Eli Orzessek finds the answers to your travel questions.
My husband and I are planning a month-long trip with our children (7 and 10) to the USA and Canada next year. We haven't travelled this far as a family before and I'm wondering whether it's essential to reserve seats so we can sit together. We'll probably do a few domestic flights, so with four of us, the extra costs will add up. I've heard of reserved seats not being honoured sometimes, so I'm not sure whether it's worth it.
This is a bit of a complicated matter in the US. Two years ago, Congress put pressure on airlines to seat children 13 and under next to a family member at no extra cost.
Unfortunately, not much has changed since then, although consumer advocates continue to lobby for regulations.
The airline industry opposed these family seating requirements — probably because they want to keep collecting that sweet extra revenue.
A spokesperson for American Airlines said it had an automated booking system that accommodated families "the vast majority of the time" at no extra cost, and Delta Air Lines also said it "does everything possible to work with families so they can sit together".
However, a passenger said Delta refused to seat his 5-year-old and 9-year-old next to him and his wife on a recent flight from Minneapolis to Lima, Peru, unless they forked out an extra US$200. After he spoke out on social media, the situation was resolved and the costs were waived.
Though paying extra charges for reserved seating may add up, it's probably worth it for some peace of mind on your first big family holiday. Book early and you'll have more choices — and be sure to avoid basic economy fares, as you'll end up on the bottom of the barrel when it comes to seating options.
If you do end up paying for assigned seats, it's worth asking the airline to waive the fees — as the passenger I mentioned above did.
Speaking out publicly on social media tends to get things sorted that much quicker too.
And if you don't end up with assigned seats together, arrive at the airport as early as possible and ask airline staff for help. I find most of the time they're quite accommodating, as long as you allow plenty of time and the flight isn't too full.
My final tip is to teach your youngest to cry on command. This worked for me when my parents and I were separated on a flight when I was young. My tears got Mum and I upgraded to Business Class. No one wants to see a crying child on a plane — those tears are powerful, so let them work their magic.