Several years later, DOT concluded it wasn't a big enough problem to mandate a solution. Instead, the agency created a webpage that has links to every U.S. airline's family seating policy.
According to documents obtained through a public records request by Consumer Reports, the DOT received 136 complaints between March 2016 and November 2018 related to airlines separating children from their parents or guardians.
"Numerous complaints involve airlines knowingly assigning seats apart from family for children as young as 2 years old," according to a Consumer Reports review of the complaints. Others cite emotional trauma of children sitting alone, including those with autism or seizure conditions. Many parents with bad experiences mentioned anxiety about their children not being prioritized or cared for in the case of an emergency, and fear of sexual assault.
Airlines say they do everything they can to make it clear to passengers during booking what is and is not included with their airfare, especially for basic economy. They also point out passengers can always buy the higher fare class that includes seat selection.
After Hahn booked her family's flights, she followed instructions and checked in 24 hours before their scheduled departure. Only middle seats scattered throughout the plane remained open.
She called Delta and was told she could get seats together at the ticket counter. After arriving early for their outbound flights at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, she was able to get seats together for three of the four legs of their round-trip to Belize. The last leg home -- from Atlanta to MSP -- looked full and the agent said they'd have to wait until the flight took off to rearrange their seats with strangers.
"I was pretty irate. How can you seat my minor child next to a stranger?" Hahn said. Since then, she has reluctantly booked the more expensive tickets, but says not everyone can afford to do that or understands the consequences of booking the cheaper fares.
A Delta spokesman 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."
The problem, says Rainer Jenss, president of Family Travel Association, is that the current laissez-faire approach doesn't differentiate between what is a luxury perk and what is a necessity.
"Flying next to a spouse or significant other is a premium; flying next to your four-year-old is not the same thing," Jenss said. "The policy is currently discriminating against parents by forcing them to pay for or do something that is necessary, not a convenience."