time, my two older kids were just five and two years old, and we were flying to Mexico for a much-needed warm-weather getaway. While we were waiting at the airport to depart, my youngest threw up all over the floor, completely out of the blue. A stomach bug had struck, right before we were about to board our plane.  

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Trying to keep my toddler at bay, I scanned our tickets to determine our seat group, and at that moment, I noticed that our seats were not together. My two-year-old had been assigned a seat that was located on the other end of the plane from the rest of our family.

Convinced that a mistake had been made, I approached the counter and asked to have our seats switched so that I could sit with my sick child. The woman behind the counter explained that I should have reserved our seats before we arrived, and that the plane was full and she was unable to reassign seats at that time.

Angry, I boarded the plane and sat in my seat with my toddler on my lap, holding the barf bag as he puked while asking the people around me if they were open to switch seats with my child. No one was willing to budge, so I spent the entire flight holding my heaving son on my lap.

Nowadays with many airlines, if you want to select your seats in advance of your flight, you’re required to pay anywhere between $20 and $100 per seat.

According to a recent article shared in Today’s Parent titled “Can airlines really seat a kid away from their parents?”, airlines are assigning seats to passengers randomly, regardless of whether or not their travel partners are minors. “Stories like this of parents being separated from their kids on Canadian flights—and air carriers washing their hands of responsibility to keep families together—are all too common,” the story reads.

Had I known that my child would not be seated with me when I had booked our flight on that fateful first trip, I would have paid the premium for the promise of side-by-side seats, but is it fair to ask families to pay such a hefty fee?

Children are required to be at least 12 years old to fly alone, unaccompanied by an adult, yet airlines are assigning children of all ages to solo seats. This is not right.

Currently, there are no national guidelines set on how Canadian airlines should deal with seating children on flights, but this is expected to change as of December 2019, when phase 2 of the federal government’s Air Passenger Protection Regulations is to come into effect.

But while these updated regulations require airlines to help seat parents close to their child at no cost - the proximity to their parents being dependent on the age of the child - it does not require the airlines to act on those guidelines. If a child is not able to receive an assigned seat at or before check-in, the flight attendant will be required to ask for volunteers to switch seats, and if no one steps up, they are not required to make them move.

While I’m somewhat satisfied to hear that a change is coming, I don’t feel confident that the upcoming changes are going to be enough. We’ll wait and see, and until then, I suppose I’ll have to just shell out the savings to save a seat for my kid.

Bianca Bujan is a mom of three, writer, editor and marketing consultant. Find her on Twitter @biancabujan and Instagram @bitsofbee.


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