It’s that point in Winter where we all may be fantasizing about an escape to somewhere warm & sun-shiny (after an Enviro Canada cold weather alert weekend for us East-Coasters, maybe even more so!). Spontaneous, last minute travel is said to be more popular than ever & an increasing trend for 2019 by travel experts, and you all know by our SUPER last minute booking to Mexico last Summer we’re all over that one. BUT…while spontaneous adventure is our jam, unfavourable surprises are not, and boy did we get one when we showed up to the airport for our last one…
We booked with a Canadian airline that offers a Kids Club incentive – sweet perks for the kiddos, including no-cost seat selection to keep our gang together enroute. Booking under 19hours to go, we attempted seat selection during web check-in but weren’t able. This airline requires families of 5+ to call in. No problem…until the agent said we would have had to call AT LEAST 24hrs prior. “Okay…so we’ll turn up early at the airport…on’t sweat it”, we thought. And then during check-in at the boarding desk, they laid down the news – the flight was jam, packed-full and only single seats existed. To my logical mama mind, “ok no worries, they’ll at least pair us up, it’s okay if we don’t all sit together.” We can seat the older boys together, and hubs and I will each sit with one of our littles. There was no way they would expect our almost 3 year-old & 5 year-old to sit unsupervised, but to my dismay, yup, they indicated they were under NO OBLIGATION to pair them with a parent. WHA??? NO BUENO!
I will spare you the 20 minute (very firm but respectful) back and forth exchange I had with airline management, but in the end (and after lots of negotiating and maybe a few frustration tears) they finally accommodated and paired us off by reassigning single passengers on the plane. On the positive side, we could still take advantage of family boarding priority privileges, but fearing I may have ticked off other flyers who would be told they were moved and may be enduring a 4-hour flight with some major side-eye, I walked on the plane with the cubs quite hesitantly. BUT…everything worked out great & the other passengers were SO understanding (and another grateful since they could sit closer to a loved one after all). I also think we spared fellow passengers from being unknowing supervisors of our little ones enroute 😉
So for all you fams who love the thrill of last-minute travel, make sure you brush up on each airline’s “Travelling With Children Policies”, particularly the seat assignment clauses. While all try to be as accommodating as possible with low cost or no-cost predeparture seat assignment for families, there are exceptions – especially when booking with under 24hrs to go, and even more challenges for large families/groups. I will own the fact we probably should have given ourselves 2x’s the recommended time to check-in then recommended by the airline as a large gang, but think this would have made little or no difference since most pre-book their seats these days. Also, we would have happily paid a small fee to guarantee we could sit with the little kids (even though they were already Kids Club members) – we tried via telephone the night prior but it wasn’t an option with this last minute circumstance.
When I returned home, I did a little probing on Canada’s rules/regs about keeping families together during aircraft travel. While unable to find specific policies on Transport Canada’s Website, I did uncover THIS ARTICLE, which highlights Transport Canada’s awareness of the problem and what they’ve requested of Canada’s top airlines to alleviate the issue. However, this info is from 2015, so I reached out to Transport Canada & Ontario’s Regional Office for Civil Aviation Services to get the latest info and will update once received!
In the meantime, I’ve listed the policies of Canada’s top family-focused carriers here:
Travelling with Children Policies by Airline
(NOTE: Despite being a part of the airline’s “Kids Club” (which states one of its perks as being able to preselect our seats as a family at no charge), this policy could not be honoured during web-check in for families of 5+ online, nor with less than 24hrs to go predeparture)
A note for our US friends:
The US Department of Transportation offers these tips on securing family seating on your next fight.
While congress recently passed the Families Flying Together Act, which mandates that airlines keep families together on planes, unfortunately, the Department of Transportation has yet to create the required regulation and actually implement it.
While I didn’t need to use this because our circumstance worked out, a quick google search reveals MANY cases where air travel & seating for families has been a nightmare, so here’s the link to file complaints against an airline through the Canadian Transportation Agency. While some feel powerless against the legal backbone many airlines have in place, I encourage you to file when airline travel accommodations are disastrous. I got 1/3 of our vacation comped from a Canadian airline when I demonstrated how they dropped the ball on their duty to accommodate passengers adequately on a 13-hour flight delay. It can be done!
On a happy note, we’ve just booked our Spring getaway with WestJet Vacations – and the hotel selected is under their EXCLUSIVE FAMILY COLLECTION which enabled us to pre-book our seats altogether (phew!) and at no charge (whoop!).
Did you book your next family vacay? Let us know where 🙂
Shortly after publishing this post I received the following official statement from the Canadian Transportation Agency’s (CTA) Media team:
Currently, airline policies related to the seating of children are listed in their tariffs. A tariff consists of the airlines’ conditions of carriage. Based on the law, airlines are free to set their own tariff provisions so long as they meet certain requirements. Upon receipt of a complaint or for international services, by its own initiative, the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) ensures that airlines’ conditions of carriage for flights to, from and within Canada are just, reasonable and non discriminatory. The CTA also ensures that airlines apply their terms and conditions of carriage in their tariff.
The CTA is currently in the process of developing new Air Passenger Protection Regulations that would define a range of airline obligations toward passengers, including those regarding the seating of children under the age of 14. The CTA is making these regulations based on direction from Parliament in the Transportation Modernization Act, and taking into account input received from the public, consumer rights groups, the airline industry, and other interested parties during a three-month consultation process in summer 2018. Proposed regulations were published for public comment on December 22 in Part I of the Canada Gazette.
The proposed regulations include a requirement for airlines to facilitate, at no extra cost and at the earliest opportunity, the seating of children under 14 years of age in close proximity to their parent, guardian or tutor. The proximity would depend on the age of the child:
- Under the age of 5: in a seat adjacent to their parent, guardian or tutor.
- Aged 5 to 11: in the same row and separated by no more than one seat from their parent, guardian or tutor.
- Aged 12 or 13: separated by no more than one row from the parent, guardian or tutor.
Airlines would also be required to establish policies regarding unaccompanied minors. For international travel, minors under the age of five would be prohibited from travelling without their parent or an accompanying person who is at least 16 years old.
Comments on the proposed regulations can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org until February 20, 2019. The CTA will consider all comments received and may propose adjustments based on this feedback. Once approved, the final regulations will be published in Part II of the Canada Gazette. The regulations are expected to come into force in summer 2019. Until the new regulations are in force, the airlines’ current policies regarding the transportation of children would continue to apply. – CTA Media Team
Good news all around! Happy travels folks 🙂