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My wife, our baby of less than a year, and I will embark on an Air China flight of roughly 10 hours in a few days. For organisational reasons, the tickets for my wife and our baby were booked by a different travel agency than mine. In order to ensure we can sit together (at least close enough to make repeatedly switching the seat next to the baby practical), we have made sure we are on the same flight (number and date) and in the same class (Economy), though.

Problem: Now, Air China is telling us Economy class does not equal Economy class to them; our tickets are of a so-called Y class and L class, respectively. I have never been aware that "Economy class" can be subdivided any further (in such a way that not every Economy passenger could in theory be seated where any other Economy passenger could be seated), but in practice, according to Air China, this means my wife and I cannot even be seated within visual range to each other, but only in different compartments of the plane's Economy section.

How can we both adequately care for the baby (switch who watches and sleeps; change diapers; ...) without repeatedly carrying the baby through half the plane or otherwise being too much of a nuisance?

The flight in question is typically really crowded, so rebooking at an affordable price so short before the journey is rather not an option.

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    It's completely disgusting when airlines do this. I believe sooner or later, perhaps within the next few years, there will be some sort of general legislation or the like against it, perhaps in Europe, so that they have to seat you together. Note that the very likely outcome is: in reality, once you get on the plane, someone will move around to allow you to sit together. I'm sure you'll be OK. If this does not happen, just be incredibly disruptive and rude and let the child be as loud as it likes! – Fattie Oct 4 '16 at 16:31
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    That being said, give that we do live in a world where airlines are such scum that they seat young families (even babies) separately: we have to accept that as reality; airlines are scum. So you have to sort of suck it up and (in a word) pay more in your travel plans to ensure that you are really sitting together. Again though: in reality once everyone is onboard, someone will swap with you, almost certainly. Good luck! – Fattie Oct 4 '16 at 16:34
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Most every airline in the world has multiple fare classes within the economy cabin. And while service once airborne is usually the same, preflight amenities such as seat choices are not equal. Higher cost fares, such as the full fare Y class allow you to select any seat usually in advance perhaps with a chance to be upgraded to a premium economy offering if available, whereas the cheapest class may mean center seat assigned at check in.

In this particular situation you have a bunch of things to try (in suggested order)

  • Call the airline (again) to see if you get a sympathetic ear that can change the L seat. Try several times, as different agents may have different approaches.

  • If you are an elite flyer with another airline within the same alliance as Air China, call your elite desk and ask if they have Air China's elite desk phone number. Agents maning elite desks tend to be the most experienced and have more leeway in bending the rules

  • Ask at check in if your seats can be changed to accommodate the parenting issue.

  • Ask again at the gate if your seats can be changed to accommodate the parenting issue.

  • Ask your row mates if one of them would be willing to swap seats to the non-bassinet row.

  • Set up a schedule to swap seats every two hours. Let the baby stay in the bassinet and parents swap seats (the cabin crew won't care who is sitting where).

With all of the ask the agent suggestions, do it politely as you are not entitled to better service because you are traveling with an infant. Simply explain that you prefer to have both parents sit with the infant.

One final, albeit expensive option, ask about upgrading the L fare to a Y fare if the agents are adamant about L fares not being able to sit in a Y fare preferred seat. Airlines will always be happy to re-ticket you to a higher fare class.

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    Thanks for the suggestions. Everything you say sounds logical. Yet, I do find it a bit disappointing if the fare class game can indeed be an obstacle even when your restrictions are as unspecific as "I totally do not care where in the plane I'm seated, as long as it is in the same 'compartment' (between separating walls, i.e. within some 10 -15 (?) rows) as another passenger who, too, totally does not care where they are seated, as long as it is a bassinet-capable seat (presumeably, every first row in each compartment?)". We'll see what we can still do about the issue. – O. R. Mapper Oct 5 '16 at 2:38
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    With the exception of some preferred seats set aside for elite flyers and full fare ticket holders, the "compartments" are mixed fares. Each fare class does not have a specific zone. Most likely there were limited numbers of available seats left when you requested seat assignments. – user13044 Oct 5 '16 at 5:03
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    I have chosen to accept this answer as it provides a thorough step-by-step instruction of how to proceed, although in the end the check in people would only offer a seat upgrade at a horrendous price (so we declined), and the person who eventually helped us find a solution was the flight attendant. – O. R. Mapper Oct 15 '16 at 11:44
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One of the best i have seen, and many frequent fliers might agree, could be:

Board the flight, find whose seat is better, yours or your wifes. Offer the better of these two to neighbour of worse seat (of these two), thus you both sitting together in competitively worse seats. Most people will happily jump to better seat, better in terms of either/or window/aisle preference, legroom etc. You could always manage a bit of discomfort in seating in exchange to be seated together.

Like, if you find that L is better, offer it to Y seat's neighbour. It does not hurt to ask around if he does not agree, if both seats are same you think, others still might prefer one over other.

In any case, do not offer the worst of yours two seats to somebody sitting in better seat.

  • Well, one (the Y one) is fixed as a "baby swing" thing will be installed on (in front of) it. We might try with the L one, though. – O. R. Mapper Oct 4 '16 at 16:05
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    Ok, also consider carrying a gift (choclate, store gift card, or even cash, or anything you think is appropriate) for the person you want to switch seats with. – DavChana Oct 4 '16 at 16:07
  • Yes - it's perhaps worth nothing that it's not the end of the world, if, you do have to sit separately from your wife, while with a baby. Just treat it as another parenting adventure! – Fattie Oct 4 '16 at 19:47
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    @pnuts: "That could be good news. L seems likely a cheaper category (so IF there is any difference, easier to arrange a swap)" - not meaning to neglect the optimism or your encouragement to it here, but wouldn't it be harder to arrange the swap when it means another passenger will have to relocate to a worse (cheaper, L class) seat? – O. R. Mapper Oct 4 '16 at 23:55
  • Some passengers might even consider the seat away from the baby on a 10-hour-flight to be the better one, regardless of other factors... I'd expect them to be willing to switch in the blink of an eye. – I'm with Monica Jun 25 at 7:39
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Is your baby travelling on an infant ticket or a child ticket with his/her own seat? If he/she is still less than 10-12 kg, you can book a cot/cradle. You would need to call and book one a couple of days in advance. If you do, they will very likely move both of your seats to the row with the cot when you check in at the airport.

  • I wonder what the "baby swing" is. I never heard of such a thing, and Google finds nothing. I wonder if it is an other term for the cot/cradle I mentioned. – Tor Klingberg Oct 10 '16 at 12:15
  • @TorKlingberg: "baby swing" was the term that we were told by Air China and then translated from Chinese, without being aware of the English word "bassinet". – O. R. Mapper Oct 15 '16 at 11:44

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