Only 3 airlines guarantee parents can sit next to their children for free, new DOT dashboard shows

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Only 3 airlines guarantee parents can sit next to their children for free, new DOT dashboard shows
A mother and daughter during meal time on a flight from Paris to New York.Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images
  • The DOT released a new dashboard Monday tracking which airlines offer family-friendly seating.
  • Alaska, American, and Frontier guarantee children under 13 can sit next to an accompanying adult for free.
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The US Department of Transportation on Monday published an online dashboard that specifies which airlines guarantee that children under the age of 13 can sit next to an accompanying adult for free.

The new resource is the agency's latest effort to push airlines to improve their commitments to passengers in light of the widespread travel chaos that has plagued the industry since the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Parents traveling with young kids should be able to sit together without an airline forcing them to pay junk fees," Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement.

Alaska, American, and Frontier are the only US airlines that currently guarantee parents can sit next to their children without paying extra fees, according to the tracker.

To receive a "green check" on the dashboard, the airline must guarantee that parents can sit next to their kids for free if adjacent seats are available during booking and they must include that guarantee in their customer service plan.

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Only 3 airlines guarantee parents can sit next to their children for free, new DOT dashboard shows
Alaska, American, and Frontier guarantee children under 13 can sit next to an accompanying adult for free.US Department of Transportation

Delta, which was marked as not meeting the DOT's family seating standards, told Insider it does not charge family seating fees and works with customers on a case-by-case basis to ensure parents can sit next to their children.

United recently improved its family seating policies to make it easier for families to sit next to children under the age of 12. If adjacent seats are not available, customers can switch to a flight to the same destination with adjacent seat availability in the same cabin without being charged additional fees or for the difference in fare price.

Sonya Padgett, an Allegiant spokesperson, told Insider that the DOT dashboard is "misleading," noting that the airline only received six family-seating complaints out of 17 million passengers in 2022.

"When customers with children check in for their flights, they are almost always assigned seats together. If they're not, they can mention it at the ticket counter and an agent will adjust their seats," Padgett said. "If a family happens to board and they're not seated next to a parent, our flight attendants will move passengers to ensure they are."

A spokesperson for Hawaiian Airlines to Insider that the carrier has "always had robust processes in place to ensure that families are seated together" and noted that families who book Main Cabin Basic fares will not have access to seat selection at the time of booking, but can request adjacent seats or alternative flights on the day of travel.

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Southwest maintains an "open seating policy" that allows passengers to choose any available seat once they are onboard the aircraft. The airline does not charge seat assignment fees and boards passengers based on their time of check-in.

"To assist families with sitting together, Southwest offers Family Boarding, which occurs after the "A" group has boarded and before the "B" group begins boarding," a Southwest spokesperson told Insider. "Up to two adults traveling with a child, or children, six years old or younger may board during Family Boarding to select their preferred seats. For families with children ages 7 and older, parents can seek assistance from a Flight Attendant for help with finding a seat adjacent to their child."

Spirit and JetBlue did not respond to requests for comment.

The dashboard strategy

Only 3 airlines guarantee parents can sit next to their children for free, new DOT dashboard shows
"The dashboard will serve as a bridge to help families while the Department advances a rulemaking to ensure airlines seat young children adjacent to a parent or other accompanying adult," the DOT says.AP Photo/John Minchillo

With a lack of federal legislation protecting the rights of passengers, the DOT has turned to naming and shaming airlines over their customer service policies, including offering hotel vouchers during delays and reimbursing passengers for canceled flights.

The tactic appears to be working so far. As of a month ago, no major US airline guaranteed fee-free family seating, the DOT says. Before the dashboard's launch, American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and Frontier Airlines each adjusted their policies to ensure parents can sit with their children free of charge, according to the agency.

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After the DOT released its first dashboard in August highlighting airlines' varying flight reimbursement policies, multiple carriers changed their existing policies, as Insider previously reported.

"Prior to [Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg's] urging, none of the 10 largest U.S. airlines guaranteed meals or hotels when a delay or cancellation was within the airlines' control, and only one offered free rebooking," the agency said in a statement. "Now, all 10 airlines guarantee meals and rebooking, and nine guarantee hotels when an airline issue causes a cancellation or delay."

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