United Airlines Eases Family Seating After Call to Cut Fees

United Airlines will now let children under 12 sit next to an adult in their travel group at no additional cost, the company said on Monday.

The move follows a push by the Biden administration and consumer groups to get airlines to cut back on ticket fees for families. In President Biden’s State of the Union address this month, he criticized carriers for charging families to sit together and said “they can’t just treat your child like a piece of luggage.”

United said in a news release that families traveling with children under 12 “will start to see more adjacent seats options immediately” and that the policy change would go in full effect by early March. The airline said it had updated its seat map technology to find adjacent seats when families book flights.

Even with the new policy, United said, it is possible that adjacent seats may not be available if the flight is full, the tickets are booked at the last minute or there are unscheduled aircraft changes. If that happens, a family with children under 12 can change to another flight with the same destination that has adjacent seats available for free, the airline said.

The policy change does not apply to United’s Polaris, first class and Economy Plus seats, typically the more expensive seats on a flight.

“We look forward to rolling out more family-friendly features this year,” Linda Jojo, United’s chief customer officer, said in a statement.

John Breyault, the vice president for public policy at the National Consumers League, called the change an “encouraging first step.”

“This is no substitute for consumer protection regulation that gives families the right to sit together at no additional cost, regardless of which airline they choose,” Mr. Breyault said. “Absent regulation, United could decide tomorrow to reverse this policy change.”

The National Consumers League is one of several consumer groups urging the Biden administration and Congress to enshrine into law family seating protections, which vary by airline.

American Airlines says on its website that if families are unable to book seats together without paying extra fees, its booking system will search for seats together. Delta Air Lines said that if families are not able to find seats together, they should contact the reservations department to see what options are available. Southwest Airlines, which does not assign seats before boarding, allows families to board together between its first and second boarding groups.

In July, the Transportation Department called on airlines to ensure that children 13 and under would be able to sit next to an accompanying adult on flights for no extra charge. Travelers have complained that children as young as 11 months old have been seated apart from the adults they were traveling with, the department said in its announcement about the notice.

Last week, a group of Democratic senators introduced the Families Fly Together Act, which would require every airline to seat children 13 and under next to an accompanying adult at no extra cost.

In his State of the Union address this month, Mr. Biden called on Congress to pass a “junk fee prevention act.” The legislation would crack down on four types of excessive fees, including those charged by airlines for families to fly together and online ticket fees for concerts.

This pressure on the air travel industry comes as it responds to recent debacles, including a holiday travel meltdown driven by a winter storm and a Federal Aviation Administration system outage in January that halted departures nationwide for about 90 minutes.

Sumber: www.nytimes.com