UPDATED on 3/1/23.
The short answer is “not all that often anymore.” But now at least two airlines now promise to seat families together for free – United and Frontier (both of which you can search and book right here on CheapAir.com).
But first, let’s look at how we got to the situation in which families have to pay for seats if they want to sit together. And we’ll also get into the nuts and bolts of other airlines seating families together.
Why do families generally have to pay to get seats together?
Why don’t airlines sit families together all the time? It’s not a policy directed at people with kids, but they do tend to take this one on the chin. Basically, airlines have by and large adopted an a la carte menu when it comes to selling seats on a plane. If you travel at all frequently, you know that a Basic Economy fare gets you just that – a seat, any seat on a plane. Choosing a seat has become an upgrade that you have to pay for, and a lot of people do. But families on a budget who have kids under 12, really seem to get the short end of the stick in this scenario.
How is it possible that small kids get assigned seats separately from their parents?
Every few months, it seems a passenger story goes viral after they were not seated with their very young child on a plane. There was even a case of a toddler who was sat with strangers on a flight a few months back.
Some budget travelers who are parents parents are taking their chances, purchasing Basic Economy seats, and assuming that when they get to the airport the airlines will seat their families together.
We know that airlines do try to seat families together. But these days, paying customers pony up sometimes hundreds of bucks for their seats on full flights. In this scenario, the airlines sometimes cannot incentivize other travelers to change seats to accommodate a family.
Which airlines promise to seat families together no matter what?
It turns out that United Airlines stepped up and made a bold move. The legacy airline recently announced that kids under the age of 12 will be able to sit with their parents free of charge, even if the tickets are Basic Economy.
A new seating assignment technology will automatically, dynamically assign parents and children in adjacent seats. The new booking technology is already live.
In cases where last minute bookings or unscheduled aircraft changes make the seating assignments impossible, United’s new policy permits the inconvenienced family to switch to another flight in the same cabin for free, with no additional charges (even if the new flight only has more expensive seats available.
After United introduced this new policy and technology, Frontier Airlines joined them in making the promise to seat children under the age of 14 with at least one family member or adult in their party. Frontier customers can also pre-pay to choose their own seats for a fee.
Why did United change its seating policy for families?
United’s new policy is sending a clear message across the industry that parents shouldn’t be forced to pay a premium just to sit with their own small children.
Traveling with kids is already stressful enough, and parents with small children face a unique set of issues and concerns. Additionally, in recent years, less people are willing to give up their seats as a favor to needy families. When you pay for a specific kind of seat (as more and more folks now do), you’re less likely to give it up as a favor. United is taking a gamble that this customer-focused positioning will garner them more loyalty and goodwill in an industry rife with cutthroat competition.
What does the federal government have to do with seating families together on flights?
Earlier this month, the Biden Administration announced a crackdown on “junk fees.” These are the charges that get tacked on to a variety of services and products without any sort of regulation. Some new legislation aims to eliminate some of these fees, and hold businesses accountable. United may see the writing on the wall, and make a conscious decision to be the leader.
What do the other airlines say about seating families together on the plane?
Most of the domestic airlines hold the opinion this isn’t much of a problem at all. American says their policy “allows families to sit together without having to pay extra,” but stops short of making promises. Instead, they encourage travelers to buy their tickets early, stating that “the farther in advance you book, the better.” So do how do other airlines feel about seating families together?
Delta’s website says “family seating” is available “on request,” and urges travelers to contact Reservations directly if they need assistance. Delta does keep a handful of seats open for families up to 48 hours prior to departures.
Southwest doesn’t have assigned seating at all – but does allow families to board in group A. Since Group A is the first group of passengers to board, they’re considered pretty family-friendly already.
For now, United and Frontier are the clear leaders in this space- introducing software to prioritize families, and changing policies to accommodate families with younger children. In the coming weeks and months, we’ll see which other airlines follow suit. Read more about children – specifically babies in first class here.
You can book United Airlines, Frontier Airlines and other airlines where you can seat your family together right here on CheapAir.com. Once you book your flight, let our team know that you’d like to sit your family together, so we can find the best option for you.