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KIYC: United Airlines announces new policies to keep families flying with children sitting together

Airline policies that sometimes separated families were the subject of a previous Kane In Your Corner investigation.

Walt Kane

Feb 24, 2023, 3:42 AM

Updated 511 days ago


There is good news for parents traveling with young children. United Airlines has announced new policies aimed at making it easier for families to be seated together, even if they purchase the cheapest tickets. Airline policies that sometimes separated families were the subject of a previous Kane In Your Corner investigation.
In 2018, Kane In Your Corner spoke with Liling Pang, a mom of three young children. She attempted to purchase seats together. When she got to the airport, she was informed that the flight had been rebooked and the family could no longer have adjacent seats. Pang said the trip was nerve-wracking because she wondered what might happen in an emergency.
Pang’s story was not unusual. Kane In Your Corner found that at the time, the major United States airlines had adopted policies stating that basic economy seats did not come with guaranteed seat assignments. The only way parents could ensure they’d be seated with their young children was to pay $50 to $100 more per ticket. The policy was criticized by parents and passengers’ rights groups alike.
It took a few years, but things are finally changing.
This week, United Airlines unveiled new tools it says will allow families with kids under 12 to sit together, even if it requires a free upgrade from basic economy. If the plane is too booked to allow adjacent seating, United says starting next month, passengers with kids will have the option to switch flights at no charge, even if the seats on the second flight would be more expensive.
Frontier Airlines followed United’s lead with a similar announcement, stating that its reservation system will now scan passengers’ ages automatically and will try to seat kids under 14 with at least one parent. American says its system will do the same for kids under 15.
The Family Travel Association, which pushed for more family-friendly policies, says it’s a step in the right direction, but more may need to be done.
“I think for now, it's great to have them voluntarily do this,” says Kenneth Shapiro of the FTA. “But it is an important issue. And if we start seeing it roll back, then I could imagine the government getting involved.”
That may already be happening. United unveiled its new policy less than two weeks after President Joe Biden called out the airline industry during his State of the Union address and urged Congress to pass a Junk Fee Prevention Act.
“Baggage fees are bad enough – they can’t just treat your child like a piece of luggage,” the president said.
For parents, the stakes couldn't be higher. The U.S. Department of Transportation says reports of in-flight sexual assault have skyrocketed in the past decade – from 38 incidents in 2014 to 119 in 2019. Some victims have been as young as 8.
Here are the family travel seating policies for Amerioca’s largest airlines. Information was taken from airline websites, recent airline news releases, or both.
“Alaska strives to seat family members together upon request. If you are unable to obtain seat assignments together for your family, we will make every effort to seat at least one adult with any young child (age 12 and under) from the same party.”
“While we will do our best to accommodate families, the availability of seats together cannot be guaranteed.”
“If you’re unable to choose seats, don’t want to pay for seats, or chose a Basic Economy fare, our system will detect that you’re a family traveling. The system will search for seats together automatically before the day of departure. We’ll try our best to keep you together, but if seats are limited, we’ll assign seats so children under 15 are next to at least 1 adult.”
Delta says it “strives to seat family members together upon request.”
Frontier announced this week that its system should automatically check ages and seat kids under 14 with at least one parent. The change is not yet reflected on Frontier’s website.
Southwest has no assigned seating. But the airline says it offers priority boarding to parents with children under 6.
“We will always do our best to seat children with an adult family member.” 
“Spirit will randomly assign you a seat at check-in for free, but we can't guarantee that you'll get to sit with your friends or family. If Guests with children aged 13 and under do not opt to pre-select seats at the time of booking, our gate agents and Flight Attendants will work to provide adjacent seats when possible.”
United says starting in March its “online seat engine (will) first review all available free Economy seats and then open complimentary upgrades to available Preferred Seats, if needed.” United says “in instances when adjacent seats are not available prior to travel - due to things like last minute bookings, full flights or unscheduled aircraft changes – United's new policy also lets customers switch for free to a flight to the same destination with adjacent seat availability in the same cabin. Customers also won't be charged if there is a difference in fare price between the original and new flight.”
If you have a consumer question or a story that needs to be investigated, click HERE to see how you can get Kane in Your Corner.

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