You know about airline change fees, baggage fees, premium seat fees and food fees. But how about a "you-get-to-sit-with-your-child" fee?
John Parish is giving his 5-year-old daughter the birthday present every child dreams of: a trip to Disney World. But he's afraid American Airlines has booked a travel nightmare for his family and other fliers. There's only one way out of the nightmare, he was told: Pay an additional fee, months after booking the trip.
Parish bought his tickets months ago, in March, and scored three seats together on a flight from Dallas to Orlando, Fla., for his wife, Amanda, and daughter, Megan. Then, in July, bad news arrived. American Airlines had changed the flight schedule for the return trip, and it had changed the plane, too. It was a bigger plane, but no longer could the family sit together. In fact, Megan had been moved onto the other side of the plane, rows away.
Parish, himself a frequent business traveler and American customer, thought that it was a simple mistake and that a quick phone call could correct the problem. After all, who wants a 5-year-old separated from her parents on a three-hour flight? Parish was only half-right.
There were three seats together, an American customer service agent told him. But the only way he could get them was to pay $60 in extra fees for what was now considered premium seating. Parish was outraged. But a discussion with a supervisor got him nowhere.
"What bothers me about this situation is that they are trying to charge me for something I already had paid for because they changed flight schedules," he said. "I know it's only $60, but this is a little extreme. ... It's not fair when it is literally their fault because they are changing their schedule, but they put the onus of the cost and change on the consumer."
Amanda Parish said the family had booked the trip a full seven months in advance specifically to ensure that they'd all be able to sit together.
In July, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington became the latest group to ask federal regulators to step in and forbid airlines from separating children and parents on planes. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), also in July, introduced the “Families Flying Together Act of 2012.” Elliot thinks the sentiment is good, but he warns that the issue isn't as simple as it sounds.
"I'm concerned when the government starts to regulate things like this and thus have to define what a family is," he said. "What about couples who aren't married, for example? Would they have right to demand to sit together as families?"
The solution to the problem of ever-more-creative fees, Elliot said, is a more comprehensive determination of what consumers get for their ticket purchase.
"The Department of Transportation is going to have to step in and define what an airline ticket is and what it is not," he said. "Soon, they may charge for the ability to use a restroom. Is the emergency oxygen not included in the price? It's time to say enough is enough."
Parish said that, if he had to, he planned to trade seats with his daughter so she could fly next to Mom during the flight home. It's an obvious, if not optimal, solution.