How old does a child need to be to sit separately from parents when flying?
I just took a transatlantic Aer Lingus red-eye flight with my 4-year old. When checking in, the agent gave my child and me seats that were on opposite sides of the plane, separated by about 5 rows. When I asked for adjacent seats she told me that the flight was sold out and I should have paid to reserve them in advance. After a little bit of grumbling, she reseated us next to each other. Are there any rules relating to this? Can I really seat a 4-year old next to innocent strangers and let them, and the flight attendants, deal with the resulting tantrum?
Be careful what you ask for. They could totally agree with you and not allow you on the plane at all if there are no adjacent seats left. :)
@JamesRyan that is part of the motivation of the question. It seems unfair to sell a pair of tickets, knowing one is a child's ticket, and then say sorry you cannot use these because you did not pay an optional charge.
@StrongBad It sounds as if you are the one who requested them to be adjacent, not a requirement from the airline. I do not see the airline saying "you cannot use these."
You need seats together--it's not an optional charge in your case. I do agree it's wrong--the airline should simply refuse to sell a ticket to someone that young without the assigned seating. What you're after is unfair in the other direction--you're getting something (sitting together) without paying the price the rest of us pay.
@LorenPechtel the way I saw it, they (1) will actually allow me to sit my kid alone next to you, (2) sold me the wrong ticket, or (3) seated me incorrectly. My assumption was they seated me incorrectly, but I came here to ask about (1) because that seemed like it was a lot more likely than your claim/wish that it was in fact (2). I guess I could ask the other way: Can I pay to reserve a 4 year old a seat that is half a plane away from the seat I give myself?
There's no definitive answer to this and it will vary by country and airline.
This is what the UK Civil Aviation Authority says:
From a safety point of view children (it doesn't specify an age) SHOULD be seated CLOSE to their parent/guardian. The reasons are many but if you imagine a decompression for example, where the oxygen masks deploy, you want someone to be able to fit the mask to the child. Parents may not trust a random stranger to do this for their offspring.
If there was an emergency evacuation, you don't want parents having to move around the aircraft trying to get to their children to ensure they are evacuated etc.
Once the child gets to an age where they are responsible enough to look after themselves in the event of an emergency, then you can consider this to be reasonable. This will vary depending on the child to some extent but perhaps age 12 would be reasonable.
Of course if you have 6 children as we do, you will invariably be separated by at least a row or an aisle, we always try to seat the youngest ones closest.
In the past airlines (at least the ones I've flown with) would always try to seat families together but now that a lot of them charge for reserved seats they are less helpful in this regard.