If you have a family and have taken a trip by airplane in the past few years, you know it isn’t always easy to keep everyone in your group together. Airlines aren’t required to seat parents and children together for free, and especially on low-cost carriers, you may be dependent on the goodwill of fellow passengers to move so you can occupy your toddler, who’s flying for the first time.
Recognizing that this has become a major issue, the U.S. Department of Transportation put out a notice in 2022 urging U.S. airlines to do “everything in their power” to ensure kids ages 13 and younger can sit by an accompanying adult at no extra charge. President Biden even addressed the topic in his State of the Union speech earlier this month.
Finally, progress is being made. Yesterday United Airlines introduced a new, improved policy that will make it easier for families to sit together — even in Basic Economy.
Customers traveling with children under 12 can see new adjacent seat options immediately when they are booking flights, thanks to a new search engine. If it can’t find seats together, the engine checks out complimentary upgrades to Preferred Seats.
Also, if adjacent seats aren’t available because of last-minute bookings, full flights or aircraft changes, United will let customers switch for free to another flight going to the same destination that has seats together. Customers won’t be charged for any fare difference, either.
The full policy change goes into effect in March. It does not include changes to United Polaris, United First Class and Economy Plus seats.
“We’re focused on delivering a great experience for our younger passengers and their parents and know it often starts with the right seat,” said Lindo Jojo, chief customer officer for United, in a statement. “We look forward to rolling out more family-friendly features this year.”
Other airlines do say they are concerned about keeping families together — but most make no guarantees. Fees are associated with family-friendly features, like preselected seats, at airlines such as JetBlue and Frontier Airlines.
Delta’s website says it “strives to seat family members together upon request” and suggests calling its reservations line if it can’t obtain adjacent seats through the website or mobile app.
American Airlines told CNN its current policies are designed to allow families to sit together without extra payments. American offers online tips for making sure parents aren’t parted from children, including booking as far in advance as possible and making sure everyone is on the same reservation. However, in Basic Economy you still have to pay to pick your seats.
In the past, airlines have appeared to adopt policies from other industry players when they proved helpful (or at least, not disastrous) — see baggage fees — so perhaps this will be the case with seating families together. We’ll have to wait and see!