United Airlines to Ease Family Seating Fees

United Airlines has made changes to its seat-map tool that benefit families traveling with children under the age of 12.



February 21, 2023

DALLAS — On Monday, United Airlines (UA) announced that it had made changes to its seat-map tool that will allow children under the age of 12 to sit next to an adult at their party without a fee.

This new feature will include basic economy tickets, which require passengers to pay to pick a seat in advance. UA said the new technology would find adjacent economy seats available during booking and open up complimentary upgrades to other seats.

In instances where seats next to each other are unavailable, customers will be able to change flights so they will have adjacent seats in the same cabin for free. In these cases, UA will not charge a fee.

The airline added that more seating options would start appearing immediately, and the new technology would fully function by early March. The new family seating policy will not include United Polaris, First Class, and Economy Plus seats.

The new policy comes as government officials and regulators have called on airlines to stop charging extra for families that want to sit next to each other. This is part of the Biden administration's plan to stop junk fees by airlines.

In the summer of 2022, the United States Department of Transportation issued a statement to airlines insisting that they ensure children under 13 can sit next to an accompanying adult without an extra fee.

Photos: United Airlines

Seating Fees in the US

Most major airlines say that they already try to make sure that families can sit next to each other and do not specifically charge a fee for families to pick seats next to each other.

Years ago, US airlines introduced fees for passengers to receive seats in the economy cabin. Reserving seats next to each other can be very expensive when booking, especially when there are not enough complimentary seats available. Low-cost airlines have always charged all passengers to reserve or advance seat assignments.

Usually, US legacy carriers match competitors' moves, so with this new announcement by United, attention will turn to American Airlines (AA) and Delta Air Lines (DL) to see how they will respond, as was the case when UA announced that it would stop changing fees in 2020.

Both AA and DL matched UA and removed change fees as well, saying they have processes to ensure families can sit together without paying extra.

Featured image: United Airlines N27519 Boeing 737-9 MAX. Photo: Mateo Skinner/Airways