Dear Airline Industry,
I know you’re hurting. I know money is tight these days (trust me), and I know new ways of ‘packaging’ airfare is required in this economy. I also know that I’d like to ride out the turbulence of these tough times with you. I’ve been in love with air travel since I munched my first honey-roasted peanut at 10,000 feet at the age of seven, and like many, many other families, sharing my love of air travel with my own children is important to me.
But you’re making it hard to stick by you. At a time when luxury resorts and cruise ships across the world are rolling out the red carpet for kids (I have personally worked with Expedia.com, Omni Resorts, and Preferred Hotels in their efforts to create family-friendly programs and offerings), you’re making it increasingly difficult for families to arrive at their destination. I’d say that traveling families are the ones suffering, but the truth is, airlines are shooting themselves in the foot.
How so? Let’s start with this month’s headliner: airlines charging for ‘premium’ coach seats. Premium…coach? Isn’t that an oxymoron? Before you hold families hostage in this manner, follow the trail of logic: who typically pays for airline upgrades? Business travelers. Solo travelers. Couples celebrating a special occasion like a honeymoon. Not family travelers, I can assure you. When I shop flights for my family of five, I’m looking for the best deal, and nothing more. After all, I still need to shelter, feed, and entertain my motley crew all vacation long.
So let’s apply this logic to an actual scenario: Business traveler Joe has upgraded his coach seat to premium level. (I’m trying not to laugh, really.) He’s happily sitting in his aisle seat for which he’s paid an extra $44. Single Traveling Parent Jane, her preschooler, and her toddler walk down the aisle to find their seats. Because Jane has not (and would never) pay to upgrade her seats, she has two middle seats and one window, necessitating a separation from at least one small child. As this is logistically ridiculous, the call to action falls on poor Business Traveler Joe, who has two choices, neither of which are attractive: 1. vacate the seat he just paid extra for, to allow Jane’s family to stay together, or 2. hold his ground, and entertain an unaccompanied toddler for the duration of the flight. Airline, you’ve accomplished two things here: you’ve angered Joe, who’s probably a frequent flyer and loyal customer, and you’ve upset Jane (who probably tweets). But wait, you have your $44, so you’re good.
There’s more. Because you’re charging for premium seats, Airline, and separating family groups, family travelers now have to pack more carry-on luggage. And you know you already think we pack too much! As a family travel writer, I’ve long advocated packing carry-on only or one carry-on per family (you’re welcome), but because I now have to plan for the contingency that my school-aged children will sit apart from me, each child needs his or her own backpack full of entertainment (and food…don’t get me started on that). More carry-on bags mean a greater burden on the already overloaded overhead luggage compartments (which, of course, is due to fees placed on checked luggage, but we won’t go there, either). So in this second scenario, in which I’ve boarded your plane with five carry-ons instead of one, what you get is increased stress, chaos, and crowds in your already over-stressed cabin. Not only are your overworked flight attendants negotiating my seats with disgruntled business travelers, but they’re now also trying to stuff my backpacks into bins. Backpacks that would not have existed had you not 1. charged me for checked bags (whoops, I went there) and 2. charged me to sit with my kids.
Airline, I’m not mad. Really. Some family-friendly airlines I love quite dearly. Mostly, I’m worried for you. You can run all the flashy promotions you’d like (some of your kids fly free deals are excellent), but at the end of the day, families won’t remember what deal you’re running on your website. They won’t care how convenient you made online check-in or how shiny your homepage is. They’re accustomed to the ordeal of security, and they’re even planning on you losing their luggage. What they will remember: the seven circles of hell you did or did not put them through in order to get from Point A to Point B.
Family travel is only gaining in popularity. The industry brands I work with every day, from eco-tour operations to luxury resorts, know this. But the travel industry cycle we’re all a part of only works if we can get where we’re going.
Please get on-board. We miss the family-friendly skies.
A Family Travel Writer