WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States Department of Transporation is calling on airlines to have policies in place to let children be seated next to their parents with no additional charge.
The department’s Office of Consumer Protection issued a notice Friday to address challenges that families with young children face to sit together on aircraft. While the number of complaints the department receives about this issue is low compared to other categories, it recognizes that even one complaint is significant for the impacted travelers.
In a 2017 review, the office found that around 95% of the largest U.S. airlines had policies that facilitated each young child to be seated next to an accompanying adult. However, they did not guarantee that they would be seated together.
Based on the low number of complaints compared to other categories, and the pre-existing policies, the department focused on providing information about airline seating policies. Despite their efforts, the department continued to get complaints from people about family seating.
This includes one report where an airline seated a six-year-old apart from a parent. The traveler next to the child allegedly proceeded to watch R-rated content. The airline did not dispute the complaint.
In another report, the department said the parent trying to travel on a major U.S. airline in 2021 complained that the airline seated her 11-month-old and 4-year-old children by themselves. The airline did not dispute the complaint, saying the department had yet to put any directives in place about family seating.
Along with the notice urging airlines to sit children with their parents at no additional charge, the office plans to do another review of policies and complaints. The office is giving airlines four months before they conduct their review. The grace period is to give airlines time to review and improve, as necessary, their seating policies and procedures.
If the review finds the airlines’ policies and practices are barriers to a child sitting next to an adult family member, the department will consider additional action. This could include rulemaking or other actions to prohibit airlines from charging fees for seating young children next to an accompanying adult.