Here is a Kafkaesque nightmare from United Airlines. Our family of four took a one week vacation in California. We bought our roundtrip tickets two months in advance, including seat assignments. The flight from the East Coast was fine. Trouble found us when we tried to check in for the return flight.
The airline said we only had three tickets, not four. The counter agent claimed my eleven year old daughter had no ticket, and there was no room for her on the completely sold out plane. My daughter was frightened and began to cry. But we showed our reservation email, which had four seats. Well, they said, the problem is she never boarded the first flight from New York, so they sold her seat to someone else. “But she did fly with us from New York!” we said, and here she is with us, doesn’t that prove it? Well, they said her boarding pass was not properly scanned when she boarded the first plane, so now there is no ticket for her. Even the agent realized that this made no sense and was unacceptable, so she got on the phone with a supervisor and spent forty minutes trying to sort out the problem. Well, that forty minutes was bringing us awfully close to departure time and the security line was totally mobbed with a huge crowd.
Eventually, they gave us a standby ticket for my daughter. A standby ticket for a child! My sense is that they were just punting our problem to the gate agent with no real solution. We barely made it through security on time, but we still faced the dilemma of the standby ticket, because if she didn’t get a seat the other three of us would be forfeiting our perfectly good tickets and voluntarily missing our flight, with no recourse to use our tickets for a later flight without very hefty additional costs. Luckily, someone’s connecting flight was late and we made it onto the plane at the last minute, though we couldn’t all sit together.
So beware, remember that even if you have bought tickets months in advance, the airline could suddenly and unexpectedly deny your children a boarding pass due to their own mismanaged computer glitches. Gives you a lot of confidence doesn’t it? Next time we will take a train.