Under Pressure, Some Airlines to Cut Family Seating Fees

March 6, 2023

Three major air carriers agreed to commit in writing to eliminating family seating fees if adjacent seats are available during booking, the Department of Transportation (DOT) said Monday. 

American Airlines, Alaska Airlines and Frontier Airlines are expected to include the guarantee in customer service plans. 

“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,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement.

The move comes after President Biden attacked “junk fees” imposed by numerous industries during this year’s State of the Union address.

“[W]e’ll prohibit airlines from charging $50 round trip for a family just to be able to sit together,” Biden promised during his February 7 speech before Congress. “Baggage fees are bad enough. Airlines can’t treat your child like a piece of baggage.”

Biden followed up with a Tweet this past Tuesday calling on other airlines to “follow suit” after American Airlines committed to fee-free family seating.

The commitments also come after a four-month review by the DOT that found not a single U.S. airline had guaranteed family seating without fees. 

The DOT is unveiling a new government dashboard that includes commitments for fee-free family seating as well as controllable cancellations and controllable delays.

To receive a dashboard green check, airlines must guarantee parents can sit next to children age 13 and younger without being charged additional fees if seats are available at booking. Carriers that do not honor written commitments can face federal enforcement.

Delta Air Lines on Tuesday said it “does not charge family seating fees” and regardless of the ticket class will work with customers to “ensure their family seating needs are met.”  

United Airlines, meanwhile, said it would make it easier for children under 12 to sit next to an adult by using a new seat map that locates available adjacent seats at booking.

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