$40 Seat Selection Fee On Flight Fare—Not Fair?

$40 Seat Selection Fee On Airfare Not Fair?
25 May 2016

Edited to update: Thanks to one of our eagle eyed Bargainmoose readers for pointing out that this story we posted has had an excellent outcome after all, due to the outcry from parents across Canada! In a CBC News article, it states that Air Canada has since revised their policy. Air Canada has stated that they "automatically assigns seating without an advance seat selection fee soon after the booking has been made, either directly through Air Canada or through a travel agency, for parents and guardians who have indicated they are travelling with children on a Tango fare."

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With summer holidays just around the corner, many Canadians have booked flights to travel to see family or go on a vacation. If you were going to be flying out on a several hour flight, how would you like to take care of a stranger's 2-year-old toddler who is sitting next to you on the airplane? Worse yet, how would you like a total stranger to be taking care of your own 2-year-old toddler while on a flight while you are seated several rows back? No way! Right?

It's absurd to think that your own child could be separated from you during an Air Canada flight from Vancouver to Toronto, or for any flight for that matter. But as Canadian couple Caley and Matt Hartney discovered after recently booking a return flight through Air Canada, unless an additional $40 fee was paid for seat selection, it was not guaranteed that their 2-year-old, Charlotte, would have a seat assigned next to either of them.

Matt Hartney, Charlotte's Dad, raises several valid arguments in a recent interview with CBC News, for why the current Air Canada ticketing system (relating to fees incurred for minors traveling with an adult for provisions to sit together) is flawed. Hartney mentions that the system won't allow a two-year old to book a seat on their own, (it has to be added to an adult's ticket.) Clearly, since the child is a minor and a particularly young one at that, they will need the care of a diligent parent while in-flight.

Airlines are obligated to show full fares including all taxes and other required charges, but it would seem that by default (because not all passengers on the flight want to pre-select a seat at an additional charge), the price shown in the total fare is without the seat selection fee added on. However, if the $40 fee is required to ensure a child is seated with his guardian, it is thereby a mandatory charge and should be disclosed as part of the total fare. At the least it is evident that the current system is not clear enough about requiring seat selection for the child ticket in order to be seated together with their parent.

Hartney's wife Caley explained to Air Canada that she's comfortable paying for both adults, but that a child should not have a reserved seat fee, given that a two-year-old should have to sit next to a parent. Reasonable thinking on her part and absolutely understandable. We wouldn't take a child into a restaurant and expect them to be seated at another table. Although it's not the same type of comparison, the point has merit.

There are many toddlers who would not feel comfortable in the least to be away from Mom or Dad in this situation. Many parents understand this, so would have to pay the mandated $40 seat selection fee. If a safety issue or crisis were to crop up it would be the parents who could best tend to their toddler, not a total stranger who may or may not even be up to task to try to assist. We can't assume everyone in society would be understanding enough or have the skills required to help a child out. Surely the flight attendants could also assist, but they are busy with various tasks so would not have the time to spend with your child.

Let's say you have paid for an adult ticket for a solo flight. All of a sudden, a 2-year-old toddler is plunked down beside you! You understood there could be crying babies and kids arguing amongst themselves on your flight, what you didn't sign up for was being someone's nanny! Can you imagine how awkward and uncomfortable it would be if the child was upset and crying, and you couldn't calm them down?

Essentially, it all boils down to this—why is there such a fee, and a hefty one at that, attached to a provision that should be standard?

If I were in the same situation as the Hartneys, I would have felt obligated to pay the additional $40 fee, just to have that guarantee in place for peace of mind! However, you can bet I would see about getting reimbursed for such a ridiculous charge. If it's too hard for the Air Canada ticket system to waive seat selection fees for specific groups of people who have a child with them, then at the very least, a refund system for the child's seat selection should be implemented. Parents are not asking for a free seat selection but they are asking for a guarantee that their seats will be together. This should become protocol when looking at the fact that you have a minor traveling with an adult.

An email issued by Air Canada stated: "...the additional $40 seat selection fees are only an issue on the airline's Tango Fares." Tango is designed for those not expecting flight changes or cancellations, but does offer the cheapest fares that they have available. Wouldn't these fares with children traveling with adults be quite a large part of their market, and wouldn't there be a substantial number of parents selecting these seat selection fees?

"The best way for customers travelling on a Tango fare to guarantee specific seat assignment is to purchase seat selection at time of booking for a nominal fee," the statement from Air Canada reads. A 'nominal fee' to me is not $40. Is it to you? Some flights under an hour are as low as $100, so $40 sure is a large chunk of the total airfare in that situation!

Air Canada also stated, "In the event that customers have not pre-selected their seats, we have in place processes to reduce the possibility of being separated. We encourage parents to advise us that there are children in their party by completing the necessary fields when booking on aircanada.com. We also communicate to our travel agency partners the importance of collecting this information at time of booking. (Our safeguard process to reduce the possibility of being separated onboard will only work as designed if we are aware that children are travelling.)"

I believe that for the most part, children are seated with their parents on an Air Canada flight regardless of whether or not they have paid the $40 seat selection fee. The above statements by Air Canada indicate they are trying to seat minors with their guardians anyway, which is great. So why the fee? Something about being required to pay extra to guarantee a necessity (being seated together) for families who book flights, seems off to me.

It might be of merit for Air Canada to review their policy and consider the suggestion of issuing a refund to those parents who pay a $40 seat selection fee for their child who will be traveling with a parent, keeping in mind that this is not a fee paid toward further enjoyment during the flight. (Believe me, it's not always fun traveling on an airplane with your little one beside you.) It is a fee that parents are cornered into paying because of potential safety and security issues at hand for their child that could transpire if they were not able to be seated together during an Air Canada flight.

Bottom line—a parent and child who require the provision of sitting together should not be hit with an additional mandatory 'seat selection' charge of $40.

Have you paid this fee before to ensure that you were not separated from your child on a flight? Were you ever separated from your child on a flight before? Do you think this fee is fair, or not? Tell us about it, we would like to hear what you think, in the discussion area below!

TOPICS:   Parenting

12 comments

  • kmbckng

    We usually take our chances and select our seats 24 hours before departure (when it's free).  Sometimes this doesn't work, and there is nothing left to choose from...  We've had to ask people on the airplane to switch seats with us.  Seems really unfair since they may have paid the $40 fee themselves!  But when it takes 3 connecting flights to get to our destination (that's $40 x 3 flights x 4 people) we choose not to pay.  

  • NIcyHH111

    I am actually flying with my daughter (by then 5) in fall with Swiss Airlines and they have the same scenario...So I am breaking my head if I just do seat selection for myself or for both! And it is per way the 40$!

    • Eryn N. EDITOR

      Thank you for your comments! You have probably already discussed it with the airline, and it sounds like they may not be budging even an inch for you, when you have miles to fly. :( I wish there was an easy solution to this for parents wishing to fly with their children. Even if you have no luck before your flight, may not hurt to get in touch with them after as well. (Remember to always document who you spoke to, what time, and comments that they provided.) Good luck with it! 

  • triciachin

    I've paid this fee.  A few years ago, we took booked a Disneyworld trip through Westjet. I tried checking in online as soon as it was available to give us a good chance of getting seats together but the system would not accept my husband's credentials so we checked in at the airport.  As it turns out, there was absolutely no issue with my husband's credentials and they had no idea why it was flagged.  Anyway, the four of us ended up in 4 different rows.  My kids were 4 and 6 at the time.  My husband ended up asking complete strangers if they could switch so that I could sit beside one child and he could sit beside the other. For the return flight I paid the fee to ensure that we were all together.  However, can you imagine if no one was willing to switch seats?  When I go to a restaurant and it's full, would I find an empty seat at a table of strangers and place each one of us separately?  I think the fee is ridiculous especially given the fact we booked the trip together, the system has all our ages, surely the system can assess that each child should have one adult in their party next to them.

    • Eryn N. EDITOR

      Oh, boy - That is quite the situation, and it seems then to be a standard procedure of booking flights for families. I understand about the not being able to check in, that has also happened to us before, as well. 4 different rows for a family of 4 isn't great at all. If I noticed your predicament, I would offer to change seats, but some people don't notice until you ask, Good thing you asked! My concern with switching seats is, if anything had happened, and seats are switched, even the airline doesn't have it registered who was sitting where. Too bad in the end you felt you had to pay that fee,for the return trip home, as you had witnessed the separation of your family in the flight to Disneyworld. I agree with you, some system (in this day and age) could account for each child having at least one adult in their party next to them. Thank you for sharing your story with us! 

  • Piper

    of course, one parent could have sat beside the child  where the two seats are confirmed, and the other parent could have taken the unreserved seat....just saying

  • lennypuz

    They actually stopped doing this due to the outrage from parents...

    • Eryn N. EDITOR

      Wow,  you are right, thank you for drawing our attention to this! This is terrific! We will edit our article to reflect that positive outcome for parents. 

  • ShanCard50

    Great article! Lots of things to consider when travelling! 

    • Eryn N. EDITOR

      Thank you, and Thanks also for your comments. :)

  • Noahsmum

    Now it's this?? Like we don't have enough to pay for?  I don't care where I sit but my kids need to be with me!! I travelled with a 4 year old and a 2 month old.  No one helped me (Air Canada) but I expect to be beside my son and with my baby!

    Any kid over 2 has to pay the same amount as an adult.  That's already enough!!!!

    No wonder my parents never travelled!!

    • Eryn N. EDITOR

      It's frustating to imagine paying that fee, but thank goodness Air Canada has since revised their policy! (See the edited first paragraph from our post,) You should now be able to sit together with your kids, with no additional charges. So on future flights, make sure that Air Canada know you are travelling with children, prior to the flight. Thank you for your comments! 

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