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I recently flew with Thomson and I was separated from my 3 year old child on the flight home. He was sitting a row behind and across the aisle from myself. I asked several times if we could be moved closer together but the air hostess was not interested. My question is how can a 3 year old be expected to sit alone unaided next to a complete stranger? I couldn't observe him all the time from where I was seated and once I turned around he was half out of his seat with his seat belt around his neck. My other concern is how do I know who he's sat next to and that he's safe? He could have been seated next to a pedophile for all I know and as it was a night flight a lot of people were sleeping and the lights were dimmed. This raises serious safeguarding issues. Aren't there any laws to protect young children when they fly?

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    Next time get two seats next to each other? – CGCampbell Sep 25 '15 at 18:32
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    I have to ask this - do you have evidence of one child, anywhere in the world, at any time, being sexually molested while sitting in their seat in an airliner? – DJClayworth Sep 26 '15 at 22:26
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    I'm amused by the OP's reasoning and some of the answers/comments. However the concern of a parent wanting to sit together with their child is perfectly legitimate and I would think being a parent is reason enough – EdmundYeung99 Sep 27 '15 at 22:17
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    Pretty sure most people wouldn't object to not having to sit next to a small child who's not their own if asked. – Amicable Sep 28 '15 at 11:21
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    The pedophile aspect is a red herring. It's not in anyone's interest to have a small child sitting away from their parent. Neither the parent, the child, the people next to the child will inevitably end up looking after the child, the people next to the parent who will be constantly asking to get up to go help their child with something, and basically every single person on the plane who may have to listen to a child screaming during takeoff and landing. – stannius Sep 28 '15 at 17:08
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Airlines today charge for everything, including choosing your seat. If it's important, and a matter of safety, that your seat be chosen in advance, such as seating two people together, then you need to spend whatever amount the airline charges to ensure that. It's not a practical strategy to assume the charged-for service will be provided to you for free because it's a safety-related matter.

(This is all the more important if opinions vary on whether it's a safety issue or not; as you've seen on this question many people will deny that it's dangerous for a three year old to sit away from a parent. My point is only that asserting you have an important safety reason for receiving (for free) something that is normally charged for will not work, and that the correct strategy is to pay for it.)

That said, once you find yourself in that position, to increase the chance that random strangers will give up something they've paid for to solve your problem, I recommend being as polite as you can, acknowledging you're asking for a favour, and offering an incentive. For example if you are in an aisle seat and your child is in a middle seat, it's unlikely anyone will want to switch into that middle seat so that you can sit together. Offering your aisle seat to the window and aisle seats next to your child might be seen as an improvement for those people. Approaching a window/middle combination and offering each of them the aisle seat you have and the aisle seat your child has might look good to them. Put yourself in their shoes and ask what it might take to get your help.

Do not make it the cabin crew's (the name air hostess is from a long time ago and not in use today) job or problem to solve it for you. Under the terms that airlines use today, it simply isn't. Don't demand your "rights"; you don't have any. Don't accuse the people you are trying to trade with of being pedophiles who planned a trip to France or wherever with the hope that they would get an unattended toddler next to them. That's not going to leave people wanting to work something out with you.

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    I dare say it's not a safety thing at all, just personal discomfort and an overblown sense of fear (which is ingrained in society nowadays, stranger danger especially). How the heck can one think their child will be molested just because (s)he is sitting next to someone who's not a parent is beyond me. – jwenting Sep 27 '15 at 13:11
  • @jwenting Linked in another comment thread earlier, – Voo Sep 27 '15 at 17:55
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    @jwenting - The fear may not be entirely overblown as there have been a non-zero number of (molestation incidents)[google.com/… on planes, and since there's likely a tiny number of young children that are seated away from parents, on a percentage basis, that risk of molestation may be significant. Even if the risk is 1 in 10000, that's still reason for a parent to be upset at being forced to put their child at risk when the airline can easily mitigate the risk by reseating them. – Johnny Sep 28 '15 at 4:02
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    @jwenting We're talking about a 3 year old in a completely unfamiliar busy environment, in an verhicle that's going to fly which is already scary for many children, being forced to sit next to strangers, without a parent to comfort them. And you think that's no big deal. I gather that you're not a parent? – Erwin Bolwidt Sep 28 '15 at 5:21
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    @ErwinBolwidt it's a big deal maybe, depending on the child. But what it's NOT is a situation where the child is automatically going to be in grave danger of being abducted or molested, which is the reason usually given for why children should never sit next to strangers (in fact BA and possibly others have policies to that regard stating explicitly those reasons why children should not ever be allowed to sit next to men who're not parents, an insult to all men...). – jwenting Sep 28 '15 at 5:28
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The Thomson Select A Seat page implies that you can purchase seats together for extra money. Although you may be re-assigned and, interestingly, their definition of 'together' is:

Seats together may be across an aisle or behind each other.

So that may not solve the problem. That page say Thomson follows the Civil Aviation Authority guidelines, from the CAA seating page

The seating of children close by their parents or guardians should be the aim of airline seat allocation procedures for family groups and large parties of children.

Young children and infants who are accompanied by adults, should ideally be seated in the same seat row as the adult. Children and accompanying adults should not be separated by more than one aisle. Where this is not possible, children should be separated by no more than one seat row from accompanying adults. This is because the speed of an emergency evacuation may be affected by adults trying to reach their children.

So it appears that there's nothing, legally speaking, that Thomson did wrong. (Arguably you could read that in such a way that what Thomson did was pushing the line, but I don't think it was over the line).

In your specific case my first question would be why you didn't switch seats with your child? At least then he'd be visible to you and generally nobody would have a problem with that.

I'm surprised nobody offered to switch seats, but given this is a holiday flight I guess a lot of people were together in groups and you'd have been splitting up some other group. Since it sounds like a full flight the assistants may just have been too busy to try and help.

To avoid this in the future I would look at selecting seats in advance (and paying for it), this should be possible. Otherwise when you check-in double check your seat assignments and talk to the person at the check-in counter. It's much more likely they'll be able to arrange something there before everyone is aboard the plane and seated.

Above all, be polite. As I said they were not breaking any laws or guidelines, therefore you have to rely on them to do you a favor. They'll well within their rights to do nothing and if you come across as angry, impolite or demanding they'll simply opt not to help because they don't have to.

The pedophile comment makes me think you may tend to worry a little much. Honestly, a) most people are not pedophiles and b) nobody is going to attack a kid on a full plane. (And most attacks are don't follow the common 'stranger-danger' trope, but rather are committed by people that the kids already know).

I'm not sure we can be of much more help. If you want to take it further I would suggest writing a nice, reasoned letter to Thomson asking for clarification. You might get a voucher or better advice for the future. You could also take the case to social media (here's their Facebook page) and try and get a response from them there.

  • This answer actually provides known law on the matter, good one. – Fattie Sep 29 '15 at 14:16
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Next time, maybe swap seats with your son? Then at least you don't have to crane your neck to check on him - he will always be in your view.

As for the danger of pedophilia: the preponderance of pedophile crimes involve a trusted adult, not a stranger. Going by statistics, your family members present a danger many times greater to your son than the stranger in the charter plane.

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This is an interesting conundrum. Of course it's totally unacceptable to have three yer old sitting alone and I'm actually surprised (and sadly disappointed) that none of the other passenger would trade seats. It's atrocious that the airlines allow this.

But then again, not all seats on the plane are the same and a better seat costs more these days, especially for budget airlines. By not paying this, you expect a benefit for free that other passengers need to pay for.

So you get what you pay for: chosing a cheap ticket on a crummy carrier will give you a cheap and crummy experience. There are other airlines where you can select seats upfront for free, but they tend to charge more for the ticket. It's just a different way doing business.

So going forward, you need to factor the cost of seat selection into your travel budget. It's free on some airlines and not on others. You need to make sure you understand the rules before you book.

It would be really nice if the CAA or other regulatory would make this mandatory for children, say, six and below. This would force the airlines to be more transparent about it. So they either need to charge a "family seating fee" or do it for free if they feel the public backlash would be bad for business.

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    I don't think it is just a matter of "cheap ticket on a crummy carrier". I had my seat changed to a much less desirable one at check-in when flying international business class on British Airlines, having paid the seat selection fee and selected my seat months in advance. I was able to get a refund of the seat selection fee. – Patricia Shanahan Sep 27 '15 at 10:01
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    @PatriciaShanahan sure, there are exceptions. But you not getting your paid seat with BA is an exception and if that happens they will sure be willing to do what they can to keep you happy. With a cheap carrier without seat selection, sitting in a random place is normal and they probably won't care about your wishes. – Josef Sep 28 '15 at 12:31
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I don't know of any law regarding this, but why does there need to be one? Next time, buy tickets for seats next to each other. You might need to plan farther in advance to do this, but that's just how air travel works.

Someone else who has purchased a ticket for a seat is under no obligation to give it up, regardless of your personal situation.

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    Tickets don't have seat numbers, and the airline can reassign your seats at will. My sister-in-law traveled recently with her husband and 4-year-old son. They checked in online, receiving boarding passes for three adjacent seats. When they got to the airport, however, they found that their seats had been reassigned, and they were no longer sitting together. – phoog Sep 25 '15 at 23:06
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    Remarkable—I've gotten better seats at the gate, but I don't remember getting worse. – Andrew Lazarus Sep 26 '15 at 2:35
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    @AndrewLazarus this happens more often than you would think - but I have only experienced this when traveling in Asia. – Burhan Khalid Sep 28 '15 at 6:03
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    Also experienced seating changes numerous times in Europe, even with non-low-cost carriers like Lufthansa. – Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Sep 28 '15 at 13:20
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I suspect that if your child had started crying "I want to be with my Mam", you would have found much easier to change sits. I don't think we should encourage our children to act like that, and I don't like that conclusion. But there's little you can do. The other passengers should facilitate that.¹ Just because a child is quiet, it doesn't mean he is enjoying the trip, he may be completely frightened (and will probably fear at some point, while just grasping your hand would have helped enormously).

¹ Or if you are absolutely not willing to change sits, you should look after the child a bit, which is clear from your description they weren't doing. As the children grow, and are more used to flights, they may not have a problem with it. However, in this case I find your child too young for such a long flight.

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    or you would have gotten kicked off the flight... – EdmundYeung99 Sep 27 '15 at 22:45
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    @EdmundYeung99 not if the plane is on flight. However note that would be punishing all the passengers, not just the "stubborn" ones. And even those might have good reasons not to swap sits. – Ángel Sep 27 '15 at 22:59
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    never underestimate flight crew on a power trip. They may divert the flight for an "emergency landing" due to "disruptive" passengers – EdmundYeung99 Sep 27 '15 at 23:11
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    @EdmundYeung99 that would be taking it to the extreme (considering the costs involved). More likely option is restraint. – Burhan Khalid Sep 28 '15 at 6:04

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