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US Airways Hates Families and Kids

by Sierra on February 15, 2010 · 240 comments

in Uncategorized

If you have kids, don’t fly on US Airways. We were on three flights of theirs yesterday as we slowly made our way from Boston to Tucson. Not once was I assigned a seat near my kids.

Now, I confess that when I saw I had a boarding pass for seat 5D and my kids both had seats in row 26, I was delighted. Who wants to sit between a two-year-old and a 5-year-old on a cross-country trip? Not me.

When I approached the gate agent to point out the error, I said, “Hey, I’m perfectly happy not to sit anywhere near these kids on the plane, but I’m sure you won’t really let me do that. Here’s my boarding pass, change my seat assignment.”

The joke got a lot less funny when he said, “Sorry, I can’t do that.”

As I explained to the supervisor I shortly found myself speaking with, I would be arrested for leaving two kids that young unattended in the company of total strangers for six hours. Making me sit at one end of a plane and them at the other isn’t something I can agree to, even if I wanted to. Which all joking aside, I do not.

“Just get on the plane, and maybe some passenger will be generous enough to switch seats with you,” he advised me.

HOT TIP, US AIRWAYS: THIS IS THE WRONG ANSWER.

On that first flight, it turned out my sister – who is traveling with us – was also seated at the front of the plane. I traded boarding passes with my older daughter and we were fine. Problem solved, right?

Wrong. We got on our connecting flight and discovered that we had four center seats in different rows. That’s right, my sister and her lap baby, my toddler, my kindergartner and myself had all been assigned center seats on the plane, in different rows from each other.

We kind of flailed in confusion for a few minutes, while the flight crew studiously ignored us. Then the regular boarding started, and pretty quickly a dude came along and wanted the seat my five-yr-old had helped herself to. I tried to explain that we were confused and had been assigned the wrong seats. He tried to explain that really the window seat was his and could I please move my kid. We politely explained these things to each other for a few minutes.

Eventually I noticed that a woman sitting in the row behind my sister had gotten to her feet and was quietly watching us. She suggested that I give the man his seat and move to my own assigned seat two rows away. I explained again that we had been assigned the wrong seats and needed someone from the flight crew to help us.

The woman said she would help.

“Are you a stewardess?” I asked, since she didn’t look or act like one. She wasn’t wearing a uniform or nametag, and hadn’t introduced herself or acted at all helpful. I’d been assuming she was a nosy neighbor.

“No,” she said.

I went back to trying to solve my problem with the passengers around me.

“I’m a flight attendent,” she said a moment later. It wasn’t clear who she was talking to. She was looking at the back of one of the seats when she said it.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean to be rude.”

After a few more seconds I realized she might be trying to tell me something.

“Are you a flight attendant on this flight?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“Great! Maybe you can help me. See, they assigned us to the wrong seats, and I need to figure out where we can all sit together.”

“Just go to your assigned seats for now, and if someone is willing to offer to trade seats with you later, you can move.”

“I’m sorry, did you just tell me to leave my two-year-old sitting here sandwhiched between two total strangers while I go to another part of the plane?”

For now,” she hissed, as if I’d been badgering her with bitchy questions about where I could stow my 17 pairs of designer shoes for an hour.

Then she stood there glaring at us for the rest of the boarding. She refused to speak to  me again or make eye contact, even when I talked to her. She didn’t interact with the other passengers at all. It was like she was watching to make sure I didn’t do anything sneaky like try to steal another passenger’s rightful seat.

At first, I am ashamed to say, I tried to cooperate with her outrageous demand. I gave the toddler to my sister, who was already holding her own lap baby. I went to my seat two rows over, and asked my five-year-old to be brave and sit her seat one row behind mine.

My kids have a lot  more sense than I do, and both promptly had panic attacks. The baby sobbed like anything and started kicking and threw herself into the aisle and would not move until she was in my arms. Her sister just sobbed quietly and shook as strangers took their seats around her.

A word about security theater: I let this go on as long as I did because we were on an airplane, and I was afraid that if I stepped out into the aisle to pick up my crying baby, or moved one row back to comfort my daughter, I would be arrested for felony “acting weird on a plane and not listening to the stewardess flight attendant”. The TSA may not be able to keep bombs off our planes, but they certainly succeed at terrorizing me.

I also worried that I would arrested if I did not intervene quickly or effectively enough to stop my kids’ tantrums. It happens. Parents have been pulled off planes and charged with felonies for refusing to listen to a flight attendants absurd demands about their kids, and they’ve been pulled off of plans and stranded for failing to comfort them fast enough to make the other passengers happy.

And my family wonders why I get so stressed when I fly with my girls.

Anyway, eventually my terror of being arrested for leaving my seat against orders cancelled out my terror of being arrested for letting my kids cry and I scooped them both up and took over TWO ADJACENT SEATS. The stewardess flight attendant just glared.

Eventually, someone came to claim my contraband seat. She was a mom with a 9-yr-old boy in tow, and before she even tried to sit down, she grabbed the stewardess flight attendant and insisted on having her seat moved because she had been assigned a seat two rows away from her son.

The ever helpful stewardess flight attendant told this woman she could not sit with her son or go to her assigned seat, and had to move to the opposite end of the plane. She was extremely rude about it.

“Don’t give me that attitude!” the woman said. “I just want to sit down with my son.”

“Lady, we have BABIES that are being separated from their parents. Your child is old enough to sit alone,” she said.

NOTE: This was the only time on the entire flight that anyone from US Airways acknowledged in my hearing that my being separated from my toddler for a seven hour flight might be less than ideal. Every person I spoke to about it acted like I was being outrageous for expecting such a privilege, and stupid for thinking they could or would accomodate it.

The woman, to her amazing credit, said, “Don’t try that on me! You wouldn’t separate a baby from her parents. That would never happen. That is not happening. Now give me my seat.”

Yes, our seating snafu was so appalling that other passengers assumed the stewardess flight attendant was lying about it to avoid helping them with their problems. I wish.

All told, my sister and I counted at least five families with kids under 12 whose seat assignments would have forced the kids to fly alone. This in spite of the fact that airline policy prohibits minors from flying alone if they are under 12. We also saw two other families with teens or older relatives who had been separated.

I had to stand with my terrified baby in my arms and my scared daughter clinging to my legs until every single passenger was in a seat. Then the stewardess flight attendant came over, leaned around me without ever speaking to me, and asked the woman sitting in the third seat in our row if she spoke English.

“Yes,” the woman said with a heavy Russian accent. She was clearly confused.

“Are you over 15 years old?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”

They had this conversation three times. Eventually the woman, who was older than my mom, understood what she was being asked and confirmed that she was over 15.

“Would you be willing to sit in an emergency exit row? We need an additional volunteer for exit row seating.”

The woman agreed, and moved. The stewardess flight attendant walked away.

“Excuse me!” I shouted after her. “Does this mean that we can have these three seats? Can I sit here with my kids?”

She stared at me as if this question were entirely out of the blue.

“Are your children ticketed passengers?” she said.

“Yes.”

“Then you can sit there.”

She walked away.

I had to be polite to her then. See also: being rude to airplane personnel can easily get twisted into a felony these days.

But I’m not on the plane now, and I can say it: lady with the gray hair on the 5 p.m. Washington to Phoenix USAirways flight on Feb 13, you were really mean to me and my kids. I had a lot of choice things to say, but I think that’s the important one. I hope you read this and think twice about acting like that again. My girls have cried themselves to sleep two nights in a row now, and a huge chunk of that is down to your crappy attitude.

Here is what you should have done:

  • smiled.
  • assured us everything would be OK, and that you would take responsibility for making it so.
  • offered us a row of three seats together, somewhere on the plane.
  • explained to the passengers holding those boarding passes that due to an error made by US Airways, you needed to reassign their seats.

And you, US Airways. You suck. You knew my kids ages when you made the seat assignments. There’s no excuse for not seating us together. Even worse, you clearly have No Plan for dealing with this sort of thing. “Ask some generous passenger to do you a favor” is a totally unacceptable answer.

What if I was a Crazy Person and I had just shrugged and sat my two-year-old down between a couple of business travelers at the opposite end of the plane from me?

Would you really have let the plane take off like that? Would you have taken responsibility for any illness, injury or harm that befell her? What about damage she’d have done to the other passengers property and person in her panic? If you’re now offering free in-flight babysitting, you should advertise it. I could have kicked back with a book and an overpriced cocktail and had a much better time. Or, more likely, booked my tickets on an airline that would let me sit with my kids.

I am calling your executive customer service tomorrow morning to find out what your company is doing to correct this error-prone seat assignment system, and to train employees on how to deal with it in the hopefully rare instance it occurs in the future. You had better have a good answer.

[ETA: I did speak with a customer relations rep from US Airways. Here's my account of our conversation.]

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  • Bluedevil Knight

    You should be nicer, you will get better results.

    [Reply]

  • Uk101

    I fly a lot on some of the worlds worst airlines including biman from Bangladesh, air India, Garuda from Indonesia and I have never seen a problem like this. Service in the US is just messed up.
    The airlines should stop trying to cater so much to the individual and work out a system for all – trust me everyone will be happier in the long run. Seats should not be allowed to be reserved until a day before the flight but seating requests should be allowed to be placed. The computer then allocates the seats according to frequent fliers first, young families or those with special needs second, and then assign the rest based on first time of booking. A computer can do all this much better than a grumpy gate attendant getting screamed at.
    At the 24 hr period if seats are still available people can go online and check their seats and change if something is available. Also I believe that tickets purchased together should always sit together and that is more important than giving an individual a window or aisle.

    [Reply]

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    The really stupid thing is that the airlines can easily avoid this issue entirely, by telling you when you make your reservation that they won’t be able to seat you together.

    [Reply]

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    [Reply]

  • Anonymous

    Everything you said and more. The excuse that it all boils down to money is a stupid excuse when it is also a matter of simple humanity. I have found that in particular, US carriers expect babies to basically act like adults. The best service I have found so far is with European carriers or with El Al, all of which expect children to act their age, understand the safety implications of separating a parent from their child, and have stewardesses (oh, excuuuuuuuuse me- flight attendants) with a shred of humanity and kindness.

    [Reply]

    psusense Reply:

    Yes, it all boils down to money. And you are trying to SAVE that same money right? otherwise you would pay the extra 40 and get the right seats.

    [Reply]

  • Anonymous

    Additionally, yes the airlines give assigned seats, give better seats to paying customers, etc., but the author here is highlighting another two aspects, one of which is very frightening: she could be arrested and thrown off the plane for her children crying AND for keeping her children from crying. The second point is that the cold stewardess could have just as easily been kind and good natured about the whole thing. A smile and a kind word go a long way in easing anyone’s fears.

    [Reply]

  • Anonymous

    So much of this essay is just mind-boggling. The writer says she got on her connecting flight and “discovered” that she had four center seats. Well of course if she does nothing and then finds right before boarding that she has seats she doesn’t like she’s going to be unhappy. Why not deal with this weeks or months in advance?

    Most people carefully select their flights and seats well in advance. One of the big factors that people have when selecting flights is seat selection. Obviously someone who has gone to a great deal of time and effort selecting just the right seat is not going to want to go sit in a middle seat so some mother who refused to plan ahead can steal their seat.

    Sit where you are assigned. If you don’t like the assignment, don’t make the reservation.

    [Reply]

    rajat shukla Reply:

    I faced similar scenario while travelling on a flight booked at the last minute – because my father-in-law had passed away, and i needed to be at home. Are you suggesting he should have intimated us about his death a few weeks  in advance so we could choose the right seats?
     Grow up VD, the right thing to do is to help a woman and kid who need assistance – not to cry foul and add to their miseries. After all, you are only trading seats…not trading travel class!

    [Reply]

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_D7E2DTYUFYR5NDOEWNLYQ2Z4VQ LorenP

    The real problem here is that you didn’t pay the fee to be able to pick your seats.  That meant that you got whatever was left over with no guarantee that they would be together.

    You are expecting to get for free what others pay for, it’s no wonder you got a hostile response.

    [Reply]

  • psusense

    The real problem(s) here is that:
    1. You did not practise adequate birth control at the right time.
    2. you are arrogant, to continue to insist on using the term stewardess..what should we call you – baby producing machine?

    geez and for the record: I am not related to the airline industry in any way. it seems like you were polite or willing to spend extra money to get what you want at any time and you just rant and rant on ur blog in such a one sided manner. Also read this  again:
    “This in spite of the fact that airline policy prohibits minors from flying alone if they are under 12.” This pertains to the entire flight. Otherwise technically, your kid under 12 should not even be going to the airline restroom by themselves. But you dont accompany them and stay INSIDE even when they are 11 years old, do you? Because if you dont stand inside the restroom with them, even when they are 11 yrs old – you will be violating your OWN mentioned rule of letting ur under 12 yr old “fly alone”..  Geez.. what  a way to misinterpret plain rules.

    You are the reason why “families with children” get a bad name. I have traveled with kids (nephews/nieces, a toddler brother 8 years younger) several times and we planned ahead and did the trip very well without causing DISRUPTION to others!

    [Reply]

  • anon

    How about not traveling with kids, not subjecting other travelers to their noise for hours, and not exposing other travelers to the kids’ various respiratory infections?

    [Reply]

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