Mom has to fight to sit next to her kids on a plane

September 16, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Seems like every plane you board these days is packed and airlines are flying at near full capacity to cut costs. That makes it much harder to book seats together and that was especially traumatic for a Bay Area mother when an airline wouldn't let her sit with her two small children.

Flying can be rough. You can be stuck in your seat, riding through in turbulence, watching a movie you don't like and there's a line for the bathroom -- all that's even tougher when you are 4 years old. That's why Andrea Venezia makes sure her two young children sit next to mom or dad when they fly.

"They don't understand when the seat belt light flashes what that means, they don't know where the bathroom are, and our kids can't pull big bags out of the overhead compartment," said Venezia.

The family made sure to get seats together when they flew United Airlines to Washington D.C. this summer; 4-year-old Sander and 6-year-old Anika would each sit by a parent. However, just days before the flight, United emailed them saying there was a change of aircraft. The family now had new seat assignments and they were not sitting together.

"We were scattered across the plane," said Venezia.

Sander was now in row 23, Anika in row 24, each seated next to a complete stranger. United Airlines told Venezia by phone it could not help put them together because there were no open seats.

"We explained to them our children were 4 and 6 and we were told this is legal and this is perfectly acceptable for children to sit apart from their parents on a flight," said Venezia.

Venezia could not imagine what might happen if her children needed help during the six-hour flight and total strangers were suddenly surrogate parents.

"I don't think it's a stranger's responsibility to make sure my child's seat belt is fastened, that if my child's ears hurt on the flight that person needs to take care of it. And in the event of an emergency, I don't want to rely on someone else to make sure my child puts on a vest and gets out of the plane," said Venezia.

Venezia said United offered to seat the family together if they paid more for an upgrade. Venezia said paying more was unfair since they had booked the seats together.

"We actually brought poster board and markers with us to the airport," said Venezia.

The family was ready to hold up a sign asking passengers to switch seats with them. It didn't go quite that far.

"At the counter there were passengers around and we all talked about it," said Venezia.

The family and the United ticket agents asked other passengers to help and they did. After some shuffling, the Anika and Sander each got to sit next to a parent.

"The bigger issue to us was why is this policy in place? That it's OK, -- we've had friends who were told ? that a 2-year-old can sit apart from her mom," said Venezia.

So Venezia contacted 7 On Your Side. We asked United about this and the airline tells us it's does have a policy to keep kids with parents saying, "In... case of an ...aircraft change, our (computer) system is programmed to keep families seated together. When it's not possible, prior to boarding, agents will attempt to re-seat customers to accommodate families."

Andrea hopes it isn't so tough in the future.

"It seems like a really, simple, straight-forward situation where you just make sure that young children sit with their parents or guardians," said Venezia.

United also contacted the family after our interview, offering an apology and a voucher for future flights. In case you are wondering, there are no FAA regulations that require airlines to seat families together and no minimum age for a child to fly alone. The airlines set their own rules.

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