A new United Airlines policy cuts ‘family seating fees.’

  • A new United Airlines policy will make it cheaper for families to fly together.
  • The Biden administration has urged airlines to reform their policies.
  • United Airlines says customers will start to see more adjacent seat options immediately. 

United Airlines is rolling out a new policy that will make it easier for children to sit next to an accompanying adult for no extra charge.

On Monday, the company said it has made changes that allows adults to sit next to children younger than 12-years-old without paying an additional cost. The seat-map tool customers use when booking will first look for adjacent lower-priced “Economy” seats, but will offer “complimentary upgrades to available Preferred seats” if needed.  

The policy change includes customers who purchase Basic Economy tickets, which generally have more restrictions on seat selection.

“Customers traveling with children under 12 will start to see more adjacent seat options immediately and the complete policy change will go into effect in early March,” the company said in a press release

The move could in part be a response to the Biden administration’s efforts to crack down on what it calls “junk fees,” fees that are designed to deceive customers, aren’t revealed until after the purchase, or target consumers with limited alternative options. The administration says these include surprise overdraft fees, hotel resort fees, and event ticket processing fees.

Last July, the Department of Transportation issued a notice to airlines urging them to do “everything in their power to ensure that children who are age 13 or younger are seated next to an accompanying adult with no additional charge.” Earlier this month, the White House called on Congress to “fast-track the ban on family seating fees.”

Most airlines, including United, say they already take steps to ensure families can sit together, whether it be during the booking process or at the gate. Additionally, last year’s DOT’s notice said the department receives a “low number of complaints from consumers about family seating.” That said, United’s policy shift suggests there was room for improvement when it comes to accommodating families. 

It remains to be seen whether other major US airlines will take similar steps. When United eliminated some ticket-change fees in 2020, for instance, American and Delta quickly followed.

United said it’s planning to roll out more “family-friendly features” this year but did not say what they will be. 

“In an era where more families are working in a hybrid environment, they’re traveling more often – and they’re flying United,” Linda Jojo, Chief Customer Officer for United, said in the release. “We’re focused on delivering a great experience for our younger passengers and their parents and know it often starts with the right seat.”

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