How the Department of Transportation Is Helping Families Sit Together on Flights — Without the Fees

The DOT is calling on U.S. airlines to stop charging families to sit together on a flight.

Little girls travelling joyfully with mom on airplane Photo: Tang Ming Tung/GETTY IMAGES

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is calling on U.S. airlines to stop charging families to sit together on a flight.

The department issued a notice to airlines on Friday to seat young children who are 13 or younger next to a parent at no extra charge, according to the DOT. The department said its Office of Aviation Consumer Protection will review airline policies and consumer complaints later this year.

“Although the Department receives a low number of complaints from consumers about family seating, there continue to be complaints of instances where young children, including a child as young as 11 months, are not seated next to an accompanying adult,” the DOT wrote in the notice. “If airlines’ seating policies and practices are barriers to a child sitting next to an adult family member or other accompanying adult family member, the Department will consider additional action consistent with its authorities.”

The notice comes more than two years after Consumer Reports launched a petition asking major U.S. airlines to seat families together for free.

Overall, the DOT said consumer complaints against airlines have increased more than 300% compared to pre-pandemic levels with refunds the most common complaint followed by flight problems.

Airlines across the country offer different ticket fares with different seat selection policies. Delta Air Lines, for example, allows Main Cabin passengers to select some seats for free starting at booking, but only allows Basic Economy passengers to choose seats after check-in.

The airline’s family seating policy states that “Delta strives to seat family members together upon request. If you are unable to obtain seat assignments together for your family using or the Fly Delta mobile app, please contact Reservations to review available seating options.” Delta has also rolled out dynamic seat maps that block off certain rows in the main cabin so only groups of three or more people traveling together can book them. The number of rows that are blocked off vary from aircraft to aircraft.

For its part, United Airlines’ Basic Economy ticket doesn’t allow seat changes after a seat is automatically assigned before boarding. Group and family seating is not available on these fares unless passengers purchase advance seat assignments.

Similarly, American Airlines allows Basic Economy passengers to choose a seat for a fee, but otherwise automatically assigns seats at check-in and does not guarantee travelers will be seated together. That said, the airline’s family policy states if families are “unable to choose seats, don’t want to pay for seats, or chose a Basic Economy fare, our system will detect that you’re a family traveling. The system will search for seats together automatically before the day of departure. We’ll try our best to keep you together, but if seats are limited, we’ll assign seats so children under 15 are next to at least 1 adult.”

Southwest Airlines has an “open seating” policy that allows travelers to choose a seat based on availability when they board. Adults traveling with a child 6 years old or younger are allowed to board during Family Boarding, which is between the “A” group and “B” group boarding.

And low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines charges for seat assignments or randomly assigns them at check-in.


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