How To Ensure Your Family Gets Seated Together On A Flight (Sometimes For Free)

When booking a flight, some parents automatically assume they'll be seated next to their kids. Although an understandable assumption, this isn't necessarily the case. Airlines are under no legal obligation to seat families together. However, pushback from parents and passengers tired of being nickeled and dimed has made some inroads into changing airline policy (sort of).

In 2022, the Biden administration vowed to improve customer protection in the airline industry, and the Department of Transportation (DOT) began considering if federal intervention would be necessary to regulate family seating policies. With a resounding "maybe," Congress introduced the Families Fly Together Act, which would prohibit airlines from charging families to sit together.

While this introduced legislation isn't currently law, many airlines did take notice and announce adjustments to their family seating policies. Along with flying with one of these family-friendly airlines, there are a few other free and not-so-free ways to help ensure you fly with loved ones.

Choose the family-friendly skies

Although the government didn't directly intercede, the DOT did create guidelines recommending that airlines should guarantee at least one parent sits next to a child aged 13 or under at no additional charge. Currently, four airlines have heeded this recommendation in different ways: Alaska, American, Frontier, and United. This isn't to say other airlines won't follow suit, but these airlines have already introduced system functionality that ensures a young child sits with a parent.

Most major airlines now charge a fee for selecting preferred seats at booking, though this fee is typically reserved for basic economy seats. Seat selection is often baked into the surcharge for better seats. However, these airlines now waive this fee to accommodate family seating. United, American, and Frontier introduced dynamic seating functions that can detect if a child is flying, allowing the seating map to adjust seating arrangements.

While Alaska assigns unselected seats at the gate, which isn't ideal for families, the airline does guarantee that a child under the age of 13 will be seated next to a parent. In an example of industry uniformity, family seating policies pertain to children aged under 15 on American, 14 on Frontier, and 12 on United.

Other tips for securing family seats

If you're booking a flight on a different airline than the aforementioned, there are still ways to help ensure your family sits together, but it may depend on the airline. If your airline is one of the few that doesn't charge for seat selection, you should book early as possible. The earlier you book, the more seats you'll have to choose from. 

One of the big exceptions to advanced seat selection is Southwest, which doesn't assign seats until check-in. By checking in early as possible, you'll have free reign to their open seat policy, so you should be able to sit together. But, even if not, Southwest also offers family boarding.

The less-free option is to pay for seat selection or pay for better seats. Just make sure you select and confirm all seats during booking through the same reservation. By doing so, you can ensure that your family sits together. If you're booking a last-minute flight and only a smattering of seats are still available, contact an airline representative or speak with a gate agent upon arrival. In most cases, you'll find that airlines can find family-friendly resolutions (even if it takes some time).