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My family and I are flying to New Zealand (AKL) from the USA (LAX) in just over a week. We booked 7 seats (in a single booking), but when I check the American Airlines website it says we don't have seats assigned, and recommends I select seats. The 7 of us are Mum and Dad (my wife and I), 4 kids (16, 14, 13, 5 years old), and our friend.

When I go to select seats there is only two areas that have a block of enough open seats for 7 people to at least sit close together, however more than half of these seats cost (approx $86-$120 USD each).

Now we don't care where on the plane we sit, we just want to sit together as a family, but can't afford to pay another ~$500 USD to select specific seats.

Are we likely to be seated together anyway if we check-in together? Or are we just going to get random open seats?

Our flight back is on United and we were able to select seats together on the United website without incurring any extra charge.

Here is a screenshot of some of the available seats, to show what we've got to work with currently.

enter image description here

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    You’ll find you’ll have more options if you break into a group of four and a group of three rather than an unbreakable group of seven. – RoboKaren Feb 16 at 17:13
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    @Midavalo If nothing opens up, just choose the best you can and then call the airline. If they won’t accommodate you check in early. The check in agents are human and will do their best to accommodate you. Don’t pay that $500 to select seats now airlines are getting too greedy, that money could be put to better use. Unless of course it peanuts to you. – user 56513 Feb 16 at 17:21
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    @ThEiLlEgAlaLiEn The seats that are marked as unavailable are unavailable. Most airlines now days will reserve select seats for high status or otherwise important passengers, and charge others for them. It's not extortion, it's just the current charging model used by most airlines. – Doc Feb 16 at 17:53
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    @Doc I've never used an American carrier, but I do fly with Skyteam (aside from Delta) on a regular basis (50 flights per year) and some non-Skyteam a few times per year, and I have never seen that kind of seat selection charging system. There are usually some seats that have an extra cost (order of 20-50 dollars), e.g. the front-row seats with extra legroom or some seats that are only two in a row while normal is three, but I have never seen that all window/aisle seats cost extra, and I've never seen as high fees as 86 dollars within economy for the selection. This is a rip-off. Period. – bjorn Feb 17 at 22:23
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When you check in, chances are they'll try and seat you together or as near as possible. Under 16s usually are considered as minors, so they cannot travel unaccompanied just like someone already mentioned. Imagine a mum travelling with a 3 and a 5 YO. They would "have" to be seated near their mum...

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    They can absolutely travel unaccompanied from gate to gate. See for example United's policy (which says they will escort the child to and from the gate, but doesn't mention anyone flying with the child). If they're willing to fly the child with no parent anywhere on the plane, they will surely be willing to fly the child with a parent in another row. – Kevin Feb 17 at 20:20
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    Simply not true these days. They will try to accomodate kids under 5, but the rest is "pay extra to sit together" – Hilmar Feb 17 at 21:05
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    @Kevin United's unaccompanied minor service includes "Flight attendants will check in with your child periodically throughout the flight," and this extra attention from flight attendants is part of what the extra $150 pays for. Plus in my fairly extensive experience children are far better behaved when separated from their parents. The last thing the airline wants is a child in row 12 screaming for a parent in row 26. – phoog Feb 18 at 0:43
  • Europe's rules are different, but I'd have to find a link to provide proof. – Frank Feb 18 at 14:10
  • This is indeed what happened - when we checked in (online) it gave us a group of seats in a block almost together (5 in one row, two in the row in front). We were able to switch one seat so there were 3 in one and 4 in the other (gave up an aisle seat for middle seat) – Midavalo Feb 26 at 4:59
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Your best bet is to try to phone in and get a sympathetic agent to waive the fees and seat you. But it's entirely discretionary, you have no right to claim these seats, it's just if they're feeling nice or generous. Or try to get some seats when you check in when some of them are released, but there’s no guarantee to this strategy.

Once you get on the plane, it's unlikely you'll get people to move. Travel blogs are full of complaints from single travelers who paid the US$100+ to get an aisle seat, who are then asked by families to move to an aisle seat so that they can sit together.

There is unanimity that this is not a fair request unless they are being moved to an equivalent aisle seat or bumped up in service class (from an aisle in economy to a middle seat in business or economy plus), or that they are being paid a cash amount that satisfies them (not necessarily the cash amount they paid for the initial aisle seat placement).

Indeed, cabin attendants are loathe to force anyone to move unless there is an equivalent or better seat. So the family only has the power of pleading. And people are increasingly not moving, because they paid that $100 for that aisle seat.

The reality is that aisle seats are a desirable "product" and the airline is free (absent legislation passed prohibiting it; a moral outcry from its customers; or customers shifting to companies without these policies) to price its product in a way that gets maximal profit. Unbundling services to reduce the base cost is now common amongst carriers and it's what we get by sorting by base price.

I really hate paying the $100 for my own singleton travel but I do so (or fly on an airline or in a class that allows for aisle seating). May I ask -- in all bluntness -- why you feel entitled to get a product for free that others have to pay for? If I have wide shoulders or long legs that make sitting in middle-seats uncomfortable, should I get an aisle seat for free? Should couples or business travelers who want to sit together also be able to petition for a waiver of the aisle-seat charge?

The one exception I could see would be a waiver for children under 12 to sit next to an adult but that only applies to one of your four children.

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    To downvoters: I think this type of surcharge is obnoxious but it's how some airplanes play the pricing game. They reduce the base airline ticket prices by a certain amount and then charge a certain amount more for the "upgrade." This way they get a net profit from those who pay, and those who don't pay get a discount. They're doing this "unbundling" with other things like meals and luggage. If you don't like this game, fly with another company who doesn't play it or in a class where it doesn't apply. – RoboKaren Feb 16 at 20:10
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    Explicitly pricing favorable seats also has the advantage of making sure everyone who wants a good seat can get one at any time for a surcharge. Without surcharges it becomes a game of musical chairs, where people who book earliest get to pick the best seats, which is likewise irritating. – JonathanReez Supports Monica Feb 16 at 20:13
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    And since everyone is sorting by price, the unbundled companies get to appear at the top of the flight search matrix.... :-( – RoboKaren Feb 16 at 20:23
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    @RoboKaren I have never had to pay for seat selection on a long-haul flight before (I had seen the option on US and other domestic flights but never used it). If I had known beforehand that it was likely I would have considered other airlines. As I said in my question, my flight back to the US on United allowed me to select all seats without additional fee. It was not something I expected to find, so didn't allow for it in my flight searches to start with. I will in the future! Booking 7 seats at one time I believe I could have reasonable expectation that those 7 seats are together... – Midavalo Feb 16 at 21:22
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    "sympathetic check-in attendant to waive the fees" There are NO fees for these seats at check-in. This whole answer is far more of a rant than anything useful... – Doc Feb 16 at 23:26
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As you get nearer to the day of the flight - especially once check-in opens - many of those paid seats will be available for free. Of course, that also means that other passengers will likely be able to select them and you may still miss out on seats together.

Given that you are travelling with children I would suggest giving the airline a call and requesting that they allocate seats together at no charge. Many airlines will do this to allow families to sit together, although there is no obligation to do so at this time (The US government is considering passing a law to require them to do this for young children, but it has not yet happened).

Otherwise your only options are to pay the fee for the seat selection, or wait until check-in or at the airport. I would suggest attempting to check-in as soon as possible after it is allowed (generally 24 hours before the flight) in order to increase your chances of being seated together.

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    @Traveller - if you paid an extra $100 for that aisle seat, would you move to a middle seat? – RoboKaren Feb 16 at 19:49
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    @Traveller Even if the person didn't pay anything, very few people will exchange an aisle seat for a middle seat on a long-haul flight. Best not to bet on such an exchange. – Voo Feb 16 at 21:41
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    Being 'considerate' also really depends on the context. For an hour flight, sure, I'll sit really anywhere if it's going to make a material difference to someone else, and I've traded seats plenty of times to get families together. AKL-LAX is a 12 hour flight. Asking someone to take a middle seat for that is a pretty big ask, even more so if they already paid extra for the aisle seat. – Zach Lipton Feb 17 at 3:20
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    @Traveller because you said ‘There are some considerate people out there!’, strongly implying that if you’re not willing to swap, you’re an inconsiderate person. – Sebastiaan van den Broek Feb 17 at 7:49
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    You are all assuming that I was referring to passengers who had paid the extra fee. On any flight there is surely likely to be at least a couple of lone travellers who didn’t, and may (possibly) be willing to swap. That’s all I meant by my comment. But I stand corrected :-) – Traveller Feb 17 at 9:12
4

You could consider mixed strategies. It is important for the young child and parents to be together. I suggest paying to get a block of three seats including a window for them. If you are willing to risk scattered mid-row seats for the rest of the group, monitor the seat selection in case better choices become available closer to flight time. If not, plan to check them in as early as possible.

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    "It is important for the young child and parents to be together": important enough that the airline should ensure it without an extra fee. – phoog Feb 17 at 23:37
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    @phoog It would be great if airlines always did what they "should" do. – Patricia Shanahan Feb 17 at 23:50
  • An outraged parent might try pointing out that the liability for the consequences of the separate seating might fall on the airline. – phoog Feb 18 at 0:32
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    @phoog That might get one parent near the youngest child. It could be in two middle seats, one behind the other, an arrangement they could get for free now. – Patricia Shanahan Feb 18 at 0:40
  • +1 for "Mixed strategies"! Bonus points if we find the Nash equilibrium =P – Mehrdad Feb 18 at 6:16
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Let me start by saying that having made a number of intercontinental flights with nine children I can at least speak with a measure of experience. I would not expect to get a block of seven seats without paying extra. As has been pointed out, that's how airlines make money nowadays.

I'm heading from Scotland to Australia in a few weeks. Because of time constraints I'm not able to fly on one of my favoured planes or with one of my favoured airlines. I don't lie 777s so for the legs which will be flown in 777s I have paid extra to reserve a suitable aisle seat. On the other hand, for the feeder flight of about 2 hours, it's not worth it. And no, I wouldn't move from a seat for which I've paid a significant extra fee unless the airline were prepared to upgrade me to a different class.

I really don't see what the problem is in splitting up your party into groups -- it's never been any problem for us. As long as the youngest of your children is with either a parent or an older sibling it should be just fine. Or at least it's always worked out that way for us.

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