Opinion

No more high-altitude nuclear family explosions?

From the editorial board

Colin Drummond, 4, pushes luggage from behind as he walks with family members to check in a relative for an Alaska Airlines flight at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Traveling as a family will get a little easier under the FAA reauthorization bill signed by President Obama last week.
Colin Drummond, 4, pushes luggage from behind as he walks with family members to check in a relative for an Alaska Airlines flight at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Traveling as a family will get a little easier under the FAA reauthorization bill signed by President Obama last week. AP file photo, 2015

Summer travel by airplane is ill-suited for parents with middle-class budgets, faint hearts and squirmy toddlers. Moms and dads run a gantlet of long security lines, overbooked flights and excruciating waits at the gate. Sometimes they’ll even get stuck on the tarmac, grounded with their restless kids in the sweltering cabin of a 737.

Premium fees must be paid for services that used to come standard, such as checking their children’s bags or keeping their clan together in the same row — not scattered across a checkerboard of undesirable middle seats. It’s enough to make a family go nuclear.

Families rarely suffer in silence, of course. Pity the fellow passengers sentenced to hours of confinement next to unsupervised young whiners, screamers and seat kickers.

The average air-traveling adult is left feeling nostalgic (and blissfully amnesiac) about the merry childhood family vacations of yesteryear, riding in a station wagon jump seat from Tacoma to Omaha.

Thank goodness for Congress (and when was the last time you saw those four words together?) passing a Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill last week. It includes some welcome family- and consumer-friendly provisions, in addition to modest steps toward enhanced safety of aircraft and security against terrorists.

True, the Senate and House acted in typical brinksmanslike fashion, barely avoiding an FAA shutdown and approving a package that lasts only a year. They failed to resolve critical aviation issues, such as privatizing air-traffic controllers and protecting people’s privacy against high-tech drones.

But air travelers have reason to rejoice. The bill, signed Friday by President Obama, requires airlines to refund paid baggage fees when items are lost or unreasonably delayed — an overdue mandate that should cheer up passengers regardless of family status.

The same is true of a new rule that will ensure children 13 or younger are seated next to a parent, guardian or older sibling. Airlines no longer will be allowed to stick families with an extortionate upcharge for sitting together. And parents will no longer need to enter into across-the-aisle seat-swap negotiations while other passengers try to squeeze past or stow their luggage.

Washington Sen. Patty Murray co-sponsored the original bill that included this provision. In a statement last week, she described it as “common-sense legislation” to improve air travel conditions for families.

Perhaps making flying a little easier will help breathe new life into the family vacation. The tradition has weathered turbulence in recent years due to rising travel costs and a reluctance among work-martyr parents to take a break from the rat race. Moms and dads who do indulge in leisure travel are increasingly doing it without kids in tow — 62 percent this year compared to 56 percent in 2015, according to an annual American Express survey.

That’s a shame. Families need quality bonding time away from home, whether packing off in a minivan or a jumbo jet. To the extent the government can help keep families together — such as by sitting in the same row of an airplane — it should.

But if Dad tells you to stop pinching your sister or else he’ll turn this plane around? Don’t believe him.

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