Airlines separate families, children and pets on booked flights

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Getting kicked from your flight – a situation that occurs when an airline overbooks – has become a more common experience for travelers during this chaotic summer of flying. Unfortunately, sometimes being pushed around or rescheduled after canceled flights is accompanied by separation from the people or pets you are traveling with. Changing your travel plans because of a theft is frustrating enough, but being separated from your fellow travelers can really mess up the logistics.

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The bad news is that it’s happening everywhere this summer and there’s no escaping it. Last month, Air Canada sent a man’s cats from Toronto to California without him, and Qantas booked a 13 month old baby and his parents on separate flights. Unfortunately, if you fly, this could happen to you.

So what do you need to know if you find yourself in this situation? We spoke to experts to get some insight.

Why are people separated from their families or pets?

Airlines have contracts with passengers called “conditions of carriage,” which set out the terms of an airline’s liability when flights are canceled or delayed, as well as other rules, the lawyer for the airline said. travel industry Jeff Ment. In these contracts, some airlines agree to book their passengers on the next available flight, even if it is on another airline, he pointed out, but some will only book passengers on their own flights.

In almost all situations, passengers traveling on a flight canceled by the airline can get a refund if they don’t take their rebooking option and then make their own decision on how they want to get to destination.

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Based on contracts of carriage, airlines have the upper hand in these situations, Ment said, but a passenger is allowed to refuse the rebooking until the airline is able to accommodate the entire passenger. band. Ment said there is no law requiring airlines to keep families or pets and owners together.

There are flaws in the system that complicate this, however. Reservation systems don’t recognize that young children can’t do their own thing, airline analyst Bryan del Monte said. “They treat every passenger as if fully functional and able to be separated.” That being said, there are laws about placing minor children with their parents and placing families together, del Monte added, but since this is considered “guidance” rather than a basis for fines, airlines are generally negligent about this.

How often does this happen?

Despite several recent headlines about the incidents, unfortunately there is no data to show how often this is happening. Another unknown? How much money does the airline industry in the United States make from seat reservations when people pay to sit together. The government does not require airlines to report those numbers, del Monte said.

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In 2016, Congress approved an extension of the Federal Aviation Administration’s reauthorization bill – known as the Families Traveling Together Act — which requires carriers to ensure children under 13 can sit next to a family member at no additional cost, del Monte said. In response, the Department of Transportation issued an advisory to airlines encouraging them to seat children under 13 with an adult traveling with them.

“It’s an awful thing for travelers to get separated, especially when it comes to children,” said aviation expert and consumer advocate William McGee.

What can I do to prevent this from happening to me?

“The system is at its breaking point,” McGee said. Years ago, if part of a group of travelers got hit, they would usually wait for the next open flight and board it together. Today, however, the circumstances are less certain and waiting to fly with the person you are traveling with could end up causing even more problems. You may have to take the seat when space is available, McGee said, even if it means splitting up for the flight, because finding two available seats later could be a tricky feat.

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There’s not much you can do to prevent yourself from finding yourself in this kind of situation. Del Monte recommended travelers do everything possible to get ahead, like booking early, “but that won’t stop you from having a bump.” Even del Monte himself was squeezed out of flights he had booked a month or more in advance.

“The only thing people can do is get travel insurance,” he said. “When the airline cheats you, it will be the travel insurance that pays for that extra hotel stay and extra expenses,” he added. “It will be travel insurance that compensates you for all actual expenses when your plane is suddenly canceled or delayed.”

About Theresa Burton

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