POST Online Media Lite Edition


Are the airlines profiting from your family?

Chuck Gallagher |
Not long ago, a rumor had been floated that airlines were going to start to charge for bathroom usage.

I am not sure what verbiage they might have used to describe the privilege, e.g. Pan Am’s Potty Payment Program, but no doubt it would have been a doozy.

Certainly, most everything else is charged on various airlines, from overhead bin space to seating space to use of lounges.

The airlines have clearly set up a “them and us” scenario. They don’t purport to be our family, friends or even care. They view passengers as little better than baggage (which, of course, is usually Airlines Pay to Sitcharged).

A new investigation is suggesting that the airlines are even intent on breaking up our families for profit. This potentially sets a bar lowering that will set a new low.

A new trend is beginning to develop that is quite worrisome.

Let us say the Gallagher family is about to take a trip to Galway, or wherever, and three of us buy tickets together on the same purchase and naturally at the same time.

We pick out seats, 10-A, 10-B and 10-C, click on the button, and suddenly, we find ourselves in 13-A, 23-F and 34-G. In exasperation, we call the airline and plead our case.

The airline tells us Gallagher’s that there are no “assigned seats.” They tell us the seats are randomly assigned on that flight. Then they give us another piece of Blarney: for a fee they can sit us together all the way to Galway.

The situation I have just described is not as innocent as it may sound, and a new investigation of the airlines is now underway as to whether some airlines are deliberately splitting up groups of passengers, such as a family and then forcing them to pay to sit together.

The issue has come to light in the U.K., and confirms a few “fears” that many of us have had in U.S. for years.

We have known that the trend of passengers having to pay in or to secure in-flight seats next to family and friends, seems be the new norm, but what we have not realized that breaking us up in the first place might be intentional.

In the U.K., their equivalent of the FAA (the CAA) is conducting a survey. They have found that 30% of families are being split up by the “randomized” seating programs.

Then the airlines are turning around and last year charged them the equivalent of $542 million to sit together. According to the CAA:

“We will be looking into how airlines decide where to seat passengers that have booked as part of a group and whether any airlines are pro-actively splitting up groups of passengers when, in fact, they could be sat together.”

The argument could be made by those who support the airlines (no matter what they do), that as it is only 30% of families it is no big deal. However, let us not forget that the airlines employ many industrial psychologists to study passenger behavior.

As the CAA further explained (my italics):

“The research shows that it is the uncertainty around whether their group will be split up by the airline that is driving consumers to pay for an allocated seat. We will not hesitate to take any necessary enforcement action should it be required at the end of the review.”

If families would be split up 100% of the time, we might accept it or find ways to barter and bargain with one another before boarding. If families were split up 5% of the time, we might shrug our shoulders and deal with it, but 30% of the time can stop us and give us pause.

Obviously, even the airlines are not going to allow a 3-year old to sit by herself, they will keep at least a parent and child together, but what of a young couple traveling to Galway with their 89-year mother?

What of a family traveling with another family member who is quite ill? It is more than splitting up parents and children.

To receive a block reservation for six-related family members and then to intentionally break them up so they are given the option to pay to come back together, isn’t just bad business but bad ethics.

BIOGRAPHY Featured on multiple media outlets, Chuck Gallagher is an international author and speaker on the subject of Business Ethics. For information Chuck can be reached at

Contact the Op-Ed editor Ted Blackwater at

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