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United Splitting up Families (Basic Economy ticket)

United Splitting up Families (Basic Economy ticket)

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Old Aug 27, 18, 4:31 pm
  #1  
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United Splitting up Families (Basic Economy ticket)

Had an interesting experience yesterday, and would like to better understand what should have/could have been done should I ever run into a similar situation in the future. Mods, this also pertains to traveling with children, so feel free to move/cross-post, but it happened on United.

My family were traveling MSN-DEN along with my sister-in-law and her two kids (ages 2 and 4) who were traveling MSN-DEN-BUR. All on United. We arrived to MSN a few minutes apart so we were reacquainted at the gate. When we get there, my sister-in-law is in tears and walking away from the gate agent. On the MSN-DEN flight she was given 2 seats together with the 3rd seat in the row behind. On her second flight she was given 3 seats each several rows apart from each other. Some background, I didn't book her tickets, but she booked them through Expedia and it sounds like they were Basic Economy fares, though I'm basing that solely off the gate agent saying "the fare type she booked does not allow seat changes." Sister-in-law claims she couldn't select seats after making her reservation, though admittedly she's not the most savvy at this (clearly) and as a busy working mom was no doubt in a rush, so who knows. Anyway, she was a mess so I offered to discuss with the gate agent on my sister-in-law's behalf. The gate agent was...prickly, to say the least. Neither flight was full, but she claimed due to the fare type it was impossible to give her seats with her two minors. I gently reminded the gate agent that unrelated to United's fare policies there's actually a federal law that prohibits minors being split apart from their parents on planes. She looked at me and simply said "It's not possible." Great customer service. I tried again a few minutes later with a different gate agent, and although he was much nicer, it was clear he was out of his element, so I dropped it.

We boarded the plane and with the help of the flight attendant they managed to move seats around (we couldn't help as we were ~7 rows away) so she could sit with her kids, though one unrelated gentleman unfortunately needed to switch from an aisle to a middle to accommodate and was (rightfully) not not pleased. When we landed in DEN we accompanied them to their next gate and that gate agent easily and happily moved seats around to make sure she had three seats together on the second flight.

As we sat on the tarmac waiting for a thunderstorm to pass I quickly looked at the Families Flying Together Act and found it to be extremely unclear. Was United violating this law? Should the gate agent have switched her seats to comply? Does in-front/behind count as together? Although it all worked out I'm wondering what happened here and how to deal with this in the future should this ever happen to me or someone else I know. Thanks!
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Old Aug 27, 18, 4:56 pm
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Originally Posted by Aknoff View Post
.... the Families Flying Together Act and found it to be extremely unclear. Was United violating this law? ...
That law directed the DOT/FAA to create regulations on family seating, but to the best of my knowledge, those regulations have not been issued. So there would be nothing for the airlines to violate.

Additionally, UA makes it very clear when purchasing BE that adjacent seating is not likely to happen but if purchased on third-party sites, the information is presented in an incomplete manner. Families should not be purchasing BE and families should be making sure they purchase early enough to get adjacent sitting.

However in IRROPS seating can still get messed up.Happy to hear it all worked out in this case but there will continue to be future issues.
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Old Aug 27, 18, 4:58 pm
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Families Flying Together Act really did not get very far -- the FAA Bill of 2016 said Transportation Secretary shall review and if appropriate establish policy -- as far as I know no policy has ever been written.

From the DOT:

If you are interested in sitting next to members of your family, make sure the ticket that you are purchasing allows you to reserve specific seats on your flight.
  • For example, basic economy class tickets are often lower priced tickets that may not provide consumers with the ability to select a seat. These tickets may not meet the needs of families with young children.
https://www.transportation.gov/indiv...family-seating

This has been discussed on flyertalk -- two threads --

Law requiring WN to have parents sit with kids?

Status of law to ban separation of children on US flights?

Short answer, no the airline was not violating the law. And if the tickets were Basic Economy the DOT does point out that these tickets may not be appropriate for families with young children.
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Old Aug 27, 18, 4:59 pm
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Your sister bought a ULCC product, and was surprised when she got a ULCC product?
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Old Aug 27, 18, 5:13 pm
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Everything may have worked out for your family, but it sure didn't work out for everyone. A stranger was reallocated from his chosen seat to a middle to accommodate your sister in law wanting the "lowest" price. No mom is so busy, she couldn't be bothered finding out why she couldn't select seats together, beforehand with her two minor children. Quite frankly I would be upset if I were the gentleman and this was not a IRROPS situation.
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Old Aug 27, 18, 5:15 pm
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Originally Posted by mduell View Post
Your sister bought a ULCC product, and was surprised when she got a ULCC product?
That's the thing - I called it out when airlines began introducing basic economy:

Airlines do a great job highlighting the downsides of BE including an 'opt-in' selection that you understand the terms. Expedia and OTAs make BE fares appear like most others, except with some tiny cautionary wording. I can easily see my family members falling into the same trap.

But yes, they got the product they paid for.
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Old Aug 27, 18, 5:19 pm
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Did not get what they paid for. They got more than they paid for and stiffed some other guy.
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Old Aug 27, 18, 5:35 pm
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I wish the third party sites would disclose this fully (as UA does). Because a lot of people are infrequent flyers and have no idea how BE works.
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Old Aug 27, 18, 5:37 pm
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Originally Posted by mduell View Post
Your sister bought a ULCC product, and was surprised when she got a ULCC product?
cant speak for all ulcc but at least norwegian will seat children together with parent no matter what fare they pay..
to me seating a small child together with at least one parent is common sense - not smth ppl request for comfort or luxury as some seem to imply here
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Old Aug 27, 18, 5:40 pm
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And Basic economy DOES slow seat assignments to be purchased at a negligible fee (Iíve never seen non E+ seats cost double digit dollars) up till the flight is open for checkin (aprox 24 hours in advance.) One can purchase basic economy, choose seat assignments, and still pay less than a standard economy fare. One just needs to plan ahead when wanting preassigned seats together
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Old Aug 27, 18, 5:50 pm
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Expedia makes it clear that there is no seat selection on Basic Economy fares.

i have to say I find it distasteful and fundamentally unfair that someone had to give up their aisle seat to accommodate a family flying on Basic Economy tickets.

i would hope that some gesture was made to the displaced passenger such as offering to buy them something off the buy on board menu.

Last edited by arttravel; Aug 27, 18 at 5:58 pm Reason: typo
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Old Aug 27, 18, 5:55 pm
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Originally Posted by azepine00 View Post

cant speak for all ulcc but at least norwegian will seat children together with parent no matter what fare they pay..
to me seating a small child together with at least one parent is common sense - not smth ppl request for comfort or luxury as some seem to imply here
Sure, and Tcons can be almost as long as a flight to Europe, but those tend to be Redeyes as well, so kind of hard to split up a family for that. Come to think of it, wonder how UA handles those (don't recall if you can't select a seat or if it's just no baggage / no refund / no change).
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Old Aug 27, 18, 6:26 pm
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Originally Posted by arttravel View Post
Expedia makes it clear that there is no seat selection on Basic Economy fares.
That's not quite right. As fastair notes, Expedia clearly states that a fee applies when choosing seats on a Basic Economy fare. From Expedia:



But, that's just a technical detail. Your premise holds: Because of lack of planning, lack of knowledge, or reluctance to pay for a seat, another traveler was forced into a less desirable seat. I agree that's not fair.
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Old Aug 27, 18, 6:42 pm
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Originally Posted by WineCountryUA View Post
That law directed the DOT/FAA to create regulations on family seating, but to the best of my knowledge, those regulations have not been issued. So there would be nothing for the airlines to violate.

Additionally, UA makes it very clear when purchasing BE that adjacent seating is not likely to happen but if purchased on third-party sites, the information is presented in an incomplete manner. Families should not be purchasing BE and families should be making sure they purchase early enough to get adjacent sitting.

However in IRROPS seating can still get messed up.Happy to hear it all worked out in this case but there will continue to be future issues.
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Old Aug 27, 18, 6:42 pm
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Originally Posted by Aknoff View Post
When we landed in DEN we accompanied them to their next gate and that gate agent easily and happily moved seats around to make sure she had three seats together on the second flight.
Lest you think the first GA was being a stick in the mud and the second GA was reasonable, it could be they were looking at different flight loads and seating arrangements -- maybe the first flight was completely packed and the GA was unwilling to unseat a non-BE customer (though the FA ultimately was), and the second GA was looking at several empty rows and the switch, while not allowed under BE fare rules, was easy to do without disservicing other passengers.
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