DOT Launches Passenger Guide to Family Seating on Airlines

The new dashboard highlights which major U.S. airlines guarantee fee-free family seating for children who are 13 years old or younger.

Interior of an empty airplane cabin

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The Department of Transportation launched an online family seating dashboard on Monday, laying out policies of 10 U.S. airlines as several carriers have committed to seating young children with a parent or guardian.

The new dashboard highlights which major U.S. airlines guarantee fee-free family seating for children who are 13 years old or younger, according to the DOT.

“Parents traveling with young kids should be able to sit together without an airline forcing them to pay junk fees,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement. “We have been pressing airlines to guarantee family seating without tacking on extra charges, and now we’re seeing some airlines start to make this common-sense change. All airlines should do this promptly, even as we move forward to develop a rule establishing this as a requirement across the board.”  

So far, only American Airlines, Frontier Airlines, and Alaska Airlines have committed to the DOT to offer free family seating by including the guarantee as part of their customer service plans. 

For its part, Alaska Airlines told Travel + Leisure on Monday that the carrier has always “prioritized sitting families together,” but now has gone a step further to “guarantee” it as long as the child and parent are booked on the same reservation and other conditions are met.

While other carriers haven’t added free family seating to their customer service plans in the same way, some have offered similar promises to make it easier for families to sit together, including United Airlines.

Delta Air Lines offers its own version of a dynamic seat map that blocks off certain rows in the main cabin so only groups of three or more people traveling together can book them. And in December, Southwest said it will start testing a new pilot program that will allow families with children to pre-board the plane first.

In addition to showing which airlines offer free family seating, the dashboard details the limited conditions in which those seats can be guaranteed and links to each airline’s customer service plan. The DOT also offers tips for families when traveling and information on how to file a complaint with an airline or the department if necessary.

This is the second airline policy dashboard the DOT has introduced. Last year, the department created a website detailing policies on cancellations and delays.

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