Planning a family vacation? Families who are trying to be cost-efficient will have to battle one dreaded aspect of traveling with a group: basic economy tickets often don’t include the ability to choose your own seat.
To help families navigate their rights — and avoid extra fees or a hectic in-flight scenario — the Department of Transportation (DOT) recently released guidelines regarding family seating on planes.
Each airline has its own specific policies regarding family seating. Some, like American Airlines, have a computer system that will recognize families who are traveling together (if they are on the same reservation).
“If seats are limited, [the airline] will try to assign seats so children under 15 are next to at least 1 adult on the same reservation record (which may result in adults in the party being separated),” according to the DOT.
But it is important to understand your airline’s unique policies before your flight.
The most general rule of the game is to be communicative with your airline. Most will try to help families sit together — as it usually helps cabin crew and fellow passengers when there’s an adult looking after a child.
Travelers can make seat reassignment easier by booking their family airfare on the same reservation to keep every member of your traveling party close. If you book through a third-party site, be sure to reach out to the airline directly — and as early as possible — and confirm your reservation.
If, on the day of your flight, your family still doesn’t have assigned seating next to each other, arrive early to the airport and explain your situation to gate agents. They may not be able to seat an entire family together, but they will most likely try to seat each child next to an adult in their family.
Some airlines, like Delta, will reserve and block “a limited number of seats prior to departure and will use the seats, as available, to accommodate family seating and other needs.”
And if there are any issues during your flight, you can report them afterward to the DOT.
But when it doubt, if sitting together is a non-negotiable for your family, the DOT recommends you don’t take the risk. Avoid a budget airline like Spirit or Frontier and just pay to reserve your seats together.