It wasn’t that long ago when the government told airlines to abide by the Families Flying Together Act — and stop charging families extra to sit together. Now, we’ve just learned about a new United Airlines family travel seating policy that has parents cheering.
As of early March 2023, the airline will allow children under 12 to sit next to an adult in their party for free, regardless of the type of ticket purchased. That means you might end up in a better seat class if no other adjacent seats are available.
This is the latest example of ways to save on United Airlines. Here are five things to know about United’s new family seating policy:
It no longer costs extra to have a kid under 12 sit next to their accompanying adult on United.
In the past United Airlines wouldn’t guarantee that families with children under 12 would be seated together, and families often had to pay extra for seats together, especially on Basic Economy tickets.
But with the new family seating policy, they can sit together, regardless of the type of ticket purchased, at no additional charge. And that’s for all United flights, domestic and international. (This is only bad news if you were hoping some poor sap would babysit your kid for that 3-hour flight to Chicago. Kidding!)
You’ll get adjacent seats during the United booking process — even if that means a complimentary upgrade.
In the past, parents have had to book a flight with their kid in another row, hoping that it would all get sorted out at the gate. With United’s new seat map feature, you’ll get those adjacent seats before you lock in your flight.
The online seat engine first reviews all available free Economy seats and then opens complimentary upgrades to available Preferred Seats if needed. (Preferred seats on United are seats in the economy cabin that offer more legroom and other benefits, such as being located at the front of the cabin or in bulkhead or exit row locations.)
The new United Airlines family seating policy doesn’t apply to premium tickets.
United’s new family seating policy applies to all United-operated flights, except for United Polaris, United First Class, and Economy Plus seats.
United Polaris is the airline’s premium cabin for long-haul international flights; United First Class is the front-of-the-plane option with additional legroom, personalized service, and priority boarding, among other benefits; and Economy Plus are seats that offer extra legroom.
If for some reason you can’t find adjacent seats, United will let you switch your flight for free.
If adjacent seats aren’t available before travel due to things like last-minute bookings, full flights, or surprise aircraft changes, customers can switch to a flight with the same destination and adjacent seat availability for free at United.
Note: There’s no indication that United’s new family seating policy will increase the price of tickets.
It’s not exactly clear how United will handle 12-year-olds.
The new family seating policy from United Airlines applies to children under 12 years old who are traveling with an adult in their party. But the Families Flying Together Act requires airlines to ensure that children under 13 years of age are seated next to an accompanying family member or guardian.
For children 12 years old, United’s policy is not clear cut, as they fall into a gray area where they may or may not be considered a child depending on the specific flight or fare class.
But United says they will make “reasonable efforts” to seat families with children of all ages together, including 12-year-olds. Families with children over 12 years old who wish to guarantee adjacent seats can purchase Preferred Seats for an additional fee or select seats together when checking in for their flight.
We’ve reached out to United for comment on this and will let you know what we find out.