Have you ever been in the process of boarding a plane and watched the parents stop at one of the luxe, roomy seats up front and wave their kids to the cheap seats in the back of the plane? (Of course I say “cheap seats” with a huge grain of salt, because cheap seats aren’t really a thing these days). Well, that would be me.
I fly frequently with my family. My kids are pre-teens, and they’ve been flying several times a year since they were toddlers. I play the miles and points game pretty hard to get perks like airport lounge access, upgraded seats, and free flights. I flew my family of four round trip from San Antonio to Orlando during the peak tourist season — ie, Disney at Christmas — for about $750 total, and I’m pretty proud of that.
Since flights are hugely expensive in December, I started looking for ways to save. It’s a little bit like one of those word problems from elementary school: I had a companion certificate (essentially a BOGO flight coupon), so I bought one first-class ticket and my companion (my husband) received a free ticket. I used miles I’d earned from business travel to purchase two additional seats in coach, for my kids, who are 12 and 13. I was pretty proud of myself for snagging such a great deal and for being so smart about using my points.
Since it was a complicated transaction, I booked with an airline representative over the phone.
“Do you want to use your miles to purchase two additional first-class seats?”
“Oh God no,” I replied.
The airline representative chuckled and proceeded. I asked her to sit them as far forward in the economy cabin as she could so they could be closer to us and to make sure she sat them together.
We almost hit a snag as we were boarding the plane, when a gate agent told us my husband and I had to split up, and each sit with a child since parents couldn’t fly in a different cabin than a child, even though the “different cabin” was eight rows away. We ignored her and informed our flight attendant our kids were sitting in 15 C and D. I’ve researched and haven’t found any airline policy that speaks against how we seated our family. Basic economy (the terminology varies from airline to airline) often means you can’t pick your seat, which could result in families being split up on a plane.
We didn’t get any overtly negative feedback from the flight attendants (my kids reported being asked, “Where are your parents?” which is entirely reasonable), but my kids said they had less-than-positive interactions with people seated around them, including dirty looks and “I can’t believe your parents made you sit back here” comments.
Lady, please. My tweens got to go to Disney and Universal Studios for Christmas. Sitting in economy class does not deprive them of anything except maybe better pretzels.
I know my kids and how they behave on a plane. Despite the boomer grumbling about unsupervised kids, my kids are chill on a plane. They buckle up, place their backpack under the seat in front of them and pop on their headphones. They even know to download entertainment before a trip and put their devices into airplane mode without being asked. My kids aren’t toddlers, nor are they nervous flyers; we’re all perfectly comfortable being seated a few feet from each other for a couple of hours.
Sure, I could have used the points and miles I’ve worked hard to accrue to seat them in first class, but why would I do that? They’re short, so the extra legroom is wasted on them. So is the complimentary alcohol. I earned those miles, and I fully appreciate the perks they give me. My kids didn’t and wouldn’t.
My husband and I got off the plane, waited for our kids at the gate, and continued on about our day. The fact that we didn’t sit together as a family on our flight was a nonissue, and I’d absolutely do it again.
I get how this would make some parents uncomfortable, and like anything parenting-related, one size doesn’t fit all. This was a fit for us, and I have zero regrets about planning travel this way.
Jill has a 30-year-old daughter and two 12-year-old sons. Despite being a parent for over three decades, she’s come to terms with the fact that she’s never going to be that mom who has it all together. Jill’s writing has appeared in SheKnows, HuffPost, Tripsaavy, Insider, The Girlfriend, and other publications. She encourages parents to find adventure with their kids, whether that’s across the ocean or across the street. Jill lives in San Antonio with her husband and two youngest kids, although she’s usually somewhere else.