How United Divided My Family

We recently returned from our first family vacation since the birth of our 20-month old twin daughters. Our beautiful Hawaiian vacation was sandwiched between nightmare 5-hour flights. Not because of the twins, who were great, but because of a poorly managed airline that unintentionally trolled us.

The setup was simple: five passengers in consecutive pre-assigned seats (mom, dad, twins, grandpa). Given the length of the flight we splurged for individual seats for the girls and brought along compact car seats to install. To make the flight more comfortable we further splurged on seats with greater leg room. Nonetheless United Airlines managed to unwind our careful planning.

A few days prior to our departing flight we received a message from United advising that our seats had been reassigned. Mom and one baby would sit on one side of the plane, while dad and one baby would sit further back on the opposite side. (Grandpa was now sitting by himself in the back of the plane.) As one would expect, we called United to discuss the complications presented by the reassignment. Namely that that we would have to bring separate diaper bags and couldn’t go to the bathroom without abandoning a baby. Alas, United could do nothing to re-work the seating but insured us that they had made a “note” that we were traveling with little ones.

It gets worse. During our lovely vacation, we received a new message that our consecutive seats on the return flight had also been reassigned. We called United again with even more zealous pleas that they not split us up. This time we were rewarded with four consecutive seats divided into pairs by the aisle. Not bad we thought. At least we wouldn’t have to rely on passengers to pass things between us, or watch a baby when we go to the restroom.

However, unlike the FAA which allows a child seat to be installed in the middle, or window seat, United only permits it to be installed in the window seat. Having not been assigned any window seats was thus problematic. Luckily we discovered this latest issue by the time we reached the airport for our flight. We addressed the issue at the United ticketing counter at the terminal. They promised to ask the two passengers assigned to the adjacent window seats if they’d mind switching to the aisle. They began paging the passengers over the PA system. We were told one agreed and the other was not responding to the page attempts. The ticketing staff advised us that we would have to ask the other passenger to switch once on board. They printed us new boarding passes with the seat change.

But, it gets worse. Once on the plane, the stewardess looks at our tickets and shows us that we now have three seats on one side of the aisle and the window seat on the opposite side. I asked “well then who is sitting in the lone window seat?” only to be shockingly told it was assigned to one of the babies…

It’s okay, we can just ask the two passengers seated next to the baby to either switch seats, or, I don’t know, care for our child. The stewardess met this suggestion with trepidation, however, as the two seated next to the baby were a mother and her ten year old son. Not sure which one the ticketing counter got to switch from their original window seat. Despite the baby being seated alone, without a parent, the stewardess actually stated she didn’t want to split up the mother and son. Receiving no help from the flight staff, we reached a simple solution with the mother and her son where they would sit in the aisle seats and we’d take the middle and window seats. Problem finally solved. The stewardess was nice enough to say “sorry for the confusion.” I say never United.