According to a Consumer Reports review of more than 130 complaints submitted to the U.S. Department of Transportation, airlines have separated or suggested separating children as young as 2 years old from their parents, USA Today reported.
"Children need a responsible adult around and whether it's just so they can go to the bathroom in the middle of the flight or if there's an emergency, it's not safe to have a child without somebody there to take care of them," Anna Laitin, director of financial policy for Consumer Reports' advocacy arm, told CNN. "And no business traveler or solo traveler wants to be put in charge of a 3-year-old they don't know, and no parent wants to be seated, strapped in unable to move, that far from their child."
According to the petition, splitting up families "is a security hazard for the child and a safety threat to all passengers during emergencies." The petition further claimed that separation "puts an inappropriate burden on customers who sit next to an unaccompanied child."
The petition specifically singles out American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines.
In 2016, Congress passed a bill that called upon airlines to seat children 13 and younger next to a family member at no extra cost, CNN reported. However, the bill left some room for the airlines to bypass the law, calling for a policy "if appropriate."
Consumer Reports created a site last fall where consumers can lodge complaints at the same time with the organization and the Department of Transportation, USA Today reported. The organization said it has collected more than 400 complaints since the site went online, the newspaper reported.
Representatives for American, United and Delta, the initial targets of the petition because they received the most complaints, said they have taken steps to ensure families booked together, sit together.
American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein told USA Today the airline has spent a "considerable amount of time'' on the issue and has developed a system of seating children younger than 15 with an adult family member.
In a statement, Delta spokeswoman Maria Moraitakis said, “Regardless of the type of ticket purchased, Delta works with customers on a case-by-case basis to ensure their travel needs are met. When customers have seating questions, we encourage them to reach out to us as soon as possible to allow for the opportunity to address their concerns.”
United Airlines spokesman Charlie Hobart told CNN the airline has adjusted its family seating procedures and policies.
"We've essentially rolled out automatically seating families together. So we automatically scan for families who do not have seats assigned next to each other and we work to seat them together," Hobart told CNN.