How to Ensure You and Your Family Sit Together During the Busy Holiday Travel Season

It can be really hard to get seats together for flights during the holidays. Flights are full. More families are traveling together so more people are trying to sit together (compared to solo business travelers). And more and more airlines are holding back the number of seats they assign for ‘free’.

For most passengers, your ticket doesn’t come with a ‘seat’. Obviously that isn’t literally true, since safety rules require all passengers to be seated. But there’s a limited number of seats on the seat map that airlines will let passengers reserve in advance unless the passenger:

  • is paying the exorbitant full fare
  • is an ‘elite’ frequent flyer doing 25,000 miles or more a year (usually) on the airline
  • pays a fee for a ‘premium’ seat which sometimes just means an aisle or being closer to the front of the plane which is only better in that you can get out from being trapped in a metal tube more quickly.

Here are things that you and your family can do, though, to make the process of travel smoother and secure seating together:

  1. Confirm your seat assignments when you book your tickets. Do not wait to call later, or until check-in.
  2. Check to make sure your seats haven’t changed. Look at your reservation every few weeks. Your seat assignments might not have ‘stuck’ especially if you bought tickets through an online travel agency. Or your seat assignments might have changed somewhere along the way (perhaps there was a schedule change or change of aircraft). Finding this out sooner rather than later increases the likelihood of getting it fixed.
  3. Keep checking back. There may not have been seats you could reserve together for free when you booked your tickets, but that can change. Check bag especially as the day of flight approaches — when airlines upgrade frequent flyers, those passengers are moved out of coach, freeing up seats (although mostly freeing up ‘premium’ seats that those passengers get for free).
  4. Use This pay website will email you when desirable seats open up on your flight (you can set up one alert for free without a paid subscription).
  5. Keep asking (anyone and everyone). Your chances are not necessarily better at the gate or customer service counter than at check-in, but it’s another bite at the apple and if you haven’t asked someone yet to help you then you haven’t annoyed them yet!
  6. Trade with another passenger. Nobody else really wants to sit next to your kids, now matter how cute they are. It’s hard for them to argue that they should sit next to your spouse or underage children, since that’s creepy.
  7. If you can’t secure seats together, at least get as many aisle seats as you can. At least don’t assign yourselves middle seats, those are tough to trade. People will almost always give up middle seats, and aisle seats are the best trade bait.
  8. If sitting together is important, then take that into consideration when making your booking. Look at seat maps before you purchase. Make- sure you know what seats are available to you.

If all else fails, if it’s important to sit together and you don’t want to go through the stress and hassle of dealing with matters at the airport or onboard the plane, then consider the cost of an assigned seat part of the cost of the ticket and buy seating at the time you buy your ticket. That’s not great for the family budget, but neither is being separated especially with young children in tow. Sometimes the best option isthe one that is ‘least bad’.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Just went through this chaos with AA today with two adults and two young children, reward tickets booked with Avios. I am Plat on AA the others hold no status. My Aadvantage number was on my ticket, I left the others as BA (not sure if it mattered). Checked in online 23 hours prior and had one adult and one child paired in two locations which was fine. Showed up at airport this morning and all four of us are scattered everywhere on plane. Baggage check couldn’t do anything for us, neither could Admirals Club. Had to plead with gate agent who came through for us. Maybe one day the system will recognize minors and not permit them to be automatically placed anywhere in plane but at least remain with one adult.

  2. Mostly good points, and I don’t want to come across as a jerk, but I don’t buy the reasoning in number 6 at all. I won’t argue I want to sit next to your spouse or kid – I really couldn’t care less whose spouse or kid I’m sitting next to. Unless it’s an empty seat though, it will usually be someone’s.

    It is not hard at all for me to argue that I want to sit in the seat I took the trouble and perhaps paid to reserve for a good reason, and I won’t allow you to try to make me feel guilty or creepy about that. Just because you think you have someone you can’t survive not sitting by for this flight doesn’t make your lack of planning my problem.

    On the other hand, if you are polite and offer me a trade for an equivalent or better seat I will cheerfully agree to a trade. If you act all entitled and try to trade me for your middle seat in the back, I will politely turn you down.

  3. I remember in another, long ago post, someone mentioning buying drink chits to give out to someone willing to trade. A little incentive will go a long way!

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