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A family-based online petition to American, Delta and United airlines has gained more than 88,000 signatures in an effort to make airlines seat families together for free. 

As airlines drop seat assignments from their basic offerings, many families are showing up at the airport to find that children have been assigned seats far away from their parents, prompting Consumer Reports to launch the petition asking the airlines to “put safety over profits, and seat children with their families without charging them extra for it.”

In 2016, the Department of Transportation (DOT) was supposed to review airline family seating policies, but instead of passing new regulations, the agency added a section to its website offering advice for families on how to sit together. The advice was basically: if sitting together is important for your family, pay the airline’s fees. 

In customer complaints uncovered by Consumer Reports, less than one percent of the complaints the DOT received from June 2016 through May 2017 were related to families being split up on the airplane. However, many of the complaints were related to families being separated from toddlers, sometimes as young as two years old. 

"If you and your spouse are separated on the plane and there's an emergency, you can both take care of yourselves,” Anna Laitin, director of financial policy at Consumer Reports, told USA Today. "If there's an emergency on the plane and my child is 10 rows away, I am going to disrupt the plane to get to my child.''

In response to the petition, airlines have begun releasing their family policies.

A spokesperson for United told USA Today that the airline automatically scans reservations for families traveling with children to find unassigned seats and attempt to group them together before check-in, whenever possible. American Airlines has a similar policy for families traveling together on the same reservation.

Delta Air Lines keeps a block of seats available for groups of three or more traveling together.  

Families who are unable to confirm seating together at the time of booking should contact their airline as soon as possible and alert them that they will be traveling with children. 

Consumer Reports will testify in front of Congress on March 3 about airline family seating policies and other travel issues.