This summer has been peppered with complaints from anxious parents who having booked a holiday with precious little resources, find that because they have not paid for allocated seating, that they are separated from their child or children by up to 10 rows on an aircraft.
We are not generally talking about adolescent children, but of children whose ages range from 2 to 5 years!
The implications are not just personal, but also cut across social and flight safety risks.
So what has been the response of travel companies and airlines? It ranges from general sympathy to apathy but all parents have found themselves having to find extra cash to pay for them to be seated together.
Many parents consider this to be profiteering or at the least we would say this amounts to hidden charges. I can hear the howls of protest from travel companies and airlines already! They will say that seating not paid for will attract no guarantee that you will be sat together and of course that all important iformation is contained in the terms and conditions - the small print to you and me!
But can that relieve them of their responsibility for safety; can that relieve them from their responsibility as set out within the CAA's own guidance on seating for children?
I think not!
There is an apparent lack of transparency which causes hard-pressed parents or guardians to make financial choices at the beginning of the booking process - would this lack of transparency mount to an offence under the Unfair Trading Regulations? I suspect that if those same parents or guardians realised that they may have to pay extra charges further down the line, they would probably not book the holiday!
It also raises the spectre that travel companies and airlines (albeit that their T's & C's claim that you the Consumer has been informed), are maximising their income stream by delivering a 'fait accompli' choice near to the departure date, leaving Consumers with the impression that these same companies are ripping them off!
So what can Consumers do about this?
Well, the following actions have already been taken by some Consumers but we offer further ways to deal with this:
- Obviously you should complain to the Travel Company or the Airline;
- If they maintain their position that you will be separated unless you pay, get them to confirm that in writing;
- You then have the choice it would seem to pay up - the opposite end of this choice is that if you cancel, probably at a late stage, you will lose all the money you have paid to date - we recognise that you have little choice!
- You should make sure that you have gathered together all correspondence and keep it safe;
- We would suggest that you should complain to the CAA about the failure of airlines to implement their policy on child seating;
- Use this letter to make that complaint;
- We would also suggest that you make a formal complaint also to the CAA's Consumer Panel;
- They do not handle complaints, but they can raise such matters with the CAA and can issue a Public Notice to the CAA to 'positively influence outcomes for passengers'!
- We have drafted a letter that you can also send to them and we recommend that you use it!
- I would also suggest that you follow our guidelines on the Unfair Trading Regulations and speak with your local Trading Standards Officer!
- When you get your replies, come back to us and we will review the responses and guide you as to the next steps!