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Kate Simon: Why priority boarding is a must for no-frills flyers with small children

I never thought I'd need another reason to dislike the experience of flying no-frills, yet a trip on Ryanair to Sicily with the family revealed one more way to send my blood pressure soaring.

Now, I know cheap flights have enabled many more of us to travel, and that they provide a largely efficient way of getting from A to B (or Z considering the proximity of some airports to the cities they purport to serve). But they don't half suck the pleasure out of the experience of travelling to foreign lands.

Yet that's not my particular beef here. My problem began in the queue for the plane – the snail-pace line you don't have to pay to stand in. By the time our party of two adults and one child reached the aircraft, we couldn't find two seats together to ensure one of us was sitting with our son.

Call us overly concerned, but we prefer our son to sit next to one of us – not least because he has a nut allergy and can suffer from painful ear ache on descent, but also in case of an emergency. Fortunately, we persuaded someone to swap seats and the problem was solved, though not without a few tears (and that was just me).

Of more concern was what happened on the return leg. A large family group had no choice but for some of their party – three adults and three young children – to sit in the front two rows of the plane. I guess the crew didn't sit the children in the front row because it was by an emergency exit, so the three adults sat together and the three children sat behind them. Needless to say, just a few minutes from landing, one child managed to squirm free from her seat belt and began advancing up the aisle, only to be waylaid by a fleet-footed crew member.

Can this be legal? According to the Civil Aviation Authority, there are no rules to prevent such a problem happening. Its advice simply states that it is preferable to sit families together to stop problems with passenger flow during an emergency and, if that's not possible, children should be separated by no more than one seat row from accompanying adults.

But this scenario is one that needs addressing, though it seems unlikely that the airlines will while fast turnaround of planes remains essential to their business model. If you fly no-frills with the kids, cough up for priority boarding and get to your gate fast.

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