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United Airlines has a new seat map feature that will help families with children under 12 find seats together free of charge, the airline announced on Monday.
The feature will include Basic Economy tickets.
The new seat map technology will dynamically find available adjacent Economy seats at the time of booking and open up complimentary upgrades to other available seats as needed, the airline said.
In cases where side-by-side seats are not available, customers will be able to switch to another flight to their destination with adjacent seats in the same cabin for free. No fare difference will be charged in such cases, United said in a news release.
United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby acknowledged the seating frustration of families in an interview Tuesday on CNBC.
“As a father of seven, I understand this and have sat away from our kids on many flights,” Kirby said.
United believes the new policy will “take a lot of the stress out of the up-front process. So you book your ticket, you know you have a seat, instead of having to wait to get to the airport and cross your fingers and hope that you could get a seat [next to your child],” he said.
United Polaris, First Class and Economy Plus seats are not included in the new family seating policy change.
More adjacent seat options will be available on United Airlines immediately. The complete policy change is set to go into effect in early March, the airline said.
US airline customers have long complained about seating that separates young children from their parents on flights and the added costs associated with purchasing seats in order to sit together.
President Biden addressed the government’s efforts to curb such fees in his State of the Union address this month, touting a Junk Fee Prevention Act that would also target resort fees and concert ticket fees, among others.
“Baggage fees are bad enough – they can’t just treat your child like a piece of luggage,” Biden said in the speech
A July 2022 notice from the Department of Transportation called on US airlines to make seating children next to accompanying adults available at no additional cost.
The American Economic Liberties Project advocacy group praised President Biden’s leadership on the issue and called on the government to permanently end family seating fees.
“Under intense scrutiny, United has now publicly acknowledged that family seating fees are a problem – something many other U.S. carriers deny. But the devil is in the details, and while United’s voluntary actions may prove helpful, they are not a replacement for government regulation,” William McGee, senior fellow for aviation and travel at the American Economic Liberties Project, said in a statement.
Delta Air Lines said Monday that it “does not charge family seating fees and regardless of the ticket class purchased, will always work with customers on a case-by-case basis to ensure their family seating needs are met.”
Delta’s website refers to family seating “upon request,” referring passengers who are not able to secure seats via the airline’s website or mobile app to contact Reservations. Delta’s seat map technology blocks off some areas for family seating up to 48 hours before a flight.
American Airlines offers booking tips on its website for families traveling with children under 15, noting that “the farther in advance you book, the better.”
“Our current policies regarding family seating are designed to allow families to sit together without having to pay extra,” American Airlines said Monday in a statement.
On Southwest Airlines, which does not have assigned seating, families with children age 6 or younger are allowed to board early – right after the “A” group of passengers. The airline’s website also offers the option of EarlyBird Check-in for a fee that may yield an “A” group boarding position.