the IT city, the I.T. Baby


United Airlines tried to seat my toddler 12+ rows away

Toddler PTFO on UA 250I’ll put out up front that I know it’s the Christmas travel season, but I booked four flights with United Airlines and chose seating months in advance, so this should not have been an issue. Here’s what transpired involving several hours of phone calls and public dealings with the social media response teams.

I booked very far in advance and was given the option to choose my seats. I chose three adjoining seats as it was me, Maggie the 2.5 year old, mama and Aerin the baby lump. Basically seated next to each other we could control things, seated apart it became nightmarish. I was given a summary with the seats I’d choses, good.

Night before go-time and I go to check in. They have Maggie 12 rows away seated by herself, me in one row, Kim and infant in lap middle seat a row up. Uh, that’s not going to work. You don’t sit a two year old on a five hour flight with strangers. This works for nobody.

Booked vs assigned (from memory)
This is from memory, it’s more or less what they proposed. Could have been as few as 10 or as high as 20, I wasn’t counting at that point.

I start calling, hit them up on Twitter, finally get someone 10 hour later to move the seating together. We have about seven hours left until this flight and at least we’ll be sitting together I think.

What happened next was a delay notification. OK, I can handle that. And then another. OK. By the time the flight was delayed two hours I went back to my house, grabbed a Bluetooth headset, called them (I knew how long this was going to take from two previous calls to get seating fixed,) and I started driving to the airport from my house.

My reason for the drive was I figured I might be able to talk to a human at the airport, I didn’t expect I was ever going to get an answer on the phone. Really, I’d already been on for quite some time.

I left from my house on hold with United customer care, tweeted them again, and drive to the airport. I was pulling in to park when I got a rep who told me there was no way I was not going to be stranded all night in an airport with a two and a half year old and a 4 month old, and chances were with how Denver was I was going to be stranded there for longer.

Toddler PTFO at IAD

A few minutes of checking and they asked if they minded if they booked us on American Airlines. I said ok. We suddenly went from having three hours to get ready and have the neighbor take us to about an hour, and he had to run to drop his kid off to drive us as there was literally no room in any vehicle we possessed for the number of humans we had.

We got to the airport, had a nice enough time with American and Alaskan Airlines. I thought little about the United multi-seat fiasco until it was time to come back, and they did the same thing again. This time to change the seats to next to each other on the check-in page they wanted $400. No.

I was on hold for quite a while until a rep got on, and told me in no uncertain terms that during boarding I was to listen for them to make the call for people needing time with infants and the elderly, then I was to talk to the person on the airplane and they would take care of re-seating.

This sounded like BS. According to the gate agent I talked to this was BS. They don’t even ask for people with children to board early at United. Judging by what happened later onboard with another family this was BS. Yes, the person I spent quite a bit of time trying to get in touch with flat out lied or had no idea how things worked.

Luckily I knew they had no idea.

I also reached out to the social media team who wrote back that we had seats, did I want them to do something?

Yes, we had seats, they were scattered all over the United Airlines plane. Telling them that bit of information they then asked if I could give them my confirmation number so they could look up my account.

Uh, United Airlines rep, how did you know I had seats assigned if you didn’t have my confirmation number from the last exchange? Answer is you had my confirmation number, your Social Media rep doesn’t know how to do their job or is deliberately being obtuse.

I answer back, DM them exactly what the issue is again, and then I got ignored. Yup, it’s two days later and they never bothered to respond. I left on the day before the busiest travel day… it was fairly light, little wait time, this wasn’t like it was the next day which was nightmare city.

Anyway, the gate agent spent nearly 30 minutes dealing with other passengers in an attempt to get us situated on the same rows realizing that putting a two year old with strangers for five hours doesn’t work for anyone’s benefit.

So, flight one back home mostly uneventful other than that for some reason they had the temperature set to about 80 degrees and people were complaining loudly. It was too hot for toddler to sleep. I saw more requests for water on that flight than I’ve seen before. We got off in Washington and were soaked with sweat.

It was worse holding a baby who was also sweating. I named her alternately the heat cabbage and toddler meat blanket. We stepped into the 50something degree temperatures of the ramp and steam was rising from people. Utterly miserable hell ride, but at least we were together.

I immediately go to the gate person and attempt a repeat of what I did in Portland. I’m told there’s no way for them to move one person and that I’ll have to ask them to switch. The setup they have is toddler at the window, me a row back and in the aisle, wife and infant across the aisle.

Luckily the person who was seated next to my toddler was extremely stoned and sat down in the wrong seat. This meant that although I was behind the wife, at least we had toddler corralled and could pass baby lump back.

Stoned seat stealer and the person behind him got in a fight. I think they were both high as all getout.  Was really grateful that it wasn’t my toddler getting screamed at by this dude.

We got back, my total time attempting to get the seats I originally booked and subsequent re-bookings on American Airlines was probably in the neighborhood of two and a half hours and 30 miles of driving as I didn’t expect I was ever going to speak with a person at United Customer Support.

Oh yeah, before I go on, on the last flight they put a 12-year old? girl flying for the first time up with some random dudes in the front of the plane. The mother or grandmother, not sure which, had to orchestrate a multi-passenger seat move during taxiing in order to just sit within viewing distance of the kid. She got up multiple times to make sure her kiddo was ok/not terrified.

And after we got back we heard the same tale from another parent on United Airlines whose kid got put in between two strangers, and then immediately vomited on both of them (assuming after takeoff,) and into a purse. The passengers who were stuck with this kid got to fly the chunky skies and try and comfort a vomit-drenched toddler.

So yeah, you might think this is a case of a parent being overprotective, but this is what happens when you put a kid away from their parents due to some random seating game. It’s absolutely absurd to seat a human who needs parental attention next to strangers. It’s not fair to the toddler, it’s not fair to the strangers who had to pay to be on this flight.

United Airlines random seating policy is the subject of Facebook protest groups, more forum complaints than I can link, and a couple of horror stories that I could link but are only partially United’s fault so I’m not going to.

Their Social Media CSRs still have left me hanging as of this writing 50+ hours after I contacted them.

Anyway, that’s my United Airlines story. I won’t be flying with them again with kids in tow.

Flying with kids isn’t fun, and it’s less fun when you force strangers to become babysitters. There’s no reason you should pay $300+ for a ticket and then be required to handle someone else’s kid for five hours, and there’s no reason parents should have to be separated. Just bad business all around.

Paul King

Paul King lives in Nashville Tennessee with his wife, two daughters and cats. He writes for Pocketables, theITBaby, and is an IT consultant along with doing tech support for a film production company.