Traveling with Kids: Seats and Upgrades

As many have read over the years I travel a lot.  Living in Austin I tend to fly a lot of different airlines.  Never underestimate the power of a direct flight when delays and changes occur.  Due to this I have status on multiple airlines.  Specifically:

  • American Airlines
  • United
  • Delta
  • Alaska Airlines

When traveling solo it is no big deal.  Wherever I want to sit I can.  I never check a bag to ensure I can be flexible.   I travel with a soft sided Patagonia MLC carry on. Cool.

Traveling with Kids

When my family included 3 it was no big deal.  Most planes are either 2×2 or 3×3 seating arrangements.  When my son was under 2 we still fit in a 3×3 area.  Now I have to buy 4 seats.  How do you ensure you sit together?

It turns out in several articles recently that airlines will charge you MORE to sit together!!?!

I did a little digging on my own and yep they totally block out seat selection to ensure you can’t get 3 on one side and the 4th on the other.  The only options are always the very back of the plane.  This is true even if seats exist in the expanded economy section if you use a different booking tool.   If you call in they say sorry try the gate agent.  Gate agents are great about this problem if you get in early enough to ask.  Why?  Why would airlines do this.  I am sure you children sitting with a single parent is less than ideal for other travelers.  Weird choice. <shrug>

Upgrades with Kids

American, United, and Delta (haven tried on Alaska) will only upgrade the person with status and one companion.  They will split your ticket to 2 and 2… but if you do then the other group loses all the boarding privileges, checked bags, status, etc of the person with status.  Yes, you could upgrade someone but then you also may run into serious issues on the way back if your tickets are split.

So is upgrading your spouse and one child worth it if you have issues?  Depends is the answer.  That said I usually only do the upgrade game on the way back.  That way we are already at the airport and don’t have to worry about the poorly designed system.  I wish there was a way to recombine a reservation after it was split to avoid the problem.

Note: upgrades are NOT available (without top level status) on reward tickets.  Don’t bother splitting!


Airlines don’t handle groups well.  They really don’t handle families sitting together well.  They don’t want family upgrades (otherwise they wouldn’t split your reservation).    Major room for improvement.

So what should you do as a family

  • Do your best to sit together on initial booking.  Expect cost and lack of options (except back of the plane)
  • Go to the gate agent and ask for help as soon as you get to the airport.
  • Upgrades: Splitting reservations – I only recommend doing it on the way home AT THE AIRPORT to avoid issues.

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