Airline family seating policies highlighted amid Biden push and new DOT dashboard
The Department of Transportation recently unveiled a dashboard meant to make airlines' family seating policies easier to find for travelers.
The tool was introduced as part of the Biden administration's effort to compel carriers to make it easier for families to sit together while flying without paying extra fees.
Although many airlines have yet to update their policies to align with Washington's priorities, Ken Shapiro, president of the board of the Family Travel Association, said it's a good sign that even a few airlines are starting to respond.
"It's great to see the president talking about these things and now you’re seeing a lot of movement based on what he's been talking about," he told USA TODAY. "I think it's inevitable that you see a lot of airlines jumping on board with these policies."
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Shapiro added that the extra cost of group seat selection can deter some especially budget-conscious families from traveling at all, and said that some families view sticking together in the air not just as a matter of convenience, but also one of safety.
"There's a lot of tension in the air these days," he said, pointing to recent incidents of violence on planes. "You don't want your kids separated from you."
Shapiro also said that more flexibility for families is another sign of how airlines are adapting to travel patterns that changed during the pandemic. With business travel still recovering slower than leisure demand, carriers are changing their policies to cater to families.
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"The timing of this is definitely an indication that the airlines are considering leisure travelers a lot more than they used to," Shapiro said. "I do think there's a correlation to the post-COVID environment that's out there."
If you don't want to click through to the DOT's dashboard – or if you need info on an airline that isn't included – here are the basics of where things currently stand.
Alaska Airlines guarantees that children 13 or younger will be able to sit with at least one adult in their traveling party for no additional fee. There are certain exceptions to the policy, including if the aircraft is swapped last minute for a smaller plane, but in general, young passengers on Alaska will not have to sit alone, even if they are traveling on the cheapest ticket that does not usually include seat selection.
Allegiant does not guarantee that families will be seated together and recommends paying for seat selection at the time of booking to ensure adjacent seats.
American guarantees that passengers 13 or younger will be able to sit next to an accompanying adult for no additional charge, even on basic economy tickets, which do not typically include seat assignments. Exceptions include if adjacent seats are not available at the time of booking, or if the aircraft is swapped out for a smaller one.
Avelo does not guarantee adjacent seats for families.
Breeze allows families with children 12 or younger to select adjacent seats at the time of booking at no extra charge. The airline's cheapest fare bundle, Nice, does not typically include free seat selection, but it is included in the higher-tier ticket categories.
Delta Air Lines
Delta "strives to seat family members together upon request," but does not guarantee availability.
Frontier guarantees travelers 13 or younger will be able to sit next to at least one accompanying adult on any ticket type. Adjacent seats must be available at the time of booking for the guarantee to apply.
Hawaiian Airlines does not guarantee adjacent seating for families, but its website says "we'll do our best to seat children under age 14 with an accompanying family member."
JetBlue does not guarantee seats together for families, but its website says the airline strives to keep children and their guardians together on board as much as possible.
Southwest Airlines does not assign seats in advance, but it did recently introduce family boarding for groups with children under age 6.
Family boarding on Southwest happens after group A, which is the first main segment to board. With open seating, families flying on Southwest are typically free to choose seats near each other.
Spirit Airlines typically charges for seat selection and does not guarantee adjacent seats for those who do not pay the extra fee.
"If guests with children aged 13 and under do not opt to pre-select seats at the time of booking, our gate agents and flight attendants will work to provide adjacent seats when possible," the airline's website says.
Sun Country Airlines
Sun Country typically charges for seat selection and does not guarantee adjacent seats for families that choose not to pay the extra fee. "If you are traveling with children and choose not to select seats in advance, we will do our very best to ensure children are seated with at least one adult on the reservation," its website says.
United Airlines is employing new technology to allow travelers under the age of 12 to be seated near an adult traveling companion for free, even on basic economy tickets. The airline's policy also allows customers who are unable to sit with their kids on a flight to change to a flight with available adjacent seating for free.
Zach Wichter is a travel reporter based in New York. You can reach him at email@example.com
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: An airline-by-airline guide to family seating policies