Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Shoeless Seniors No More and Airborne Family Togetherness

Two quiet but important announcements emerged over the holiday weekend that could significantly affect the flying experience for thousands of travelers in the coming year.

Seniors will kick up their heels at the first one. The TSA has announced that it will no longer be requiring oldsters to remove their shoes when passing through airport security. The ruling won't affect the entire AARP set, but those over the age of 75, those the Daily News calls "Old Soles", will no longer have to go through the line unshod.

“These changes will allow officers to better focus their efforts on passengers who may be more likely to pose a risk to transportation, while expediting the screening process,” says Joseph Terrell, TSA’s security director in Orlando.

The second item is a battle cry issued by New York Senator Chuck Schumer.  Upon reading the recent Associated Press story detailing the problems families are having getting seats together (due to the airlines' expansion of their "premium seats" programs, which reserve a number of seats in economy class for those willing to pay extra), the Senator came up with a common sense proposal. He's asking the airlines to waive premium seat fees for children, to allow families to afford contiguous seating.

He may not have the legal authority to require this action. But Schumer has had success in the past persuading the airlines to do the right thing. Last year, when Spirit added fees for luggage carried onto the plane and stored in overhead bins, Schumer was able to elicit a public pledge from the other major carriers that they wouldn't follow Spirit's lead. So far, only Allegiant Airlines, a minor player, has added this invidious fee.

Schumer has said that if the airlines won't change their policy, he'll ask Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, to step in. In Schumer's view (and mine, too) separating families is a safety issue. Because of the act that deregulated airlines some 30-plus years ago, its unclear whether the DOT has the authority to do anything that directly affects pricing.

As a corollary to this story, United Airlines eliminated advance boarding for families. No, let me clarify that. Advance seating is still available, but only to families who pay for premium seats. An ugly move on the carriers part, would you agree?

If you think the expansion of premium seating, a move that has made it impossible for families to sit together without paying extra is wrong, I'd urge you to write to the DOT and share your concerns.
Click here to do so.

It is a real issue; I, myself, ended up paying $39 per person extra recently to sit next to my kids on a flight to Belize. It was a shocking and unforeseen addition to our budget. On the way back we decided to avoid the fee, counting on the kindness of strangers to let us sit together. Alas, we could find only two seats together (my guess: people who pay for the premium seats are much less willing to give them up to help families). My teen had to sit alone. Imagine if there had been an accident and we'd had to deplane. I wouldn't have been able to get off without checking first to make sure my teenage daughter was safe. That would have made following safety procedures tremendously difficult. Parents shouldn't be put in this position!


  1. Pauline, I love your blog and I hesitate to write this comment, I do not intend it to be mean spirited, however I doubt $39. is a shock to your budget, and if you truly felt it was a major safety issue for your child, pay the fee.

  2. I should have expanded that comment. On the way there, we paid the fee and boarded to find dozens of seats together, sitting empty! So I played the odds on the way back and lost. Had I known that the plane was going to be as full as it was, I wouldn't have done it. But that's also part of the problem: the seating chart, since they don't always show which seats are actually empty, is really deceptive.