Which Airlines Charge You for Sitting With Your Child? Here’s How to Tell

A stock photo shows a little boy looking out an airplane window.
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Isn’t it annoying when you’re flying somewhere with a child and the airline makes you pay an extra fee just for the privilege of sitting next to your child?

What a crock! Doesn’t it make you grit your teeth?

The federal government doesn’t think it’s very cool either. Now the feds have unveiled a new online dashboard that’ll tell you which airlines charge extra — and which airlines don’t — for families to be able to choose airplane seats next to each other.

President Joe Biden addressed this in his State of the Union address in February: “Baggage fees are bad enough — they can’t just treat your child like a piece of luggage,” he said.

For some time now, airline passengers in the U.S. have complained about being separated from their children on flights. They don’t like it, and they don’t like paying extra to fix it.

“Parents traveling with young kids should be able to sit together without an airline forcing them to pay junk fees,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “We have been pressing airlines to guarantee family seating without tacking on extra charges, and now we’re seeing some airlines start to make this common-sense change.”

At this point, here’s the bottom line: Alaska, American and Frontier airlines all guarantee adjacent seats for children 13 or under and an accompanying adult at no additional cost for all fare types. The rest of the airlines don’t — including Allegiant, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit and United.

This bar chart shows which airlines guarantee family seating for free. Family seating is when a child 13 or younger is guaranteed to sit next to an adult who is traveling with the child. The airlines that guarantee free family seating for free and their net income for 2022, respectively include: American Airlines ($127million net income), Alaska Airlines ($58 million), Frontier Airlines ($40 million). The airlines that don't include Delta ($1.3 billion), United ($737 Million), Southwest ($539 million), Allegiant ($2.5 million), Hawaiian Airlines (-$240 million), jetBlue Airways (-$363 million), and Spirit (-$554 million).

This is all part of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s ongoing campaign to nudge airlines to improve their customer service. The department has already launched dashboards spotlighting how different airlines deal with passengers who are suffering through significant flight cancellations or delays.

Those dashboards were posted online after the Department of Transportation busted and fined a bunch of airlines for slow-walking refunds they owed to passengers because flights got delayed or canceled outright.

Pro Tip

Don’t want to pay baggage fees? Here’s how to pack a backpack and skip those fees.

Watch Out for Extra Airline Fees

Whenever you catch a flight, you’ve got to watch out for those extra fees. They can be nasty.

While budget carriers like Frontier and Spirit consistently offer lower airfares, they may charge for selecting a seat, extra legroom, meals, drinks, checked bags, carry-on bags and printing boarding passes on your departure date. Those additional fees add up.

Legacy airlines — the big airlines like Delta and United — throw in a lot of that for the price of the ticket. But for several years now, these airlines have been offering more and more discounted airline tickets, and some are charging for preferable seats or checked bags to compete with the low-cost airlines.

Before you buy an airline ticket, it’s worth exploring what extra fees you’ll probably have to pay.

Which Airlines Guarantee Family Seating?

The Department of Transportation’s family seating dashboard comes after it issued a notice last summer saying U.S. airlines should ensure that children who are 13 or younger are seated next to an accompanying adult at no extra charge. However, that “notice” doesn’t have the power of an actual law.

Initially, the feds found that none of the airlines guaranteed family seating at no additional cost, even though most said they’d make their best efforts to seat families together.

Since then, a few airlines have made guaranteed family seating an official policy.

“This new dashboard allows parents to sidestep airlines’ confusing claims on family seating,” the Department of Transportation said. “To receive a green check on the dashboard, an airline must guarantee that parents can sit next to children age 13 and younger for free if adjacent seats are available when they book.”

American Airlines, Frontier Airlines and Alaska Airlines all say they’re offering these guarantees with some conditions. For one thing, the child and the accompanying adult have to be booked under the same reservation.

In February, United Airlines announced an updated family seating policy, although it’s not a guarantee. Instead, United has a new “seat map” system that’ll help families with children find seats together free of charge. The technology dynamically finds available adjacent seats when you book your flight.

Since most airlines currently don’t guarantee that they’ll seat a parent and child together at no extra cost, the president has called upon Congress to pass a law requiring it. Of course, it remains to be seen whether that’ll happen.

In the meantime, now you’re armed with more information.

Mike Brassfield ([email protected]) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.