Jordan: Have you ever settled in to a teeny tiny airplane seat for a long flight and done your best to get comfortable shift around, take a couple of deep breaths? Not good. I’m not picking on parents here, either. I know that that sound is worse for parents than anyone else. Studies routinely show that air travel is one of the most stressful things that we regularly subject ourselves to and of a survey of 2000 people who fly more than twice a year. A crying child was the second worst thing to encounter on a plan just behind someone continually kicking the back of your seat. So take one of the worst things about one of the worst things and add this airlines air now. Moreover, booked seats are smaller and reserved. Seating is available for premium prices, and airlines, you may not know are not actually required to seek children next to their parents. And so what happens sometimes is kids as young as three and four years old end up in a seat on an airplane beside a total stranger, maybe beside you. But you actually do have rights in this situation, or at least you will very soon. The second phase of the airline passenger protection regulations comes into effect this December, and it includes protection against this practice that kids sitting next to you as well as all sorts of other things that make flying one of the worst experiences in the world. The question we’re asking today is, Is any of it even enforceable and if you were drafting regulations without a clear framework for enforcing them, why did you even bother? I’m Jordan, Heath Rawlings, and this is the big story. Tamar Satov is a writer for today’s parent, among other publications, And she looked into how kids end up at the front of the plane and parents end up at the back by tomorrow. Thank you for joining us, my pleasure. So before we get to the meat of your story, when was the last time you flew with a child?
Tamar: So I have a son who’s 13. Ah, we went on an overseas flight with him when he was a year and 1/2 because you don’t have to pay for an extra seat. When the kids were that young, they just sit on your lap right, and it was so terrible that we have not taken him on a flight since. Like, he does not remember being on a plane.
Jordan: Describe what it feels like as a parent to be on an airplane with a small child.
Tamar: Okay, so for my one really terrible experience, um, he was mobile by that point. Very, very active. Just wanted to be running up and down the aisle the whole time. And this was, you know, like a 14 hour flight or something like that. Just not happy. A lot of the time Can’t do anything for themselves. You know, these air? Not just little little adults like kids. Some people think they’re if they don’t have kids. They think they’re just little adults, but they’re not. Um, they have a lot of, um, development that still needs to take place. And so, you know, self regulation is a problem. Their hands or small, you know, you probably can’t buckle themselves, and so well, they can’t reach the overhead bins. You know, you think about just kids in general and having to cut their food for them. Or like they’re they’re basically at your mercy. Like anything they need. You have to provide for them.
Jordan: And so, what are airlines in an ideal world supposed to do for parents flying with children?
Tamar: Well, you would think it would be common sense for parents and children to be seated together. Um, I actually don’t remember this being a problem when I was growing up, and I don’t remember hearing about it until sort of recent years.
Jordan: So tell me how you heard about it and where this story came from.
Tamar: So I believe that. Ah, Kim Shiffman. So the editor in chief of today’s parents, she saw there was a lot of activity on social media, Um, parents talking about how they couldn’t believe they were being seated apart from their kids. And, you know, what should they dio? And so she wanted me to look into it and see ah, what I could find out whether or not there were rules. And if so, what the rules were,
Jordan: So are their requirements for airlines to seat children together. You were hearing, I guess, from people who’d been
Tamar: Right. Um, so there are no rules right now. Ah, in terms of, you know, federal regulations or anything like that. Um, so it’s up to each airline to determine what they what their policies are. Ah, and the different airlines do have different policies. Um, but even within the policies that they publicize, they don’t seem to be necessarily getting that word out to their customer service agents, because, ah, passengers and customers are getting totally different story.
Jordan: Well, tell me some of the stories that you heard from passengers as you reported this piece because that’s what grabbed us and what we wanted to talk to.
Tamar: Right? Uh, so there was ah, one mom, uh, who her. She had two boys. This happened a couple of years ago. At the time, the boys were two and four, and she always decides to pay for reserved seating. Ah, well, in advance, when she books her flights, they go back to see her husband’s family in Vancouver. Um, every year, multiple times here. Ah, and so she pays an extra $100 per seat. This is on Air Canada, um, to make sure that they all sit together and in a row with extra leg room. Ah, And she did this for one trip, and she got word that Ah, about ah, a week or two out. They were switching the aircraft and they didn’t say anything about her seats. But she thought I better double check. And when she did, she found that they even though she had reserved and paid for these seeds, they had moved them all over the plane. So the two kids, the two year old and the four year old, were sitting together in those reserved seeds. But she and her husband were each in separate rose in the back. So it’s not like they they were even together. They were each in separate rose in the back. So she called and said, You know, a I’ve reserved these seats. Why don’t I have them anymore? And B, how can a four year old look after a two year old and they didn’t have an answer for the second part? For the first part, they said, Well, just because you reserve and pay for seats doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to get them, which is a little mind blowing. Yeah, she basically had to jump through hoops, and she was on the phone with them and not hold, and it took a lot of rigmarole until she finally got them, too. Reinstate the seats that she had paid for, and that’s how that so they all saw it together in the seats that she reserved. But she rightly thinks, I think that if she had waited or not looked into it to see if their seats were still the ones she reserved, then on the day of the flight like that would have been too late. They and so how would that have worked?
Jordan: Right? Well, what happens in that situation?
Tamar: So everybody that I spoke to, they ended up having a last minute fix. There was another family who, with a four year old daughter, they had been told she didn’t pay for the reserve seeds, and it was a flight from Toronto to Moncton, and they told her that she would have to pay $35 per seat for them to sit together for her daughter herself and her husband. She didn’t want to do it, so they went early for the flight, tried to check in, and they were each in different parts of the plane, used three of them and didn’t birth of the plane. They said No, we can’t see you together because you didn’t pay the feet, which is shocking because this was also in Canada. And Air Canada says that their policy is to seat families together at no extra church. That’s what they say their policy is. But she was told, No, we can’t do this because you could have reserved and paid for the seat, but you didn’t. So basically, they thought as they were boarding the plane, that their four year old daughter was going to be sitting next to a stranger. But at the last minute, what happened was the on flight staff. The flight attendants, who were normally seated at the back, gave up their seats so that they could sit together. But they didn’t know this until they were literally getting on the plane. So they had to prep their daughter, who understandably had a lot of questions. You know, am I gonna be sitting next to a man or a lady? What if I need you? How will they get you for me? You know, for is pretty small. And so they went through a lot of anxiety needlessly. Um, And for what? Like you know, why isn’t it a foregone conclusion that a young child will be seated at least next to one parent.
Jordan: Why aren’t there regulations around this?
Tamar: So I think people have been asking that question. I think it’s ah, it didn’t used to be an issue. I believe my take on it is that when the airlines started charging for everything separately, sort of, you know, now you’ve to pay to check your bags. Um, and so you know, you have to pay for your reserved seating, that kind of thing. It’s all piecemeal. And so it becomes a bigger issue, because if somebody has paid for a reserved seat and there they don’t have kids or whatever, they don’t want to give up their seats right, because now they feel like they’re it’s owed to them. They paid for it, and there and that makes some sense. But the problem with that is that they then will not want to give up that seat when asked. So. I think previously if there had been a problem, you know, people were more willing to give up their seats.
Jordan: Sure, because they just got assigned a seat.
Tamar: And I think also they were not selling off those reserved seats, So it was easier for parents to come and check in at the last minute and then get the seats together. But because people have been saying you know what, what gives with this? Why is this happening? The government is creating regulation, So it’s the air passenger protection regulations. Um, Phase one has already come into effect.
Jordan: What does that one do?
Tamar: So the one that came into effect July 15th is for people who have been bumped from flights and what sort of financial compensation they can get and that kind of thing. So hopefully airlines, you know, won’t overbook. And if they do, then you know they have to compensate people. On December 15th Phase two comes into effect, and included in that second phase are some regulations relating to children under age 14. So what will happen is at that point, airlines are supposed to facilitate the seeding of children under age 14 with apparent at no extra charge. But
Jordan: Facilitate seems like a very weaselly word,
Tamar: right? And the other question is, Well, at what point do they have to facilitate, you know, is it at booking? Is it at boarding? And so basically the wording of the regulations is at the earliest possible time that they’re able to. So, you know, an airline might say, Well, we we can’t do it at booking. And so Okay, well, if you can’t do it at booking, then you have to do it, um, at at boarding. Well, okay. But we couldn’t do it at boarding. Well, then, once you’re on the flight, you have to see if there any volunteers and that kind of thing. So the bottom line is, if nobody volunteers, if they haven’t done it at booking and they haven’t done it pre-boarding and they have nobody volunteers them. I don’t see how that it’s any different because they can’t force somebody to move from their seat. There’s no teeth in those regulations to say yes, you can move somebody else so these families can sit together.
Jordan: When you talk to airlines about these stories that you heard how responsive were they?
Tamar: I should say I only contacted the Canadian Transportation Agency. If we’re in sort of overarching rules and Air Canada, I didn’t contact the other airlines because I didn’t hear complaints on the other end. Yeah, So all the complaints, uh, just came up again and again. Were Air Canada and as as I say, they just provided a written statement and said it was their policy to to seat young children with their parents at no extra charge. But that doesn’t seem to be the reality of the situation for a lot of people. I mean, obviously, Air Canada moves a lot of people on. And they say that Canadian Transportation Agency rates thumb, as, you know, sort of the top airline for this, uh, for, you know, flying with family. So, um, I’m sure there are a lot of situations where there are no problems. And in fact, I’ve seen on social media. In response to the story, I would say the majority of people were weighing in with their own horror stories. But maybe, you know, 5 to 10% were people saying, I’m really surprised to hear this because I’ve never had any problems.
Jordan: So what happened? This was my next question, actually, is what happened when this article came because you found several examples that air kind of anecdotal, right? And then you you published this or today’s parent publishes this, and all of a sudden people start sharing their experiences. And what did you find there?
Tamar: Yeah, I I was really surprised how many people were like me dio you know, this This happened to me. I thought it was just me and people tagging other people because obviously they’d heard stories from them, and it’s it’s just it. It doesn’t make any common sense to me. Um, I also work a lot as a business writer, and I just think from a risk management perspective, I don’t understand why Air Canada would even go there, you know, like imagine seating a two year old next to a stranger like that Seems to me like opening themselves up for some The possibility for his, you know, like a major problem.
Jordan: Also, just to play the other side of this. If I am a stranger, that’s paid ah, 100 bucks from my reserve seat and then you plop in unsupervised three year old down in the seat next to me, I’m gonna lose my mind.
Tamar: Exactly. Well, that’s the other saw. The other sort of business side of it that I don’t understand is why would they want to piss off their customers, you know, and and one of the people I interviewed for this story she she called in after this happen. This is the one with the four year old and said, Look, you know, I’m not happy and they said, Well, we’re sorry to hear that, but you could have paid, you know, to reserve your seat. And she says, Well, I’m going to start flying with another carrier and they said, We’re sorry to hear that, but you know Yeah, that’s it.
Jordan: Well, yeah. I mean, you’re a business reporter. What? What kind of differences do you see in terms of, like, the regulations that govern deals in the financial sector versus the stuff you’re dealing with here with these airlines?
Tamar: Well, yeah. I mean, it’s good. It’s a little surprising. I mean, almost seems like because they were asked to create regulations. They did, and they’re so they’re fulfilling a need. But it doesn’t really at the end of the day insurer that parents know when they book their flight that they’ll will sit with their kids, right? So and even paying for reservations doesn’t seem to guarantee it. So, like, what is what does that mean?
Jordan: The thing that struck me. While I was reading your piece. And even during this conversation is that you know, to your point, there are probably thousands of times that it happens and it’s fine, right, and parents get seated together. But it’s not even so much the small chance that it would happen to me. It’s the fact that I would just worry about it up until the flight, right? And it’s this. It’s this existential fear that air travel is stressful enough. Air travel with children is stressful.
Tamar: Absolutely, absolutely. And it’s sort of one more thing to worry about, just that unknown. Do I have to prepare my child for the possibility that he or she might not be sitting with mom or Dad?
Jordan: How do you explain that to a four year old? What?
Tamar: I think it depends on the child, the age of the child, the personality of the child. Some kids, especially older kids, would be totally okay. In fact, they’d be thrilled. It’s like, you know Oh, great. You know, I can, I don’t know,
Jordan: Nobody’s regulating my screen time.
Tamar: Exactly. I was just gonna say that. So So Yeah, but you know, there are other kids who tend to be more anxious. Or maybe they’ve never flown before, you know? And so it just It just seems to smack of a lack of common sense. Um, there there were, um, one or two stories I saw in the social media comments about people, non parents who were seated beside children. Um, so some of it was like, you know why? Why was my child seated away from me? But there was an experience where someone said that the mom just didn’t seem interested in at all, like, sort of stayed at the front of the plane. Barely came to check on the child. Now I think that would have to be an outlier. I don’t think that would happen very often, but, you know,
Jordan: Or that mom was having a really bad day.
Tamar: Maybe, maybe, and but it’s still like it’s That passenger wasn’t too happy the kid was kicking their seat or whatever.
Jordan: And you feel like you’ve had but the burden of care placed on you by showing up in getting your assigned seat.
Tamar: I should mention there are different age groups that the regulations specify. So these ones, coming in December 15 under the age of five, the child is supposed to be seated next to a parent from 5 to 11. I believe, um, they’re supposed to be no more than one seat away. Sort of in the same row, um, and then older than that. But under 14 they could be no more than one row away from the parent. But again, you know, there’s no guarantee. And so if they don’t do it, it booking, they don’t do it at boarding. And no one volunteers to give up their seats. So then what happens?
Jordan: So, worst case scenario, none of these regulations have much teeth. And this kind of keeps coming up. What are the options that you heard from Air Canada from the CT? Like what steps should people take just to do everything they can.
Tamar: Okay, so from Air Canada, I got nothing because they say that their policy is already to do it. So if they’re not acknowledging that there is a problem than s Oh, um, I think calling to make a reservation is a good idea. Um, it sounds to me like some of the issue is for online booking. I’m not sure if it’s a case of their system, not recognizing when a child is booked into one of those seats, and so therefore, they’re not assigning the seats together. But if you speak to a human, you can be clear with, you know, the ages of the children and what you would like and see what they say. And if they tell you like some of the ah, the people I interviewed said that they say, Well, you need to pay for those seats together then maybe that’s an indication that you want to look for a different carrier if you can. Beyond that, some people say book through a travel agent, even though that sounds pretty old school. Ah, those travel agents have relationships with the booking agents and so might be able to pull strings and get you seating arrangements that you wouldn’t be able to get on your own. An example was one of the people I interviewed. She’s going with her so a family of four to Cuba, uh, in the fall and, uh, on Air Transat and they’re all sitting together, and they didn’t have to pay any extra. And she said that was when she called in, or so he used a travel agent. And so they even waived. The is usually $100 fee for that. So So that’s another option people can after December 15th if they feel that an airline has not tried to, seat their family together there is a reporting method that they can go through Thio, um, sort of report that infraction to the Canadian Transportation Agency. Ah, and they will go through a process. And, you know, see, I think that the airlines could be fined up to $25,000. So But it seems to me like a low bar if all they have to do is say that to show that they tried, right? But it’ll be interesting. It’ll be interesting to see what happens. Another thing I thought was interesting was on social media. I mean, the way I found a lot of these people who had their issues was was to find them tweeting out to the airline and saying, You know, what kind of customer service is that? They never tweet back. They don’t get replies, you know, so sometimes they’ll call in and complain, but they don’t get satisfaction either. But you think that once they go through, you know, tagging the airline on Twitter, which is a public forum, that they would have some kind of response, but nothing
Jordan: Airlines are the last bastion of old school ignoring public shaming on the Internet thanks Tamar.
Tamar: Thank you.
Jordan: Tamar Satov is a writer for today’s parent. That was the big story for more from us we’re at thebigstorypodcast.ca. You can also find us on Twitter at @thebigstoryfpn. And, of course, wherever you get your podcasts, you’ve probably got an app on your phone, Just click it. Search for us, hit subscribe. We’ll thank you later. I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings. Thanks right now for listening. We’ll talk tomorrow.
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