Families ought to sit together on airplanes during the holidays — and whenever they fly, Sen. Chuck Schumer said Sunday.
The Senate minority leader sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao calling for a new federal rule that would ensure family groups that include children under age 13 are seated together on domestic flights.
The letter urges Chao to make good on a bill co-sponsored by Schumer and passed by Congress in 2016 requiring DOT to consider a policy allowing an under-13-year-old child to be placed in a seat “adjacent of an accompanying family member over the age of 13.”
Schumer cited a recent report that found 136 complaints filed against airlines between March 2016 and November 2018 for not allowing families to sit together on flights.
“Even when families pay to be seated together, some of the complaints reveal that their paid seat assignments together were given away and they were re-assigned seats apart from each other as a family,” Schumer wrote in the letter.
“In one case, a family on American were separated from each other, with one child who suffers from seizures being separated from the rest of the family.”
DOT spokesman Stephen Bradford noted that the 2016 bill only required the agency to establish a policy that keeps families together on airlines “if appropriate.”
Fewer than 1% of passenger complaints on airlines involve family seating, Bradford said. He added that the DOT in 2018 launched a website that gives families advice on how to sit together on flights.
The DOT will continue to review these complaints and will adjust policy as necessary, Bradford said.
Still, Schumer argued the problem could get even worse over Thanksgiving weekend, the busiest time for domestic travel all year. The Transportation Security Administration expects 2.8 million people to take domestic flights on Sunday, Dec. 1, which would be a record high.
He said that recently-implemented “basic economy” ticketing policies that give passengers cheaper fares if they do not pick their seats only make traveling more confusing for families.
“The friendly skies deserve a family-friendly cabin,” said Schumer. “The real turbulence is the family seating policy which has become a game of musical chairs that is neither fun nor fair. It’s either costing parents more or delivering a giant headache that includes pleading with strangers to swap seats.”
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