DOT Looks to End Airline Fees for Families


Empty seats and windows inside an aircraft | Image by WorldWide, Shutterstock

The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) is urging airlines to seat parents next to their children without having to pay additional fees.

Throughout President Biden’s term, he has been calling for an end to “junk fees,” including hotel resort fees, which he mentioned in his State of the Union speech.

Airlines charging families extra to sit together is another fee his administration is looking to halt, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC).

“We’re making airlines show you the full ticket price upfront and refund your money if your flight is canceled or delayed,” Biden said during the State of the Union.

“And we’ll prohibit airlines from charging up to $50 roundtrip for families just to sit together. Baggage fees are bad enough—they can’t just treat your child like a piece of luggage.”

The USDOT published its Airline Family Seating Dashboard this week, displaying a list of which airlines guarantee adjacent seats at no additional cost for all fares for children 13 or under accompanied by an adult.

So far, only Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, and Frontier Airlines have opted in. 

“Parents traveling with young kids should be able to sit together without an airline forcing them to pay junk fees,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement, per the AJC. “All airlines should do this promptly, even as we move forward to develop a rule establishing this as a requirement across the board.”

Delta has yet to opt in as its seats in “basic economy” fares are assigned after check-in, according to the AJC.

“Delta does not recommend Basic Economy fares for families that want to sit together because, unlike all other fare types, Basic Economy fares do not include advance seat selection,” Delta said per the USDOT’s website.

However, Delta said, “regardless of the ticket class purchased, [it] will always work with customers on a case-by-case basis to ensure their family seating needs are met,” reported the AJC.

Southwest notably does not offer different fare classes and operates with open seating. The airline did not opt-in but said it never charges to change seat assignments, according to the AJC.

“Customers are welcome to choose — for free — any open seat once onboard the aircraft,” Laura Swift, a Southwest spokeswoman, said, according to the AJC.

In its press release for the dashboard, the DOT said it started its rulemaking process to ensure adults can sit next to their young children but admitted that the process “can be lengthy.”

“The President has called upon Congress to enact legislation, and the Administration plans to send Congress proposed legislation in the coming weeks.” 

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