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Getting Seats Together on Your Flight

Posted by on May 24, 2016

Flight Attendant Tips for Getting Seats Together on Your Flight

Seats together: you might assume that booking tickets together means your seats are together, but that’s not usually the case! It can be so frustrating if you are flying with your family but you and your child do not have seats together. There are many reasons why this happens, some avoidable, some not. But don’t panic! Today I’ll share with you my tips, as flight crew and as a mom, for getting seats together on your flight.

8 Steps to Follow in Order:

Seats together

1) When booking your tickets, select seats: the best ones possible.

Many people who don’t fly frequently don’t realize that you need to actually select seats in order to have specific pre-reserved seating. Although you bought a ticket, most of the time you don’t get a seat assignment unless you select one Usually then on the day of the flight, tickets without seat assignments are randomly assigned through the computer. Passengers are often shocked to learn that they don’t have a seat assignment at check in when they had booked their ticket eight months in advance. (Southwest is the exception, they don’t give pre-reserved seat assignments. See link at the end of this post for details on getting seats together on Southwest Airlines.) When you select your seats, the seat map will show what is available. It may be that there are not enough seats together (at least without an additional fee) for your whole family. Don’t worry yet. Book as many “good” seats as you can (window and aisle) so that you have something decent for the agents to work with on the day of your flight.

If you can’t get seats together (without paying extra fees), move on to step two:

2) Immediately after booking, call to speak directly to an agent.

Sometimes an airline agent has access to seats that might not always show on the seat map you see at booking. But not always.

If the agent can’t help you, move on to step three:

3) Keep checking weekly for seats together.

Seats may open up as people get upgrades or change flights. If seats open up then you may be able to get the seats together.

Bonus tip:  Even if you did get decent seats at booking, it is a smart idea to regularly check your reservation and seat assignments, especially if you booked tickets well in advance of your travel date. Sometimes, when the airline makes changes in equipment, seat assignments inadvertently get dropped. It has happened to us several times. The worst thing is not noticing it until the flight is full. You can complain to the airline that your reserved seat is gone, but they can’t in turn pull the seat from another passenger. That just creates the issue for two people, making the situation even worse! The wise thing to do is keep a close eye on the reservation. If seat assignments get dropped then call right away (or select seats online again) before the seating selection is too slim.

seats together

Has it happened to you?

Tamara Gruber, family travel blogger from We3Travel, said:

“I actually find this happens a lot when we book really far in advance (like trip to Europe booked 6 months in advance) and they switch equipment, shuffle us around and never tell us unless we check. I always select seats (unless I have to pay extra to do so) and I definitely have an assumption that I’m going to get the seat I selected, but we have often been shuffled and separated. I’ve even checked in the night before, seen my seats were as they should be, and then at the gate been pulled aside because they moved me and separated my daughter and I and made to wait until everyone else was boarded (there goes the overhead space) and then they found us seats together. At least that time they tried to help. Usually I’m just told to ask passengers to move.”

If you’re still not having any luck on getting seats together on your flight, move on to step four:

4) Check in for your flight 24 hours before departure.

If the airline you are flying has online check-in, be sure to use this option. Even if you are checking bags at the airport. (You can add your bags once you are at the airport. If using a machine to check bags, select an option like “check bags” or “reprint boarding passes”, depending on the airline/machine.) If the flight has seats available at that point, you will receive a seat assignment. If you don’t have seats together on your flight, this would be a good time to again visit step two: call an agent.

If you’re still waiting for seats together, move on to step 5:

5) Ask for seats together when you check in at the airport

seats together

Whether you check bags curbside, go to a kiosk check-in machine, or speak to a ticketing agent, you can inquire again about getting seats together on your flight. I know it will be very frustrating at this point if the agents are still unable to get you and your family seated together, but don’t take it out on them! On a full flight they cannot move passengers around without their consent (just think of how mad you would be if they did it to you), so just thank the agent for looking and move on to step six:

6) Ask the gate agent for seats together

Again, on a full flight the agent may not be able to do much. I’ve seen many agents bend over backwards, even calling up passengers, to try to get seats rearranged for a family. But remember, most of the time the gate agents have a very short window of time to get planes out in time. They may not have the time to rearrange seating. Have patience if they seem perturbed by your request. It’s not usually that they have a bad attitude or even that they are annoyed by the request, it may be just that they are overwhelmed with all they have going on with the flight. Most airline employees really do try to present their best side at all times, but during a stressful day there are bound to be moments where we’re not so good at hiding our frustrations.

If the agent can’t help, seems irritated, or says to work it out on the plane, take a deep breath, trust that it will all work out, and move on to step eight:

7) Ask the flight attendants for help/Appeal to passengers around you

When you board the plane, let the flight attendants know your seating situation. It’s a little tricky at this point, because there is a lot going on during boarding and the flight attendants have other responsibilities as well at this time. Usually if I’m at the boarding door and a family approaches me about getting seats together, I will tell them to go ahead and take the seats that would get as many of them together as possible and we will sort it out once the passengers are all on board.


If you have a family of four, and the best seats you could obtain are 17A (window) 24F (window), 25E (middle), and 10E (middle, extra legroom), I’m going to suggest that you sit down in row 24 EF and 25EF and then when passengers come to those seats, ask if the person in 25F  would swap to 17A, then ask 24E if they would be willing to swap to extra legroom at 10E. If the other passengers are willing to make these trades then you will end up with two pairs of two seats, one in front of the other.

seats together

Most of the time the seat swaps work out before I, as a flight attendant, am able to get to you to help. But if you are still not seated together, the flight attendants will do their best to rearrange you. Yes, every once in a while you will get someone who has a bad attitude and doesn’t understand how important it is for your family to sit together on your flight. I would recommend asking a second flight attendant for help if you are able. Often when met with an attitude it is about that person and whatever is going on with them, not about you. Another crew member may be able to intervene.

As a last resort move on to step 8:

8) Seat your youngest child alone.

**Before you try this final tip, ask yourself how important this really is. Do you have a ten year old that really will be fine sitting a few rows away (and might even enjoy the independence)? Do you have two sets of seats together, just not all seats together? If you can put up with the less-than-ideal-but-workable seating, then do so this one time.**

If you’ve come to this step then after trying all of the above steps, then there really isn’t much more that can be done. The only thing left is to appeal to the conscience of the passengers around you. If you put your youngest child alone, give them a pep talk about being fine without you, then surely other passengers will notice that this cannot happen and someone will offer to help. If you child starts to cry, all the better. Does anyone really want to be the one responsible for your child when he’s upset?

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Hope for the Future?

The frustration of not getting seats together on your flight is a very valid one. It happens more often than it should. But know that taking the first steps, especially 1-4, will reduce the chances of you getting stuck with seats spread out all over the aircraft. There is actually legislation being considered which is attempting to require airlines to offer better availability for families to obtain seats together at booking. Family travel blogger Corrinne McDermott tells all about it in this article, Introducing the Families Flying Together Act #FFTA.  I personally feel that this act needs to be more clear in it’s wording, or else nothing will change. Under the current language it appears to me that all the airlines would be required to do is have a pop-up when you’re booking a group ticket that states that you may not be able to get seats together. I would like to see airlines make seats together available any time a child under 12 is in the group of tickets (as long as there are actually seats not booked, just blocked). At this point so many seats are blocked for premium passengers and for additional fees, the families who travel infrequently are the ones who suffer for it.

Do you have a nightmare story to share of a time when you were separated from your kids? Share in the comments below! Malaysian Meanders has a doozy of one that they tell about here: Major Fail Sitting Together on the Airplane.

Here are some additional tips and stories from other travel bloggers about getting seats together on your flight:

Walking On Travels: Get Seated Together on Your Next Flight

Trips With Tykes: It Shouldn’t Be This Hard to Seat Me Next to My Two Year Old on a Plane

Malaysian Meanders:

Points With A Crew:  Family boarding on Southwest Airlines – tips and tricks on how to get to sit with each other

Tips for Family Trips: Five Risks of Buying Third Party Airline Tickets

seats together