The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Office of Aviation Consumer Protection (OACP) is advising U.S. airlines to do everything possible to ensure that children under the age of 14 are seated next to their parents at no additional charge.
While the number of family seating complaints that the agency receives is relatively low compared to other types of complaints, officials believe that airlines are going too far when they charge travelers extra for child seating accommodations.
“Airlines should do everything that they can to ensure the ability of a young child (age 13 or younger) to be seated next to an accompanying adult (over age 13) family member or other accompanying adult, without charging fees for adjacent seating,” the Department stated.
Expectations and "what if" scenarios
The DOT is giving airlines a little time to get their act together on this issue. Beginning November 8, 2022, the Department will be monitoring airlines to ensure that carrier policies and practices do not create a hurdle to a young child being seated next to an adult family member or accompanying adult.
Parents traveling with children can also do some homework so that they know what their rights are regarding seating arrangements on flights. The DOT offers these two suggestions:
Understand your airline’s seating policies. Parents can get information about a specific airline’s family seating policies directly from the airline. ConsumerAffairs found that the U.S.’ four largest carriers -- Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, American Airlines, and Southwest Airlines -- all had that information on their websites. Consumers who need additional information can also contact the airline through its reservations system.
Book your ticket as early as possible. DOT officials say families should book their flights early to get the best chance of reserving seats next to each other. They note that children should be booked on the same reservation as adults because airlines generally regard all travelers as belonging to one party if they are on the same reservation record. That means they will assign seats with priority given to parents and children on the same reservation.
For cases in which parents and children are booked on different reservations, the DOT recommends that parents contact their airline as soon as possible to ask if the entire party can be put on the same reservation record or, at a minimum, have their reservations cross-referenced in the booking notes.
Since Murphy’s Law doesn’t exclude airlines, parents need to be ready if something goes wrong and the family is not able to obtain seats together. In those situations, the Department advises parents to ask the airline how it can accommodate the family. Again, the earlier this request is made, the better.
“Discuss with the airline your concerns about a child being seated alone,” the DOT advises. “Even if the airline is unable to seat the whole family together, they may be able to assure you that each child is seated next to an adult family member.”
The agency offers a list of contacts for consumers who might need to reach out to a specific airline. That list is available here.