Thirty-thousand feet is no place for a two-year-old to be all alone. 

That’s the message being sent by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which is calling on Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to issue a new rule requiring airlines to seat small children with their adult guardians.  

Airlines like US Airways and American now routinely separate children as young as two-years-old from their parents, according to CREW, seating them in middle seats next to complete strangers.  The group says the only way to avoid this “outrageous scenario” is for parents to pay often exorbitant fees allowing them to pick seats near their children. 

“As if airline travel isn’t stressful enough, parents now have to worry about whether they will be seated with their toddlers,” said CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan. “Further, unsuspecting passengers may find themselves with the choice of either relinquishing their more expensive seat for a middle seat elsewhere on the plane or serving as a babysitter for an overwrought child. 

“Any rational person would find this situation completely absurd, but leave it to highly paid airline executives – who fly first class themselves – to find yet new indignities to thrust upon coach passengers,” she added.  “No wonder airlines are as hated as investment bankers and Congress.” 

Significant consequences 

The practical consequences of airlines’ failures to seat children with their parents are significant, the group maintains. Young travelers who may become distraught, ill, or need a diaper change are on their own, utterly dependent on seatmates who may be unwilling or unable to assist them.  

Further, in the case of turbulence or an emergency, passengers are directed to remain in their seats, leaving parents unable to respond to or assist their scared or sick children. 

Contradictory polices 

Ironically, airlines such as US Airways and American prohibit children under age five from traveling alone, although seating children far from their parents effectively leaves them unaccompanied.  

Airlines also charge additional fees for unaccompanied minors that are allegedly based on the additional services these young solo travelers receive.  In reality, such fees are just another revenue generating scheme. 

“Since airlines have proven they can’t enact common sense policies on their own, the government must do it for them,” said Sloan. “Children must not be inhumanely separated from their parents by greedy airlines seeking to wrest another dollar from powerless passengers.  It is time for Secretary LaHood and the Department of Transportation to crack down on this preposterous practice.”

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