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Are Family Travelers Really ‘Hostages’?

Flickr user Paul-W, CC Licensed.

For better or for worse, the subject of families on planes is a bit like gossip about Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson these days—any blips on the radar screen, regardless of how significant the blips might be, get people talking up a storm.

The blip-of-the-week this week: This piece, which appeared on NBCNews.com’s “Redtape Chronicles.”

The story attempts to establish that airlines are charging fees for travelers to guarantee seats together, a trend that inevitably forces families to pay extra to sit together. While the issue behind this story has been “out there” for a while (I wrote about it here, a few weeks ago), the NBCNews.com story includes some curious quotes from consumer advocate Christopher Elliott.

In particular, the story included the following snip: “There’s a perception that airlines are holding parents hostage. They're saying: ‘If you don't pay the fee, we can't guarantee you'll be seated with your kids.’”

Look, I’m the first guy to blame the airlines (or anyone!) for treating us family travelers poorly. I’m also generally tight with Chris; we’ve worked together on a number of stories and I consider him a friend. Still, this comment raises some serious questions for me.

The biggie: This notion of parents being held "hostage." Consider two key facts: 1) As Elliott states, the pay-to-guarantee-a-seat “policies” aren’t set in stone, and 2) These asinine new policies apply to ALL travelers, not just families.

The way I understand the “rules,” any group of people who are traveling together and wish to guarantee seats together have to pay extra.

If this is the case, can we parents really complain about being singled out? My gut says no.

In general, folks, we family travelers need to do a better job of picking battles. Does this particular policy suck? Absolutely. Is it unfair? Yes! But the policy effects everyone, not just families. To take this thing personally is to miss the message completely.

If you have kids and you want to rail against something, bitch about the state of changing tables in airplane lavatories, or the fact that few, if any, airline galleys carry milk. These are legitimate issues plaguing family travelers that deserve legitimate gripes. We’re already marginalized when we step aboard a plane. The last thing we need is to become the passengers who cry wolf.

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