For families, one of the major hassles of airline travel is when parents aren’t able to sit with their kids on flights. Not only is this an inconvenience and potentially an extra charge to the wallet, but it could be a safety issue as well.
To remedy this common travel situation, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DoT) has been pushing the airline industry to mandate fee-free family seating for parents traveling with children.
In this article, we’ll show you the U.S. airlines that offer fee-free family seating and how the DoT is helping travelers find the latest information about family seating aboard planes. We’ll also show you the family seating policies of the major international airlines.
U.S. Launches Airline Family Seating Dashboard
The DoT recently introduced a Family Seating dashboard that shows which airlines offer fee-free family seating. There you can select individual airlines or all of them to see which carriers have fallen in line (green check mark) with the DoT’s guidance on fee-free family seating and those who have not (red “X”).
Screenshot via transportation.gov
According to the DoT, the agency “is not satisfied with airline statements that they will ‘make efforts’ to seat families traveling with children together at no additional cost. The Department urges all airlines to guarantee family seating.”
What Is Fee-Free Family Plane Seating?
The agency defines fee-free family seating based on the following criteria as listed on Transportation.gov:
- Child and accompanying adult are on the same reservation;
- Adjacent seats are available at the time of booking in the selected class of service;
- Aircraft is not substituted for smaller aircraft;
- Adult either chooses seats for the entire reservation or skips seats for the entire reservation, and does not make changes to seat assignments once assigned to them; and
- It is physically possible based on seat layout to seat the number of young children traveling next to the accompanying adult(s).
Money expert Clark Howard is all for the DoT’s plan to get the airlines on board with family seating without the junk fees, but he says the carriers’ policies are all over the place right now.
“This is so overdue,” says Clark, who recently addressed the issue on his podcast. “The airlines are each coming up with their own system – which seems kind of haphazard – to see that families are not separated and that children don’t end up sitting next to strangers.”
For example, Delta Air Lines’ family seating policy states: “Delta strives to seat family members together upon request. If you are unable to obtain seat assignments together for your family using delta.com or the Fly Delta mobile app, please contact Reservations to review available seating options.”
In contrast, the family seating policy for Southwest Airlines allows families to board between the “A” and “B” groups. Southwest says it will “endeavor” to seat minors with their parents. “There should be enough open seats to enable the child to sit next to at least one accompanying adult.” it says on Southwest.com.
What U.S. Airlines Offer Fee-Free Family Plane Seating?
As of June 2023, three major carriers – Alaska Airlines, American Airlines and Frontier Airlines — have complied with the DoT’s guidelines to guarantee adjacent seats for children 13 or under and an accompanying adult at no additional cost. Here are the family seating policies for the major U.S. airlines:
Airline Family Seating Policy In compliance With DoT
Alaska Airlines The airline says, meeting certain conditions, "We guarantee that children 13 and under will be seated next to at least one accompanying adult at no additional cost, including for Saver fares." Yes
Allegiant Air Allegiant's website says, "While we will do our best to accommodate families, the availability of seats together cannot be guaranteed." Not Yet
American Airlines AA's Customer Service Plan, which comes with some conditions, says, "We guarantee children 14 and under will be seated adjacent to an accompanying adult at no additional cost, including Basic Economy fares." Yes
Delta Air Lines Delta’s website says the airline strives to seat families together “upon request." The airline's app and website also have a seat map tool that shows you adjacent seats during booking. Not Yet
Frontier Airlines Frontier Airlines says it automatically seats children with a family member or adult in their party. Yes
Hawaiian Airlines Hawaiian Airline’s website says, “If you are traveling with an infant or child, please contact our Reservations department to make your infant or child reservation." Not Yet
JetBlue Airways JetBlue's website says, "We always want to make sure that the family that travels together sits together, so our Blue, Blue Plus and Blue Extra fares let you choose your seats in advance without an extra charge. Please note that Blue Basic fares are subject to a fee for seat selection more than 24 hours before your flight and may not be the best value for those traveling with kids." Not Yet
Spirit Airlines Spirit.com says you can pay for pre-selected seats, but "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." Not Yet
Southwest Airlines Southwest’s family seating policy allows families to board between the “A” and “B” groups. Southwest says it will “endeavor” to seat minors with their parents and, “There should be enough open seats to enable the child to sit next to at least one accompanying adult.” Not Yet
United Airlines United has a seat map tool that shows you adjacent seats at the time of online booking. Its website says, "If seats next to each other aren’t available on your flight because of last minute bookings or unscheduled aircraft changes, you can switch to another flight with availability in the same cabin for free and won’t be charged for the difference in fare." Not Yet
What International Airlines Offer Fee-Free Family Plane Seating?
When it comes to international airlines, they don’t have an agency leaning on them to create a uniform family seating policy. As a result, many of their respective family plane seating policies state that the airlines will make an attempt to seat families together, but there are no guarantees.
|Airline||Family Seating Policy|
|Air Canada||AirCanada.com says, “When you book your flight online, indicate that you are travelling with children, and we will assign generic seats in proximity to each other for you and your children before check-in.” The airline says you can also contact Reservations to change your booking to another flight or cancel your trip, all at no extra charge.|
|All Nippon Airways||The airline’s website offers pre-assigned seats for a fee.|
|British Airways||The British Airways website says, “To ensure your family has the best seats when you fly, we recommend choosing yours in advance when you book. There may be an additional fee for this.”|
|KLM||KLM’s website says, “If you would like to ensure that all members of your family get to sit together, you can reserve your seats for a small fee during the booking process.”|
|Korean Air||Korean Air’s website says although advance seat selection is generally available for personalized seating, “on some Economy Class seats on international flights, the advance seat selection service is offered for a fee.”|
|Lufthansa / Swiss Air||Lufthansa’s website says, “We recommend that you reserve your seats in advance when you make your flight booking. Economy Class passengers can reserve seats on all flights operated by Lufthansa and Lufthansa Regional for a fee.”|
|Qantas Airways||The Qantas website says, “Travelling with your family is a great experience and we strive to seat families together whenever possible. To select your seats after you’ve booked, visit Manage booking. Standard seat selection is free on domestic flights and for selected travellers on international flights.”|
|Virgin Australia/Virgin Atlantic||Virgin Australia’s website says, “We try to seat Unaccompanied Minors together near the Cabin Crew work areas. We also aim to seat Unaccompanied Minors next to a vacant seat, however this will be determined on the day of travel.”|
The DoT says it will update the dashboard periodically to let air travelers know which airlines have fee-free family plane seating.
As for the U.S. carriers that are in compliance with the DoT’s family seating plan, note that there are conditions to the airlines’ guarantees. That means that before you book a flight with a family-seating friendly airline, read up on their respective policies — as well as their baggage fees — so that you are fully informed and can save when you travel.