How Your Family Can Fly and Sit Together This Holiday 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.

Gol Economy Seats

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. I like that Award Wallet emails me when anything changes in a reservation, including seat assignments.

    American Boeing 737 Economy

  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 They 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. Most people don’t want to turn down your request and insist that they sit next to your spouse or underage child.

    American A319 Economy

  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.

Singapore Airlines Boeing 777 Economy

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 being separated especially with young children in tow isn’t great either. 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. Great tips. I find that AA especially always holds back the most seats from being assignable but I’ll usually find seats right when online check in starts.

  2. Gary, Gol has changed the interior of their plane for a couple of years now. They are using slimmer seats in dark grey, which, at least, are lighter on the eyes ;).

  3. Parents get so mad when you will not trade with them. A parent was already sitting in my seat one flight and did not want to move which was holding up boarding.

    I always try and sit in the same seat for a series of photos I take out the window. It’s hard to explain when a line a passengers are behind you and waiting for the seat stealer to move.

    It’s fine to ask but no means no. Just move on. I don’t mind the kids sitting next to me because I’m good at shutting down the chatter quickly. A stranger’s advantage.

  4. Flying with kids can be challenging depending on their age. After raising two of my own I completely understand when a mom/dad wants to be near their kids and I am always willing to switch seats to accommodate them if the airline didn’t. It’s a small courtesy.

  5. The best part of this advice is if you can’t get the seats together you want, pick aisle seats the better to trade with. Or course, by the time there are no more pairs of seats, almost all that’s left are middles.

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