Monday, September 08, 2008

Travel with Kids — why don't airlines cooperate a little more?

I had a very frustrating experience with Northwest Airlines last week. I was bringing my two nephews, ages 7 and 8, home after their summer-long visit with me. On the long leg of the flight, we were assigned seats in separate parts of the cabin. These are two energetic boys, and need attention pretty much all the time. I explained this to the airline, repeatedly asking them to try their best to assign our seats together.

In fact, when we booked our tickets nearly a year ago, I asked that the seats be assigned together. Then, they said it was too early to assign the seats. So, about 2 weeks ago, before we traveled to Malaysia, I called again. Still too early. When we got back from Malaysia, it was still several days before our departure, but the airline phone centre wasn't open until Monday morning. When I finally got through.... it was too late. I was told that we could not get seats together. And not only that, but the seats we were assigned were in completely separate parts of the plane, with a large partition separating us.

The really frustrating part was that when I went online to do the changes myself, seats were actually available, but were blocked out. In every instance, the airline would allow me to change either the boys' seats or mine, but not put all 3 together.

If the trip were me and a friend or other adult family member, it would not be a problem to each sit on our own. But of course the children don't like the idea of being separated from me, nor do I like the idea of the chaos that could ensue if that scenario were to come about. I explained this to the airline, and while the gentleman agreed, he was unwilling to do anything about it. I finally told him that if this was the case, then the airline staff was going to have to help the children, as I was seated quite far from them. He only replied, "Well, you will have to see if you can arrange that with them when you board."

At the end of the day, I fixed up the seats on my own, asking for help from fellow passengers. The other passengers were helpful, which was markedly different from most of the Northwest staff I encountered on this trip. There was very notable exception within the Northwest staff: Janice, who was the attendant who helped us on the first sector of our trip. The airline had made some errors with the kids' meal selection. We were ready to just accept that, but she didn't like the ideas of the boys not having "age-appropriate" meals, and so called ahead to our upcoming flights to get it settled. In addition, she brought them meals back from business class, and gave us soem extra bottles of water, and even gave us a few vouchers for redeeming extra miles for our rewards program.

Even though everything worked out in the end, it was more through my persistence than the airline's helpfulness. I have flown Northwest for years (I have accumulated about 200,000 miles with them), and have to say that their service is going steadily downhill. Worst of it is, it really wasn't that good to begin with.

Subscribe to Peregrine Online by Email


silken said...

aarrrggghhhh!! northwest does not have very good service. I know they were not very nice when I made that trip home when the kids were 7 & 4. you would think as an elite member you would get better help! at least you can tell the world about it through your blog! :)

hifidel said...

Yeah, that is one consolation, my little soapbox here where I can complain. Seems like I've had to do that more recently than I normally like to... but don't worry, I don't plan to let it become a trend. :-)

I flew back on Continental. Excellent service, and a way better route than anything NW has. The Continental staff does more than they have to in order to keep you happy, and they remain unruffled all the while. It's pretty amazing. (I did hear one of the attendants say they have actual beds to lie down and rest on that long flight for the Continental staff, which most airlines don't have [she said] — wonder if that has anything to do with their better attitude?)