Airlines have made it more and more difficult to be seated next to your travel companion for free.
On basic economy fares there are no free advanced seat assignments, though you may be seated together at checkin.
But even on standard fares, more and more seats are becoming assignable only for payment unless you have elite status.
It’s also worth noting that even when you are seated together, plane swaps or IT glitches can occur that separate your seats, so you should always check on your reservations regularly to watch for seat swaps or flight changes.
The DOT’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection isn’t happy about airlines refusing to offer free seating for families with kids ages 13 and younger so that they can sit together.
They note that while there haven’t been many complaints, they are especially unhappy about complaints received about infants that haven’t been able to get a seat next to a parent without an extra charge. In one complaint where an 11 month old and 4 year were seated by themselves, the airline responded to a DOT complaint stating that the DOT hadn’t put any directives into place about family seating. Another case that the DOT cites is a parent who complained that their 6 year old was seated separately and that the child’s seatmate proceeded to watch an R rated movie, which the airline did not dispute had occurred.
The DOT sent this notice to airlines that they have 4 months to fix things on their own, or else the DOT may take action to ensure young children receive assigned seats next to their parents at no additional charge.
They say that, “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 DOT says that it “has determined that it is appropriate for each U.S. airline providing scheduled passenger service to have and implement a policy that enables a child, who is age 13 or under on the date an applicable flight is scheduled to occur, to be seated in a seat adjacent to the seat of an adult family member or other accompanying adult over the age of 13, to the maximum extent practicable and at no additional cost.”
They are asking airlines to allow families to assign seats for free on all fares, so that children 13 or under are always seated next to someone in their party.
The DOT clarifies that this policy does not have to extend to provide seats with extra legroom if all regular economy seats are assigned.
Notably, the DOT specifically says that the free family seating policy should apply even if basic economy fares are purchased.
The DOT also states that airlines with an open seating policy, such as Southwest, should allow families with young children to board early enough so that they will have seats together or they must block off seats for families with young children.
If you have a flight booking with children 13 and under, be sure to reach out to your airline now for free seating assignments. Should the airline refuse to provide that, you should immediately file a DOT complaint against the airline.
The DOT will contact the airline based on your complaint to work out a resolution and those complaints will let the DOT know if they should be setting up regulations in case the airlines won’t make their own policies for family seating.
It’s worth noting that Breeze Airways offers free family seating, even on their equivalent of basic economy fares. We’ll see if other airlines match that.
Have you been refused free seat assignments next to your children on a flight?