Gloria Hunniford, Angela Rippon and Julia Somerville meet families who have paid for guaranteed seats together on planes, only to find that's not what they get on board.
Browse content similar to Episode 5. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
We asked you, who has left you feeling ripped off
when it comes to your holidays?
And you came back with a catalogue of travel disasters.
A holiday is supposed to be a time of relaxing,
not a time of more stress,
and certainly not a time of stress whilst you're away.
It's just annoying that you think, "What next?
"What are they going to put a charge on next?"
So, whether it is a deliberate rip-off, a simple mistake,
or a catch in the small print,
we'll find out why you're out of pocket and what you can do about it.
Your stories, your money.
This is Rip-Off Britain.
Hello and welcome to another episode of Rip-Off Britain
from the island of Tenerife,
where we're investigating what's gone wrong with your holidays.
Well, like millions of people every year,
we, of course, flew to get here,
but we know from all your e-mails and letters
that it isn't always plain sailing when you take to the skies.
Anything but, in fact.
Today, we're going to be hearing some really very good reasons
why even the most seasoned travellers amongst us
can, from time to time, get into a bit of a flap about flying.
And, of course, that means we're going to have
everything you need to know to make sure that the same problems
aren't going to happen to you.
So, whether you've fallen foul of an airline's particular policies,
or perhaps you just hate the idea of being 35,000 feet up in the air,
we'll have some useful advice for you,
so the next time you're on a flight,
your mood and your temper can at least stay firmly grounded.
Coming up, the parents separated from their children on flights
despite paying a premium to guarantee they would sit together.
It was really dreadful as a mum
to not be with your children
and to be able to, like, protect them and look after them.
Jake, he's only two years old.
Him being with strangers on that flight, it was really horrible.
And a last-ditch attempt to cure a long held fear of flying,
but does it really work?
I just need to get onto the plane now,
cos we've been now talking about it since this morning.
I just need to go and do it now.
You know, flying with children is probably not most people's idea
of a relaxing start to their holiday.
For passengers travelling without kids, sitting next to, behind,
or even worse, in front of someone else's little darling,
can make a long flight seem even longer.
And of course, for the parents,
keeping the young ones still and quiet for hours on end
is quite a challenge.
And things can be even more stressful still
if a family can't sit together, which can and does happen.
In fact, many airlines now suggest
that the only way to guarantee sitting next to your own children
is to pay in advance to reserve seats together.
But, you know, that's really not necessary.
Visitor numbers may have dipped in the wake of terror attacks
and other headline-grabbing events,
but Turkey remains a firm favourite with British holiday-makers,
most of them coming for its beautiful coast and beaches.
Among those to go there last summer
were Kim Robinson and her husband, Steve.
They have to be pretty organised when they travel,
as they've got four children, ranging in ages between two and 14.
We have been on holiday once before with the children,
and booking the flights and the seats,
it's a bit of a military operation, really, ensuring that...
everything runs smoothly,
that the children are sat with myself and my husband,
and everything's organised, ready to go.
Kim booked the family's trip to Turkey five months in advance
with holiday company Thomson.
And, on top of the cost of the flights,
she paid an additional fee of ?95
to be sure the family could all sit next to one another
on both legs of the journey.
We went away about four, five years ago,
and we paid to book our seats then,
and we found it just made the whole process much less stressful,
because as well, we have our youngest child as well now,
who's only two,
and because of Emily needing somebody with her,
we'd felt it would just be a lot less hassle to sit together.
But when it came to choosing their seats online,
Kim was dismayed to discover that she could only select seats
for the flight out, and not the return.
It seemed really odd that online we could visually select our seats,
and it gave us our seat numbers,
and we could do all of that for the flight out to Turkey,
but when I noticed that there was no flight chartered back from Turkey,
it seemed really confusing,
and nobody seemed to be able to tell us why.
Thomson eventually explained that this was because
they'd be flying back with a different company,
the Turkish-owned Pegasus Airlines.
So the family would need to contact Pegasus
in order to confirm their seat bookings for the journey home.
My husband had tried to contact Pegasus directly,
but there was quite a serious language barrier,
and so he then rang Thomson and explained
that we couldn't physically speak to Pegasus
and it was something that they would have to do.
We'd paid them the money to reserve the seats,
and it was up to them to kind of ensure we could do that.
After more phone calls and visits to their local Thomson branch,
the company rang the couple back, and told them that,
though they couldn't choose their Pegasus seats in advance,
they would be able to sit together.
The fact that we'd actually paid to select our seats was irritating,
but I was willing to accept that I couldn't select my seats
on the basis, that as a family, we would be sat together.
Reassured by this, the family thought little more about it
until the end of their holiday, that is,
when the time came for them to check in
for their Pegasus return flight at Dalaman Airport.
When they were issued with their actual seat reservations,
their worst fears were realised.
It became very clear that we were sat not even near each other,
we were sat at complete opposite ends of the aircraft.
And so, at this point, my husband became very distressed and he said,
"There is no way we're getting on that plane
"unless we are sat together."
The airport staff assured them
that the issue would be sorted out on the plane.
However, when they boarded,
they were told to sit in their allocated seats by the stewards.
In a crowded plane and with their children dotted across it,
the couple were powerless to do anything
while people continued to cram onto the aircraft.
I was actually sat in that seat in tears,
and I couldn't understand that, as a 32-year-old mother of four,
I was sat crying, and nobody was willing to help me.
I worried about all the children on the plane,
but predominantly Jake and Emily.
Jake, because he's only two years old,
him being with strangers on that flight was quite a concern of mine.
And Emily, she was tired and I wasn't sure how she would react
being around strangers, and on the flight,
she was quite worried about taking off and landing as well,
so it was really dreadful, as a mum, to not be with your children
and to be able to protect them and look after them on that flight.
It was... It was really horrible.
Finally, Kim's husband, Steve, stood up
and tried to explain the situation to the flight attendants.
But when they seemed unwilling to help,
Steve had to resort to asking if any of their fellow passengers
would be willing to swap their seats.
Luckily, three strangers on board did volunteer to help,
so the younger children at least wouldn't be left alone.
Three people in front very kindly moved,
so we could move forward and I could sit with Jake and Ollie on takeoff,
and then after that we moved around a bit
so we could both take it in turns to sit with Jake,
while having Ollie and Alfie near us
and Emily just a bit further down the plane in front,
but she could swap if needed.
The relief was immense, cos I could at least see my children
and I could hold Ollie's hand and be with Jake.
That was a relief.
But I still felt bad that I'd asked somebody on their holiday,
coming back from their holiday, to move.
I felt bad that they'd had to move.
Um, I felt absolutely desolate that nobody had helped me,
that none of the air stewardesses,
air stewards or anything had offered to intervene or help
or do anything at all.
Months after the incident, Kim and Steve remain upset at what happened,
especially as the extra money they'd paid at the beginning
was supposed to guarantee they could sit together.
When I reflect back upon what happened,
it still makes me more sad than angry,
more upset that myself and my children and my husband
were put in that position,
that we'd paid for a service we didn't receive,
that we didn't receive any satisfactory feedback
for what happened.
And it has put me off flying again.
Well, when we contacted the airlines involved,
Thomson told us it was really sorry to hear of the family's experience,
and is looking into what happened with its partner airline...
It reiterated that, as the return journey was not on its own airline,
pre-booked seats weren't available,
so it's refunded the seat selection fee the family paid.
For its part, Pegasus Airlines insisted
that, as the flight had been chartered by Thomson,
all sales, ticketing and reservations
were Thomson's responsibility.
It went on to say that its charter flight seats
are allocated during check-in according to availability,
and that, as Kim and Steve were some of the last people to check in,
staff offered them the best seats they could.
It added that, once on board, as other passengers will also
want to sit with the people in their group,
all that cabin crew can do is politely speak to other guests
and try to assist as best as possible,
as they did on this occasion.
Now, you might think it would be a no-brainer
that young children are seated with their family on flights.
But there's no legal requirement for that to happen.
The Civil Aviation Authority says it should be the aim of airlines
to put children close to their parents or guardians
in order to ensure access,
and passengers' safety in an emergency.
However, it does also say -
and this is a really useful fact to remember -
that no plane is allowed to take off
if a child is separated from an accompanying adult
by more than one row.
Even so, an increasing number of airlines
now tell parents that the only way they can guarantee
that they'll sit with their children is by paying extra
to pre-book seats, and depending on the airline,
that can cost anything between ?8 and ?65.
But, as Kim's experience shows,
even then you might not get what you paid for.
But our resident travel expert, Simon Calder,
feels very strongly about this issue,
and says passengers should be confident of their rights
when booking flights as a family.
Airlines know full well
that they have to sit families in close proximity.
Any airline that pretends that it can't do, that it won't do,
that you have to pay, is frankly telling porkies.
They must make sure that parents and children
are sat close to each other,
and the plane isn't going anywhere until they do.
Our travel expert, Simon Calder,
has all the secrets to save you money on your travels.
He's full of tips on everything from how to avoid the crowds
to the best way to steer clear of those tourist traps.
Today, he's identifying once-in-a-lifetime trips
that are perfect if money isn't an issue.
Sometimes, you have to mark a big event -
a wedding, an anniversary, a special birthday -
with a big, no-expenses-spared trip.
So what's the best choice when you want to splash out?
Where can you get the biggest bang for your hard-earned bucks?
I've got three very different options.
Antarctica is the destination of choice
for people who want to go to the very end of the earth.
But to make your experience of the frozen continent truly memorable,
Simon recommends choosing an expedition vessel
with no more than 200 passengers.
Most ships leave from Ushuaia, at the southern tip of Argentina,
and it'll take two days of buffeting across the Drake Passage
to reach Antarctica, as part of a ten-day expedition
that typically costs from around ?4,000.
But if all that sounds a bit too adventurous,
then Simon has a more traditionally glamorous suggestion.
The Venice-Simplon Orient Express is a collection of antique carriages
that mostly shuttles between Calais and Venice via Paris.
It has a connection from London which goes as far as Folkestone,
where you can get on a coach to drive onto a Eurotunnel train.
But if you really want to push the boat out,
Simon has a far more luxurious proposition.
So, instead, here's my prescription.
Fly to Venice, Marco Polo Airport,
and take a water taxi to a 5-star hotel
for the most indulgent night of your life.
Then, next day, head for the station,
where the train is waiting for an 11am departure,
and gives you an afternoon of fantastic views
all the way to Innsbruck and beyond.
For the final part of the trip,
you can snooze through eastern France and wake up in Paris.
And while everyone else waits for the engine to be changed
for the rather laborious journey to London...
You can indulge in a perfect Parisian breakfast,
then check out the latest exhibition,
do a little light shopping,
and return to London at high speed in the posh seats on Eurostar,
saving time and money.
Not that you're counting!
Now, either of these trips would cost a small fortune
but the ultimate indulgence - if money really is no object -
would be to hire a private island,
like Ilha Grande close to Rio de Janeiro.
A week here costs not far off ?10,000.
Treasure the island,
but then escape to explore the superb coast of Brazil.
Then have a grand day out in Rio,
before your overnight flight back to Britain,
in a flat bed in business class, of course.
And even with some serious shopping and dining,
you should still have change out of ?50,000
for the trip of a lifetime for all of you.
Once the preserve of only the rich,
over recent decades, air travel has become so commonplace
that up to three billion of us take to the skies every single year.
But, you know, it's reckoned that around a quarter of us
are, in varying degrees, actually afraid of flying,
making British travellers the most fearful in Europe.
So several of the airlines run courses
that are designed to overcome the fear of flying
once and for all.
And, to see if they actually work,
we went along with a particularly nervous flyer,
as she gave one of them a try.
For thousands of years, humans have had a fascination with flying,
and initially at least, our attempts to get airborne
had very mixed results!
Though we have now got the hang of it,
and plane journeys have become statistically
the absolute safest way to travel.
For many passengers, though,
the very thought of flying can send them into a spin.
Natalie Pearce from Oxfordshire is one.
Her fear of flying began 20 years ago, over 30,000 feet in the air.
At the end of the '90s, when we were flying back from Tenerife,
we experienced a bit of turbulence
and then we hit what I thought was an air pocket,
where it feels like you're dropping out of the sky.
Only lasted seconds, but felt like hours.
Now, even contemplating a plane journey
has Natalie racked with fear and anxiety.
I think as I have got older
and probably since I've had the children,
I've always thought more of the safety aspect as well.
If I hear any noises when I'm on the plane,
I then get worried as to what they are.
Or that the wings aren't working properly.
Natalie's concerned that things have got so bad
it's limiting not only her view of the world,
but also her children's.
It has obviously restricted where we can go to,
and we probably don't go away as much as perhaps I used to.
There's so much to see out there, you know,
that we're not seeing because we're so limited
as to where we can go and what we can do.
At present, the only way she can board an aircraft
is after taking prescription medication,
and even then, her fears don't disappear completely.
I've had to, in the past, take prescribed medication
to enable me to get onto a plane.
I have a partner that's very understanding,
that allows me to grip hold of his hand very tightly,
and also talk to me while we're on the flight about what's happening
and to try and calm me down.
So I have got slightly better, like I say,
him supporting me and talking to me,
but I'm still a long way off being OK about flying!
And that's all come to a head since Natalie's father moved to Cyprus.
She knows that unless she can conquer her fear of flying,
she and her children are unlikely to ever visit him in his new home.
Oh, wow, look, that looks amazing, Imogen, doesn't it?
I would love to go to Cyprus to see my dad,
and obviously for the children to go out there and see their grandad.
He moved out there 18 months ago.
He still comes back here, but it'd be lovely...
Even though we've seen pictures of his place in Cyprus,
it would be lovely to actually go out there
and stay with him for a while.
A fear of flying, sometimes called aviophobia,
can lead to a rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, trembling,
and tightening of the stomach muscles,
along with an overwhelming desire to escape the situation.
But though Natalie's tried various medications,
and alternative therapies to beat it, none have worked.
So now, after years of trying to pluck up the courage,
she's ready to try one of the courses
that airlines run to tackle the problem head-on.
I really want to overcome my fear,
I also want to know why things are making certain noises.
I would like to know sometimes what the speak is on the tannoys
between the pilots and the air hostesses,
cos sometimes that panics me a bit,
I think they're speaking in a secret code
to say there's a problem with the plane.
So just have a greater understanding of the whole thing.
We're going to accompany Natalie on a daylong course
with Virgin Atlantic, bought for her by her mother at a cost of ?267.
It is a last, desperate attempt to get herself airborne.
Though the course claims a 98% success rate,
there's no guarantee that it will work,
and as she heads to the airport, ready to begin,
all she can think of are the downsides to flying.
Getting off the plane at the end
is the only thing I like.
There's absolutely nothing else about flying that I like at all.
It can have a physical effect on me, as in I can get an upset stomach,
and, like I say, I get very anxious about it,
and I can feel nauseous as well.
Richard Conway is the co-founder of this particular course,
and he has first-hand experience
of just how debilitating such fear can be.
I did have a fear of flying.
My overcoming it showed me so much about how to help other people.
The programme started with a need for helping nervous flyers,
and we wanted to do this and really change people's lives in one day,
which is what we do.
Of course, a fear of flying is also bad news for airlines like Virgin,
so it's in their interest
to get anxious passengers back into the sky.
The latest research that we have our hands on is from 2012,
and it shows at least 30% of the population
have a fear of flying of some sort,
and that can be from the mildly anxious to the utterly terrified.
So there's a need. I have to say that our dream would be
for no-one to be booking the courses.
The course is delivered in two parts,
kicking off with a session in the classroom,
and then the real deal up in the air.
But even waiting to go into the classroom
has pushed Natalie's anxiety levels sky-high.
I'm getting a bit more anxious.
I was just speaking to someone
who I presume is running a bit of the course,
I don't know what part he's doing,
but he was asking me about my fears and how it started,
and it was just making me a bit more stressful and anxious
in reiterating what my fears are, so I don't know, we shall see.
But then the course gets underway,
with the tutors trying to erase years of fear and panic.
We see between 2,000 and 3,000 people every single year.
How many people drove here today?
How many people were passengers when they came here today?
The car was serviced this morning, the engineers had looked at it
and checked it over completely and signed it off? Yes?
All of these things that revolved around incidents and accidents,
the lessons learned are, trust the systems, cos the systems work.
Incidents involving aircraft are so rare, they always make headlines.
So, with the tutors confident
that they've helped the group rationalise their fears
and understand that the risks of flying are relatively low,
the classroom part of the day is over,
and it's time to put into practice
everything they've learned on the ground.
I've just realised quite how irrational some of my fears were,
but then you're only going to overcome those
by having pilots or other people telling you, isn't it?
Steady as a rock, I fly with that hand!
THEY LAUGH Just as they look at us!
Oh, hang on.
But as they head off to the aircraft,
Natalie has fresh concerns about whether what she's been taught
will still seem reasonable when it's time to take off.
I think I'm going to be better once I'm actually on the plane -
it's just the apprehension, isn't it, of the unknown almost?
But if she can keep calm and get on board,
this could be a major breakthrough.
We're going to go through security check in a minute...
..to then board the plane.
I just need to get on to the plane now.
Cos we've been now talking about it since this morning,
I just need to go and do it now.
This is the first time in 19 years that Natalie has boarded an aircraft
without the support of medication, and it's not easy.
That's perfect, that's going to be straight on board, OK?
Thank you very much. Thank you. Right, so here we go.
Alongside around 130 other fearful flyers,
Natalie finally gets on board.
61. G - just go straight over, turn right. Thank you.
As she tries her best to settle in, the safety briefing begins.
So we're now going to explain the safety equipment procedures
for this 787-9 aircraft.
You share responsibility with us for your safety,
so please remove any headsets and pay careful attention.
And the pilots do their best to reassure their nervous passengers.
We worked out we've got 120 years' worth
of aviation experience between us.
Before they know it, it's time for takeoff.
And, once up in the air,
Natalie amazes herself by managing to leave her seat.
For the first time, she's beginning to get a real sense of flying
without her usual nervousness.
It's true what the trainers said,
because I'm not very good with heights,
but actually this isn't causing me a problem,
looking out the window at the view.
It is amazing to see all the clouds and things...
..and then see the view below them.
Other airlines, including British Airways and easyJet,
also run courses very similar to this one,
with hundreds of people taking them every month.
OK, we've just commenced a turn to the left-hand side,
heading down towards Southampton and the Isle of Wight.
It's 30 minutes into the flight, and Natalie's confidence is growing.
Yeah, I'm feeling quite relaxed, actually, I'm not too bad.
The overall success rate on today's course was around 99%,
with only one passenger not managing to take the flight,
and Natalie's astonished at the difference
between how she feels now, and how she's felt on planes in the past.
I wouldn't say I love it.
I did enjoy it, which is a major improvement.
And, once she comes back down to earth,
she has high hopes for the future.
I feel it's really worked. I enjoyed the flight.
I'd say the landing and takeoff not as much,
but they weren't as bad as I've experienced before, that's for sure.
If you have got a story you'd like us to investigate,
then get in touch with us via our Facebook page...
..or e-mail us at...
..or, if you want to send us a letter, then our new address is...
Well, you often tell us how frustrating
you find the different policies of individual airlines,
and one of your biggest bugbears has long been the charges
for designated or guaranteed seats.
But I honestly never thought I'd see the sort of problems
for families as we've seen today.
Now, this is only my opinion,
but I find it very hard to justify why you should have to pay extra
to be sure that you can sit by your own child.
And I don't think you're on your own with that one, Gloria,
because I'm sure an awful lot of people will agree with you.
But, on a more positive note,
wasn't it absolutely great to see how Natalie ended up
so much more confident about getting on a plane?
The world is now her oyster,
so we all hope that she enjoys every minute of exploring it.
In the meantime,
do remember that if you've had an issue with a flight or an airline,
then do let us know about it.
We really would like to hear from you.
I'm sure this is a topic we'll be returning to again,
but all your e-mails and letters help us identify the issues
that most matter to you, so do please keep them coming.
For now, though, this particular takeoff is definitely on time,
so from the three of us, it's goodbye.
Gloria Hunniford, Angela Rippon and Julia Somerville investigate problems viewers have had with flights, meeting families furious that even after paying for guaranteed seats together, that's not what they got when they arrived at the plane. So what are the rules on how families are supposed to be seated?
Also today, a woman makes a last-ditch attempt to cure her fear of flying. But will it work?
And travel expert Simon Calder chooses once-in-a-lifetime trip if money weren't an issue.