United Airlines said Monday that new technology would open up more seats on its flights so children can sit with an adult in their party without paying a fee, a type of fee that has come under scrutiny in recent months by the Biden administration.
United will assign parents or other adult passengers with a child under 12 “preferred” seats as well as regular economy seats, if necessary at the time of booking so that they can sit together.
The change applies to passengers with standard and basic economy tickets and will go into full effect next month, although United has already made some increases in seat availability.
The airline will also not charge customers the fare difference if they fly to the same destination with adjacent seats.
Airlines have been charging passengers in recent years to book “preferred” location seats on flights. They do not come with extra legroom or other perks, but are often at the front of the aircraft, although they may cover important seats of an aircraft.
The White House said earlier this month that President Joe Biden has called on lawmakers to “fast track a ban on family seating fees.” In July, the Department of Transportation told US airlines to “do everything in their power” to ensure that passengers under the age of 13 are seated next to an accompanying adult without additional charge.
“Baggage fees are bad enough,” Biden said during his State of the Union address earlier this month. “The airlines can’t carry your child like a piece of luggage.”
Such seats usually vary in price. On a roundtrip between Newark, New Jersey, and Los Angeles in August, preferred seats on a United flight showed as $37 each way for one person.
Delta Air Lines said it blocks some rows of seats so families can sit together.
“Delta does not charge a fee for family seating and will always work with customers on a case-by-case basis, regardless of ticket class purchased,” a spokesperson said in a statement Monday.
American Airlines’ booking platform will automatically search for available seats simultaneously at the time of booking for main cabin and basic economy passengers. A spokesperson told CNBC that the preferred seats and the extra legroom section, Main Cabin Extra, open on the day of departure.