Booking a Flight? Find Out Which Airlines Are Best For Family Travel

Under guidelines from the Transportation Department, these airlines have begun free family seating for those traveling with children.

Two little girls on an airplane
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Images By Tang Ming Tung / Getty

Traveling with children is hard enough with all the unknowns that can occur, but one thing that should be given is a reasonable accommodation for families flying with minor children.

Unfortunately, the majority of U.S.-based airlines make little to no provisions for families flying with minors which oftentimes leaves passengers scrambling at the last minute, or even on board to find reasonable seating close to their children.

With everything being shared on the internet these days, there have been several viral posts with passengers sharing how they've been "inconvenienced" by a family wanting to sit together. Some have even flat-out said no, not wanting to exchange their window seat for a middle seat, for example. One poster asked, "Why were you so eager to sit next to a stranger’s toddler daughter?"

Government Steps in To Help Families

Whatever side of the plane aisle you sit on, we can all agree airlines should have policies in place to ensure parents aren't separated from their young children when booking tickets together. While the Department of Transportation (DOT) has issued guidance recommending airlines change their policy to allow for incidents such as these to stop occurring; only a few airlines have changed their customer service plans to comply with the new guidelines.

The guidelines that were released by the Department of Transportation's Office of Aviation Consumer Protection (OACP) state:

"The Department 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."

The Department has taken it a step further by providing an online chart showing families which airlines have guaranteed parents receive "fee-free" seating next to their young children. In order for an airline to get that green checkmark from the DOT, they need to guarantee children ages 13 and younger can sit with their parents for free if seats are available when they book. The airline also has to include that guarantee in its customer service plan.

Which Airlines Allow Families to Sit Together For Free?

Although it has been a few months since the DOT released its guidelines, the majority of U.S. airlines have failed to update their customer service plans to provide fee-free seating for families. In fact, only three airlines meet the standards for the green checkmark.

Ahead of making summer travel plans, here are some of the airlines you should look into if traveling with children 14 and younger.

  • American Airlines: According to American Airlines updated customer service plan, "Our goal is to have families seated together. We guarantee children 14 and under will be seated adjacent to an accompanying adult at no additional cost, including Basic Economy fares." There are a few requirements such as being on the same reservation and the aircraft being large enough to accommodate adjacent seating, but the end of their policy reads "If these conditions aren't met, we will still try to seat children adjacent to an accompanying adult."
  • Alaska Airlines: Similar to American Airlines, Alaska's policy guarantees "that children 13 and under will be seated next to at least one accompanying adult at no additional cost, including for Saver fares". The policy goes on to state that their programming is automatically designed to detect passengers under the age of 13 and will assign children seats next to an accompanying adult within the same party. Seats are assigned within 26 hours of a flight's scheduled departure and Alaska encourages passengers to contact customer service or an airport agent to review available seating options for families.
  • Frontier Airlines: Frontier may get a lot of flack for being a "budget airline" but they are amongst the three airlines that have guaranteed fee-free seating for families. The policy states that while you may not receive a seat assignment upon booking, you will have one "no later than the day before the scheduled departure of the flight."
  • United Airlines: While United Airlines' family seating policy doesn't meet all of the requirements to get a green check on the Department of Transportation's chart, they do have a newly released family seating policy in place. The new seat map technology "dynamically finds available adjacent seats at the time of booking. The online seat engine first reviews all available free Economy seats and then opens complimentary upgrades to available Preferred Seats, if needed," the airline shared in a news release. It also states, "In instances when adjacent seats are not available prior to travel...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."

As of the date of publication, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, Allegiant Air, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, and Spirit Airlines have not agreed to guarantee fee-free seating for families. According to a recent report from Forbes, it'll cost parents anywhere from $10-$50 to book a seat next to their child—depending on the airline.

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