The U.S. Department of Transportation launched an online dashboard Monday that allows passengers to see which airlines guarantee fee-free family seating. It’s the latest initiative by the Biden administration to push for more consumer protections in the airline industry.
So far, only three airlines — Alaska Airlines, American Airlines and Frontier Airlines — have guaranteed family seating without any additional charges.
Now, families can use the dashboard to see which airlines ensure family seating without a fee for children who are 13 years old or younger, with green checks denoting that the airline does meet the DOT requirements. Currently, the majority of U.S. airlines on the dashboard have a red “X,” meaning they do not meet the requirements.
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The dashboard may now also influence families on which airline to book. Securing seats together has been a troublesome issue, with seat-assignment fees sometimes forcing families to spend hundreds of dollars to make sure they can sit next to their young children.
“Parents traveling with young kids should be able to sit together without an airline forcing them to pay junk fees,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. “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.”
For an airline to receive a green check on the dashboard, it must guarantee that parents can sit next to children age 13 or younger for free if there are adjacent seats at the time of booking. The airline also must include the family seating guarantee in its customer service plan, so it can be “backstopped by USDOT enforcement if they fail to deliver,” according to the department.
The family seating dashboard comes after the DOT initiated a four-month-long review that found none of the major U.S. airlines guarantee family seating in their customer service plans, following a DOT-issued notice in July that said airlines must ensure children who are 13 years old or younger are seated next to at least one accompanying adult. The DOT hopes the dashboard will pressure airlines to amend their family seating policies.
Ever since President Joe Biden admonished airlines in his State of the Union address for charging what his administration views as exorbitant ancillary fees for services like checked baggage and seating, family seating has become a hot topic within the airline industry.
United Airlines recently made headlines for revamping its family seating policy, which allows families with children under the age of 12 to sit together for free in certain cabins. However, United’s policy now doesn’t meet the DOT requirements. A spokesperson for United said the carrier does not plan to roll out any changes to the policy in the future, adding that it believes it is the only carrier that is publicly committed to seating children next to a parent at the time of booking.
Frontier followed suit shortly after United, but since Frontier’s policy extended to children under the age of 14, it was able to meet the DOT requirements. American’s policy also includes children under 14 years old.
Alaska ensures that children age 13 and under can sit next to an accompanying adult at no additional cost.
However, some airlines have pushed back on the notion that they don’t meet the new requirements on the DOT dashboard. A spokesperson for Delta Air Lines said the carrier already has policies in place to ensure children 13 years old and under can be seated next to a family member or accompanying adult. At ultra-low-cost carrier Allegiant, a spokesperson characterized the DOT family dashboard as “misleading,” saying that the carrier’s policy is to always seat a child next to a parent or guardian during flight.
Southwest Airlines said it never charges extra to seat children next to a parent or guardian, and that the airline offers family boarding, which lets families with children age 6 and under board between boarding groups A and B. For children who are age 7 and older, a spokesperson for Southwest said parents can seek assistance from flight attendants in finding adjacent seats.
Beyond the dashboard, the DOT said it is also working to implement a rule making it mandatory for airlines to seat young children next to an accompanying adult. The Biden administration also plans to send legislation related to the matter to Congress in the coming weeks.