Airlines Suspected of Fibbing About Seat Availability for Families
The airlines' latest now-you-see-it-now-you-don't sleight of hand—the Seat Assignment Shell Game—has prompted dozens of passengers to cry foul in online consumer forums.
Air travelers are finding it tougher than ever to book side-by-side seat assignments after they've purchased their plane tickets, meaning that couples and family members are often unable to sit together on flights.
Some fliers suspect that something shady is going on. The reason? When passengers finally board a flight, it sometimes turns out that there are far more unoccupied seats on the plane than the online seat maps had said there would be.
Travelers typically face the hassle of begging strangers to swap seats so that they can sit next to their loved ones. The inconvenience could have been avoided if airline seat maps had been accurate in the first place. When Budget Travel asked readers if something like this had happened to them, dozens said yes.
Here's the potentially outrageous part: Industry expert William McGee speculates in a USA Today article that airlines are pretending to have fewer seats available to lure people into splurging on upgraded "premium economy" seats.
For what it's worth, I suspect the same thing. I recently booked a pair of family members on a return flight to Newark from London on United. At the time of booking, United.com said flight 919 had no side-by-side seats in economy class left that were available. But higher-price Economy Plus had one pair of seats together. When my family members boarded the plane, they discovered several pairs of seats were unoccupied in other rows, but flight attendants wouldn't let them switch and sit together until an hour into the flight. No doubt some customer probably saw the lack of side-by-side seats and paid extra for premium-economy seats to lock in a
guaranteed seating together.
On a practical note, travelers may want to take advantage of free services that notify travelers when desired seats come available, such as ExpertFlyer's Seat Alert and MySeatFinder, though they're far from perfect.
In the meantime, if the Seat Assignment Shell Game is a widespread problem, it may be the next frontier in the battle for flyers rights. Air travelers who come across shady behavior should report it using the online consumer complaint form at the Department of Transportation's website. Does such action matter? It certainly had a major effect in convincing the government to tighten the screws on airlines regarding long tarmac delays and compensation for excessively delayed flights.
For more on this topic, see William McGee's two-part series in USA Today.
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Is Boeing's New Dreamliner 787 Worth All the Hype?
Last week, Boeing’s Dreamliner 787 made its inaugural commercial flight between Tokyo and Hong Kong on All Nippon Airways. The new design has been much delayed on its way to the skies—it was announced all the way back in 2003—but it’s expected to roll out to other airlines in the coming months. The company has touted the airplane as an industry “game changer,” but two questions remain: What’s so special about this new plane? And should we care? if (WIDGETBOX) WIDGETBOX.renderWidget('cfefeb29-21d0-4d75-8481-76ae4afee236');Get the Poll Creator Pro widget and many other great free widgets at Widgetbox! Not seeing a widget? (More info)It turns out that the new jetliner has something for everyone, from environmentalists to design snobs to techies to passengers who simply want some extra room: —20% better fuel efficiency, due to lighter building materials —Carbon fiber construction, making it the first jetliner not composed of steel and aluminum —30% bigger windows, the biggest on any commercial airliner —Electronic window dimming, which can be engaged with the push of a button (instead of pull–down shades) —30% roomier storage bins —Lower cabin pressure, which means less ear popping —Higher cabin humidity, which means less dry eyes —Cleaner cabin air, which means less chance of getting sick after a flight —Vaulted ceilings —Double–wide armrests —Smarter reclining seats, which slide forward so they don’t bother the people behind you —USB ports and electric outlets at every seat on All Nippon Airways (other airlines may not include this option) Are the new amenities enough to have you salivating? And if you could design a dream airplane, what would you include? Think big! NEW AT BUDGET TRAVEL: Would You Fly More Frequently if Airline Seats Were More Comfortable? SNL Takes on Southwest Airlines Is Air Traffic Out–of–Control?
At What Age Can Children Vacation Solo?
Some parents permit their children to be independent travelers fairly early, while others don't. At what age is it okay to let children go on distant trips without being accompanied by an adult? Another way of thinking about this question is, "do you think other people's teenagers should be allowed to fly unsupervised?" Some teens may not be mature enough to handle the snafus that can happen on a trip. If a flight gets screwed up, for instance, they can't wave a credit card and book a hotel room or rent a car. But other parents may find their teens to be confident and resilient enough to cope with any problems that might come up on the road. These parents may feel comfortable letting their kids go with friends their own age to go on a cruise, taking an overnight road trip, or even exploring foreign cities—at ages as young as 17. Airline policies vary. As the New York Times recently reported, "United, Continental, and American allow children to travel alone from the age of 12." if (WIDGETBOX) WIDGETBOX.renderWidget('ef193f99-2a71-4b40-9168-198719087fe0');Get the Poll Creator Pro widget and many other great free widgets at Widgetbox! Not seeing a widget? (More info) In foreign countries, rules about alcohol consumption are different than in the US. So are customs about mingling with strangers. What say you? Vote in our poll! SEE MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Baby Lisa: Why Parents Traveling Alone Face Trouble Is Legoland Florida Worth the Cost? Travel Photo Tips for Kids
Baby Lisa: Why Parents Traveling Alone Face Trouble
Ten-month old Lisa Irwin might have been kidnapped from her Kansas City, Mo., home on Oct. 3. The news that an intruder allegedly abducted a chubby-cheeked baby out of her house puts into the spotlight the troubles that ordinary law-abiding parents may have in traveling alone with one of their children—especially for international travel. Many foreign governments require official documentation from parents traveling by themselves with children to comply with the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Canada, for example, has strict rules to prevent US kidnappers from bringing children across the border. Canada requires children to carry their own valid passports. The following documents may also be required:Birth certificates showing the names of both parents. Any legal documents pertaining to custody. A parental consent letter authorizing travel (if the child is travelling with one parent, the letter must be signed and dated by the other parent; if the child is travelling without his parents, the letter must be signed and dated by both parents.) A death certificate if one of the parents is deceased. Mexico, for instance, is the destination of the greatest number of children whose parents abduct them from the U.S., according to the State Department. To prevent kidnappers from entering their country and tarnishing their reputation, Mexico demands a notarized letter to avoid illicit traffic of children. Mexico is one of many countries—such as Australia, Brazil, Chile, Canada, and the Dominican Republic—that require parents traveling alone with children (often defined as under the age of 19) to carry a notarized document from the missing parent explicitly permitting the specific trip—no matter whether the parents are married, divorced, never married, or adopters. Parents granted sole legal custody of children need to show notarized proof of that status. In the worst case scenario, officials may require that the documents be translated into their local language. These rules apply to grandparent, too. So, what's a parent to do? Details about each country's entry requirements are published on the State Department's Web site. Go to travel.state.gov and look up the name of your destination to see what you need to have on hand at the airport. Expect to have to show some proof of your child's relationship to you—and a notarized document proving that the other living parent has agreed to this specific trip or proof that you're the sole guardian. The irony of this situation is that travelers face an unfair burden of proof that they're not kidnappers. The "Baby Lisa" case, if true, would be extremely rare. According to the Associated Press, about 1,500 parents kill their own children each year and often try to pretend that the kids were abducted. Out of 278 recorded infant abduction cases during nearly three decades, "only 13 cases involved a stranger coming into a home and taking a baby, and all but one of those children were recovered unharmed." Yet a parent traveling alone with a child remains guilty until proven innocent. What are your thoughts about parents traveling alone with a child? Share them in the comments. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: Your Top 5 Money-Saving Cruise Questions—Answered! Introducing the New "All You Can Drink" Cruise Confessions of...A Cruise Ship Musician
Travel photo tips for kids
Help your child become more engaged in your family's vacation by lending them a camera of their own to play with. Kids will savor having their own point of view. And picture-taking will pull them away from their portable game consoles, engaging them in the experience that you're all supposed to be sharing. Here are some tips to enhance the fun. Keep nagging them to wear the wristband. Don't feel guilty about insisting. They'll drop or forget the camera otherwise. Buy a Gorillapod for your kids. This clever camera tripod has twisty legs that latch onto anything from fences to car doors to help keep the camera steady for better shots. Your kids will probably think it's fun to adjust the squishy, Gumby-like legs. Kids often have jump hands, so this will help them take steady photos—especially helpful when taking shots of animals in motion. joby.com/gorillapod, recently $7 on Amazon. Encourage your kids to try unusual views and angles. Demonstrate for them some unusual ways to take photos, such as putting the camera on the ground of an airport underneath a seat looking out a the passengers in the terminal. These surprising angles may make your kids become more aware of their surroundings and could unleash their creativity. Prod them to photograph other children. Depending on their age, your child may need a push to ask other children encountered on a trip if he or she could take their picture. This is a hassle that's worth it, though, for the potential bonding moment. If your child has a digital camera with an LCD screen, the picture can be shown right away. This picture-sharing is a way of breaking down social barriers and helping children build confidence to talk with peers their own age. If your child really takes to photography, think about buying a camera as a gift. For under-7s, consider the Fisher-Price Kid-Tough Digital Camera (from $47; Amazon) It has kid-friendly side grips, a two-eye viewfinder, and waterproof casing. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL 16 best summer attractions for families in 2011 Travel games: Scavenger hunts by cell phone are all the rage Wow the kids with these age-appropriate dream trips