United Airlines is getting a jump on potential regulatory action by making it easier for families to sit together at no charge, even on basic economy fares. It’s a shrewd move from United Airlines.
New Family Seating Policy At United Airlines Seeks To Keep Families Together
After President Biden railed against airlines for charging families more to sit together, United Airlines has taken a proactive approach to help families sit together at no extra charge, even on basic economy tickets.
United offers three types of seating in economy class: Economy Plus (which includes extra legroom for a fee), Preferred (seats are closer to the front of the cabin and also carry a fee), and standard seats. Typically the “Preferred” seats carry a slight uncharge ($15-40) over standard seats.
United will now release these seats at no extra charge to families with travelers under 12 when there are no more adjacent standard seats together.
Technology is also in place to monitor seat maps and keep families seated together when there are schedule changes and aircraft swaps.
Linda Jojo, United’s Chief Customer Officer, described the new policy as reactive to the changing nature of travel:
“In an era where more families are working in a hybrid environment, they’re traveling more often – and they’re flying United. We’re focused on delivering a great experience for our younger passengers and their parents and know it often starts with the right seat. We look forward to rolling out more family-friendly features this year.”
This is a smart move because families with young children do care about seating and because when this is not sorted in advance, it becomes more awkward and time-consuming when gate agents or flight attendants or even the passengers themselves are forced to find a solution onboard. After all, a four-year-old should not be seated between two strangers, even if the family books last-minute seats.
Holding back certain seats and using technology to, in essence, force seating together represents a far smarter way of handling this recurring issue.
United will begin unrolling this new initiative in March 2023.
A Way To “Game” The System?
What particularly caught my attention was the promised ability to switch to another flight at no charge in order to secure seats next to one another:
In instances when adjacent seats are not available prior to travel – due to things like last minute bookings, full flights or unscheduled aircraft changes – 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. Customers also won’t be charged if there is a difference in fare price between the original and new flight.
In most instances, busier flights are going to be more expensive and are less likely to have adjacent seats open. But there will be times in which earlier or later flights might be cheaper and yet full in the back while pricier “prime-time” flights might have more seating available.
It will be interesting to see if United now blocks any seats for families in advance, such that (potentially) certain rows will only be assignable if there is a traveler on the reservation less than 12 years old. That could be a way to prevent gaming.
The Basic Economy Problem
I argued earlier why I don’t think families have a reasonable demand to purchase basic economy tickets and sit together, since the very nature and purpose of such fares is to unbundle everything beyond a(n unassigned) seat and personal item.
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Asking families to pay more to sit together may not be good politics, but I find great utility in offering no-frills, “basic” economy tickets and therefore I would have exempted basic economy fares from this policy (especially since warnings about seating are so prevalent when booking these sorts of tickets).
There’s no denying, however, that this policy will be well-received by United customers and the current Administration.
United Airlines is making it easier for families to sit together as the Biden Administration considers regulations that might mandate such action. By jumping out in front of any regulatory action, United shrewdly burnishes its customer-friendly reputation and likely adds a technological feature that its competitors cannot even offer right now.
Finally, it should be noted that United’s mobile app and entire booking platform is impressive. The carrier has invested a lot of money into its IT and this new family seating policy is only possible because United’s systems are leaps and bounds ahead of many competitors. That is a testament to CEO Scott Kirby’s vision and I give him credit for pouring millions of dollars into technology that empowers passengers to assert more control over their own journey. This is money well-spent.
image: United Airlines
In instances when adjacent seats are not available prior to travel – due to things like last minute bookings, full flights or unscheduled aircraft changes –
..will this translate to even more musical chair events/drama/delays for gate agents and FAs?
Why can’t they just get the seats together at the time of booking? Obviously, these are uninformed consumers. The Government and airlines should not be wasting their time and money just because Uncle Bob and aunt Sally are cheap and can’t spend the time to select seats together.
“…families with travelers under 12…”
It sounds like Uncle Bob and Aunt Sally would still – rightfully so – be out of luck :).
This is an outrage! Someone that’s not me is getting something! I’m boycotting this woke airline, bring back Trump airlines!
Trump Air sounds safest right now and they might need bartenders.
Darn right. Just like Trump Force One, the whole fleet would be 30 year old planes, so you know they have experience, and when they need new parts, they will be out of commission for years so you know the job is getting done right!
Thirty year old fleets, you mean Delta? United?
They have some classics, but too many new woke “green” airplanes. I want my planes to burn as much gas as possible. If they could get the plane to roll coal I would be a customer for life
Anything is possible with The Ukraine.
Entertaining satire, but perhaps a bit too overt? 🙂
Stop hitting on me, Elon!
Yea – that satire is as funny as Joe trying to complete a sentence as our Dictator in chief.
Definitely something that the best airline in the solar system would do. Not even sure why AA and DL is in business after this unprecedented move by the genius Scott Kirby.
Time for airlines to designate the last few rows in coach as Family Seats and for Preboards. We’ll see real fast how many families suddenly don’t need to preboard or sit together.
Interesting theory. I’d be willing to try it!
I recently took a trip with my family and another family on WN with a total of 4 small kids between us, and even with Alist boarding we all went straight to the back. It made messing with car seats much easier during boarding, and getting off the plane last was so much less stressful than rushing with all our junk with 100 impatient people behind us.
As a parent of a toddler, I’ll disagree on this. I never cared about early boarding before having kids (or flying solo) and dont mind sitting separate from my wife if something came up. When traveling with a two year old and bringing a carseat on the plane to install while our son might try running down the aisle, having pre-boarding helps both me and the other seats my kid isnt bothering for a few moments. We’re also among the last off the plane anyway since packing up thhe carseat takes up space and time so last row works just fine. We’ve only had a kid during Covid but having flown probably 7 carriers both foreign and domestic we’ve had nothing but good experiences whether in economy or business.
There’s another angle to this, it’s becoming harder and harder to hire gate agents. When you talk to gate agents one of the top things they hate to deal with are family meltdowns due to not being able to seat kids with their parents. This will slightly improve job satisfaction from that work group.
This is going to be a lot of fun when the once-a-year family flyers discover that they need to pay a substantial amount of money in order to sit together because they are flying a codeshare, have been accommodated on another airline due to IROPS, hold a ticket which has been issued on the ‘wrong’ ticket stock and so on.
Forgot to mention the airport staff who haven’t been briefed on policies. Only yesterday I had a mini argument with a check in agent who didn’t know that Skyteam Elite status gives extra luggage allowance. The agent then referred this to her supervisor who also didn’t know it and started going through a really thick folder with all the airline procedures before I showed her the Skyteam website on my phone. Thankfully she was very sensible and sent me on my way after taking a photo of the phone – the airline in question has 3-4 flights a day from that airport!
Photo of the phone (lol)..to send to Delta’s training dept?
It was Aeroméxico – I expect that such a move would be too sensible for a DL station manager!
Got it, thank you.
About damn time. I’ve flown dozens of times cross country with my now two year old. And on every single one of those flights I was shocked by the kindness and helpfulness of total strangers. Truly. EXCEPT on a United flight I took from chicago to seattle last year. I had to book last minute bc my mom was sick and there weren’t two seats together in any class. I tried to get it changed at the airport but was told I had to talk to the gate agent in chicago. We had a short connection and by the time i made it to the gate – literally baby strapped to my chest, me running through ohare by myself – they were almost ready to board. With a crowd full of people milling behind me, I went up the gate agent and told her I needed to get my seats changed so we were seated together. And the woman went off on me. Like screaming and telling me how I should have know to buy a “high value” seat that could make it easier for her to switch someone else to. (Never mind the fact that these were already premium economy seats and there were only middle seats available when I booked and nothing open in first class) I apologized profusely and started crying and begged her to let me sit with my 12-month old daughter… all of this with the entire plane and crew watching. No one helped me or said anything. So I flew 4.5 hours in the middle seat, crying with my toddler on my lap. And I’ve never felt the same about United after that.
Want to sit together, pay up for economy. You cheap out on BE, you can sit apart from your kids
This is just the usual suspects wanting something for nothing
I always thought the airlines should have a “Kids get a seat for free” policy…a take-off of the “Kid’s eat for free” policy at restaurants.
In my experience, AA and DL already have been doing this quietly behind the scenes. UA receives the plaudits, however, because they went public with a formal policy. Nevertheless, until UA does away with its punitive policy of charging for carryons on its cheapest fares, which disproportionately affects families and the disadvantaged, then this is much ado about nothing.
As long as it’s understood the above only applies while purchasing your tickets.
I don’t want to encounter an entitled Mom (Yes, …I said it) who believes I an required to give up my seat during the boarding process just so her early puberty son can sit next to Mommy & Daddy.
Better yet, I don’t want to be punted around the seating chart just because I am flying solo and I bought my seat before the family in question.
UA needs to be explicit on the ground rules.
I’ve had two flights that were rescheduled where not only was my kid not sitting next to me they put him on a different flight and he is eight. I hope the technology has solved these problems. Both times it was fixed only after lots of pain on my end but I downgraded myself to coach just this past November to make it work.
That’s bad. I agree – hopefully those sorts of auto-rebooking errors do not happen. Were you on different reservations?
Sorry for the delay! I’ve had same and separate reservations since the system does now allow you to book a minor child without proof of you being on the same flight. They are supposed to be tagged together (it won’t let you book otherwise so it has to be called in) but even when the reservation was together it couldn’t get us enough seats on the same flight so it put us on two flights but somehow since he has low status so it puts him on a later flight.