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For some parents, flying with their children is a piece of cake, but for others, not so much. Some kids need their hand held or a reassuring look from Mom or Dad in order to make those hours in the sky as easy-breezy as sunning under a palm tree. Or maybe they need help reading one of the books you packed to pass the time, or want to play “Go Fish” from takeoff to landing. They need to be distracted, fed, taken to the washroom, need a diaper or pull-up changed, have to barf, have a meltdown — anything and everything. Kids are unpredictable. Which makes Air Canada’s seating system more than a bit confusing.

According to CBC News, Caley and Matt Hartney discovered, after booking return flights from Vancouver to Toronto for themselves and their two-year-old daughter, that Air Canada only guarantees a child between the ages of two and eight will be seated in the same cabin as a parent or guardian, not necessarily in an adjacent seat, or even the same row.

In order for the three of them to sit together a $40 fee was required, to reserve a specific seat. So basically, if that fee isn’t paid, they may be seated nearby — or not.

Caley called Air Canada customer service, where the agent confirmed the required fee, referred her to the company’s conditions of service on their website, and stated the rules. If she continued to have a problem with it, the agent said they could protest the fee and write to Air Canada’s president — which they’ve done. They also didn’t pay the $40 charge.

“My wife refused,” Matt told CBC News. “[She explained] that she’s comfortable paying for both adults, but that a child should not have a reserved seat fee, given that a two-year-old should have to sit next to a parent.”

He added: “You can’t book a two-year-old a seat on their own — the system won’t allow it. You have to add the child to the adult’s ticket. If it is the policy of Air Canada, that every time a child flies, to ensure they sit next to a parent they have to pay a $40 charge, then it’s not optional. And if it’s not optional, it should be disclosed up front and included in the fare when you reserve the flight.”

Air Canada pointed out that the fee to secure specific seats for children only applies to Tango fares, adding if customers haven’t pre-selected their seats, they have processes in place that reduce the possibility of being separated.

But if they are separated, it begs the question, who’s responsible for the child on board? Is it the flight attendants? Or the lucky passengers sitting next to them?

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“It’s not fair to have our two-year-old sit with other folks who have to take care of her,” said Matt. “She’s not necessarily communicative. We can understand her sometimes. But I’m not sure everyone else is going to.”

Honestly, it really could be a pain for the free babysitters passengers stuck next to a parent-less youngster, especially one who’s particularly unhappy or demanding or loud or misbehaving or any other descriptor no parent wants to hear about their kid. But, hey, if another passenger can handle the crying/pooping/puking/kicking/pressing the call buttons, consider yourselves lucky?

Of course, if you really don’t want to pay the price, you could always pick another airline. That might be the only way to truly express your dismay and disappointment with Air Canada. But we think we’ll try the free babysitting option first. Somehow we think it won’t just be the parents calling in to complain.

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