I travel with my two young kids - a lot - and I’ve had both good and bad experiences. Some days we get lucky and the travel gods are on our side. Other days, I’ve been the one whose child is having a complete meltdown and WILL NOT buckle her seat belt as the plane has to circle due to bad weather!


We all read headlines and hear stories about children being kicked off flights, families not being able to sit together, additional fees popping up all over the place and even whether or not it’s fair for families with young children to board the plane early. According to what I’m seeing in the media, the perception is that families are being burdened with many travel issues, especially when it comes to dealing with new airline policies.  It seems the perception of the state of family travel is just that - a perception - that depends, quite literally, on where you sit.



One issue travelers can’t ignore is that of added fees – everything from checked bag fees, to hotel wi-fi fees, to “resort fees”, whatever those are. Today, travelers have to budget beyond the base price, since it’ll likely only be a portion of their total bill.


The airline industry, in particular, is known for charging a lot of extra fees. One reason might be because the revenue created from these fees is not generally subject to the same 7.5 percent federal excise tax levied on all airfares, according to a New York Times article published in July.


So for airlines trying to stay profitable, it’s good business sense to avoid more taxing. I can understand that. However, some of the things they’re charging for are frustrating and expensive for everyone, particularly families.


For example, Delta, American Airlines, US Airways, Frontier, Spirit and Allegiant have all implemented charges for "preferred seating,” leading some to believe that families have to pay more just to sit together.


This happened to me recently when I was buying tickets for my family of four. I got all the way to the end of the process and was given the option to select seats. But, when I was shown the diagram of the plane, there wasn’t an option for four seats together. In fact, there was only one place where there were even two seats together and those were located in what I call the “more legroom, more money” area.


For me, this is clearly an issue. We are traveling with two toddlers - neither is of lap child age, nor are they anywhere near old enough to sit alone.  Was I expected to PAY for the expensive seats just so that one parent/child combo could sit together while the other parent begged some unsuspecting passenger to trade seats? Or was I actually supposed to consider the option that my 3-year-old would be seated alone? That’s preposterous, isn’t it? Or, is it? I had to consider what I’d actually be willing to give to someone to get them to give up their good seat for my middle seat. After all, it’s not that traveler’s fault.


What’s a traveling family to do?


One mom I know swears that the key to good family travel comes with higher status. Her rule of thumb after gaining platinum status with Continental Airlines (now United Airlines) is that it’s an absolute must for traveling families to establish a relationship with one airline.


In her experience, by having a frequent flyer account with Continental/United and purchasing all tickets through that account, she says every flier gets the benefits of the account holder. As your status goes up, you gain access to perks like free baggage, upgrades to seating and access to lounges. Also the miles/points accumulate faster, earning you free tickets.


Kids on a Plane & Much ‘Ado About Candy


Much is made in the media of children traveling by air. But what is the real problem: The unrealistic expectations of childless passengers? The parents failing to actively parent their children? The children themselves? In most instances, a combination of all of these things is probably at play. 


It is not a guarantee that family members will be seated together even if their tickets are purchased at the same time; it is getting increasingly difficult to select seats near each other in the wake of extra fees for premium seating; and parents are often left to rely on the kindness of strangers. In my experience, this often works out. However, I just heard from a friend who witnessed a traveler flat-out refuse to switch seats so a mother could sit next to her child. If stories like this didn’t happen, then we wouldn’t be having this discussion. And we wouldn’t hear about parents bringing candy or other gifts to sweeten the pot for their seatmates when boarding a plane with young kids in tow.


In terms of the behavior, is an unruly child more or less problematic than an obnoxious adult? For instance, we’ve all been stuck next to the large smelly guy, the annoyingly loud teenaged girls who can’t stop yelling and giggling, or that crotch that ends up in your face while the other passenger loads his/her bag into the overhead bin. That’s never fun.


No one is talking about the millions of well-behaved children in the friendly skies. They don’t make good headlines.


Everyone’s got a perception. Mine is that in most cases, travelers are doing the best they can to be nice and treat one another with respect amidst travel policies that don’t always make traveling easy. Case in point: the lady who became fast friends with Littlest and I when flying alone this summer. If it hadn’t been for the many tricks up her sleeve to help me keep my baby happy, it would have felt like a much longer trip for all of us.


Family travel takes a village. Every village has an idiot. Unfortunately it’s the village idiots who make the headlines.


What’s your perception about the state of family travel? Share your story with me in the comments below.


Diana Heather is the Chief Mom, both at home to her two girls and at Totsy.com. You can follow Diana on Twitter @ParentingsATrip or read more at her blog: ParentingsATrip.com.