Commander-in-Chief or Travel Agent? Biden Seeks Free Seat Assignments For Families

President Biden is calling for airlines to allow families to sit together on flights for free. Now, unlike the previous President he doesn’t run his own social. And no doubt this tests well. But airlines charging families more so that their kids aren’t unsupervised on planes just doesn’t seem to be an actual problem.

This has definite Bill Clinton school uniform election year energy. And, awkwardly, at a time when we may become mired in a two-front war.

Family seating has been on the administration’s radar for a couple of years, but they have neither seriously pressed legislation or promulgated a rule. In 2022, the Biden Administration proposed requiring airlines to disclose how much they charge for “family seating fees for a young child traveling with an adult” but they haven’t actually promulgated a rule.

And without actually having taken any sort of action, the President might as well have tweeted a complaint about school homework. Except kids don’t vote. Here’s Eddie Murphy in the all-time political classic, The Distinguished Gentleman:

To be clear, airlines generally seat you with your kids for free if you ask them to. For instance,

  • United and American implemented new procedures to allow families to sit together free a year ago.

  • Southwest Airlines allows families to sit together via their boarding process, where those with children 5 and under board before the ‘B’ group (so there are still generally plenty of seats left).

  • And just 0.38% of DOT consumer complaints involve family seating issues to begin with.

Nobody wants to sit next to your kids. The airlines would almost pay you to supervise them so crew don’t have to – remember they charge for crew supervision (unaccompanied minor). To be honest, leaving kids with other passengers is kind of a break for mom.

Of course, sometimes flight cancellations mean that there aren’t seats together on a new plane. Usually you can work with the gate agent or flight attendants on board to move things around, but when there aren’t open seats it’s tougher. And if you book too close to actual travel it can make sitting together with advance seat assignments impossible.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Is there no end to how much politicians and bureaucrats want to control our lives? Biden has to be one of the worst.

  2. Typical political posturing that will only get more egregious as the elections draw closer. With the Middle East in turmoil, Russian aggression in Ukraine, China flexing its muscles about Taiwan, and terrorism on the rise, the Biden administration turns its attention to a non-existent problem.

  3. Couldn’t airlines just charge higher child fares to offset this? Or restrict the lowest fare buckets from child fares? Has bad policy written all over it.

  4. Gary, it sounds like you are sans children, else you would be singing a different tune. Airlines should ensure, when possible, seats together for families with youngsters. So many good reasons to do so.

  5. Attempting to buy votes with Other People’s Money. It’s in the Democrats DNA.

    See: Student Loan Forgiveness, debit cards for illegals, free phones. Good thing money grows on trees…

  6. “And just 0.38% of DOT consumer complaints involve family seating issues to begin with.”

    Typical govt over-reach; stop pressing for companies for decisions which are not data driven.

  7. it’s socialism. Pure and simple.
    When you oppose the free market, you come up w/ every excuse to prevent capitalism from working.
    All airlines have some process to ensure that at least one parent is with each child that needs oversight.
    There is no right to getting a row of seats together if you aren’t willing to pay for it.

    They rode the airlines about on-time and the second half of 2023 shows very high on-time; even the winter so far has been very good operationally. It now takes major winter storms in CA and the mountains to disrupt air traffic and the impact statistically will still be relatively small.

  8. What Biden really is doing is gently reminding these companies that human decency needs to remain part of our lives. We’re not cattle.

    Forty years ago, the FAA or CAB would have just promulgated a regulation, and that would be that. Now, the government appeals to the angels of their better natures. We’ll see if that works, or not.

  9. While I think Biden’s heart is in the right place he has a solution in search of a problem. If he wants to help the flying public he can institute a EU261 policy without the holes that keep airlines from paying.

  10. Joe Biden has always been a gimmicky car-salesman like politician. He put as much thought into this policy as he did into setting 9/11 as the deadline for Afghanistan withdrawal.

  11. Am a liberal, and I am not in favor of this. I have nothing against children or folks who choose to have them, but I don’t see why exceptions need to be made to accommodate families with children over others. People with kids have been traveling together for decades Why is the need to coddle this particular segment of the customer base over others necessary?

    If you have kids, find it difficult or a hassle to travel, then don’t fly.

  12. Tim Dunn’s understanding of “socialism” appears to be on par with his understanding of “objective analysis”. That is to say, zero.

  13. Biden’s no dummy, though he plays one on TV. He sees that Trump’s support among women is low, low, low. This uttering (I wouldn’t presume to call it a policy) and others like it are intended to drive up female turnout next November, thus burying Trump. Now, if Trump can figure out a way to show that families seated apart is due to CBP putting illegal immigrants on those planes….

  14. TIM DUNN

    1 MILLION PERCENT AGREE WITH YOU. One parent with one child so if 2 parents and 2 children you are guaranteed 2 and 2 not 4 together. Get a life people.

  15. Tim, socialism is the government bailing the airlines out with billions of dollars in order to survive. Capitalism would have guaranteed their demise.

    Facts matter

  16. Rare @Tim Dunn W

    I had the exact same reaction. While I never say this, this is quite literally socialism (and NOT in a good way)

  17. Societies are richer where there is a mindset to offer minor conveniences to families. This doesn’t imply on any level that non-families are of lesser status.

  18. @Lavenderialarry – “…People with kids have been traveling together for decades…” but they haven’t charging for seats for decades. It’s a whole new ballgame as far as costs go.

  19. The issue is what constitutes “when possible”? If I have an aisle or window seat near the front that I booked months in advance, do I get bumped to a middle seat at the back of the plane for the kiddo?

    Does the parent or child move to a LESS desirable seat in order to be together — because I’m sure they’re going to all want to sit together around the most desirable seats/location. Think of all the stories of flyers being asked to swap to a less desirable seat because Person A “has to” sit next to their spouse, but Person A doesn’t want to give up THEIR prime seat….

  20. Simple solution: Family seating is the last few rows of the plane. Same with Southwest Air preboarders. Bet many of them suddenly dont require sitting together….

  21. I booked 3 adults and a lap infant on AA and we were placed in three different middle seats in the front middle and back of the plane. My seat neighbors were not happy with the screaming infant who wanted her mommy. But the flight attendant would not let us switch seats for safety reasons. Maybe AA set up that families sit together if you purchase child seats, but it clearly did not apply for lap infants.

  22. Mention Biden, and you may as well be dumping bucket of chum in shark waters.

    So, let’s look at the practical issues:

    “Lap children” is flat out stupid. Jeff Daniel’s proved that point in the film “Fearless”. You can’t hold a baby in a crash. It’s just physics.

    So, parents should be required to buy children an airline seat for their offsping, and have (bring with them) proper booster seats that will protect their kids. Just like the laws for children in cars.

    Booster seats shoul not count as carry-on. It should be considered a safety device.

    (Rental shops in airports to provide if parent does not wish to buy?)

    If parents need to do this, offering a “kids price” is much the same our society has done for lots of other events and attractions. It’s not socialism, or communism… it’s just capitalism. We do it all the time.

    Most kids rates are usually 50% off adult rate. So 50% off the parent booking price.

    Kid rate should end at 15 yr old. (Many 15 yr old kids really don’t want to sit with parents because parents are ew gross. )

    Will this affect seat availability? Sure. EVERYTHING tends to affect seat availability. No need to clutch pearls here.

    A practical plan would be setting aside a few rows in coach designated as “family” (i suggest in the back, close to bathrooms) and those seats can be sold as a group. However, 15 days prior to departure, if not booked, then the seats are opened to others.

    If a family doesn’t plan ahead more than 15 days, then there is no guarantee that a large family can sit together.

    No family block in Domestic first. The cabin is too small.

    Maybe one family block in international business class. More if capacity allows.

    This would prevent the usual Karen-like whining, as the opportunity to sit together was there, and you needed to take advantage of it. Don’t miss the cut-off, don’t expect to sit togeather. (Again, capitalism model).

    It’s not rocket surgery folks.

  23. @Bret Lobner “Gary, it sounds like you are sans children, else you would be singing a different tune.” I have a daughter. “Airlines should ensure, when possible, seats together for families with youngsters. So many good reasons to do so.” As I write in the post, they do.

  24. I understand young kids are the #1 complaint. I say put them and their parents in the back of the plane so the rest of us don’t have to put up with their screaming and misbehavior. I’m a grandparent and still don’t like unruly children.

  25. There are so many examples that make this a bad idea. Does a last minute booking where there are no seats together mean that someone that booked earlier must move to a less desirable seat to allow families to be seated together? Does this mean that if I fly with a child I do not have to pay for the extra room seats that solo travelers or couples in that section would? Yes, when flights are cancelled and rebooking happen things get difficult, but moving original passengers should only done by moving them to a better seat. Frankly, as I walk back to the restrooms, I cannot tell if a child that is anywhere from 7-16 years old is seated next to a relative or a stranger unless I notice the UM tag. Everyone is engaged with their phones or other electronics. Perhaps we should be training our kids how to react in situations when separated from their parents. Use of the call button for example, yelling loudly, for example. Plenty of nearby passengers will assist in making a noise (not to mention capturing it on their phones).

  26. @ Tim — But airlines effectively bribing politicians is obivously just fine with you. It makes mediocre management look premium every time!

  27. You want to sit with your kids without paying a fee. 32 B and 32 C at the back of plane need to toilet are available

  28. Rob Wagner,
    you do realize that the airlines got a pretty small percentage of all of the government aid? and the US government shut down travel which affected airlines more than any other industry?

  29. @Tim Dunn – what the airlines received during the pandemic, relative to most measures of their size, was not small. They got explicit carveouts rather than simply taking advantage of programs available to all industries. And they got three separate rounds of bailouts (and other subsidies as well, including ones available more broadly). Airlines that didn’t need bailouts even got one.

    That doesn’t mean that anything we don’t like about airlines in the future should be regulated, or that they ‘owe us’ something other than serving their own interests. That wasn’t the deal! There were specific requirements in place, such as on executive compensation and stock buybacks (and employment, which some violated, and it appears should have disqualified them from subsidized loans yet they were still given those).

    But let’s not understate the value of what was given or suggest airlines were treated like any other industry because that is not true…

  30. Looking at these comments, is there anyone here would is willing to consider this from the child’s point of view? How scary and traumatizing it must be to be strapped into a seat away from your parents, and not be able to see them? Are we really going to decide which young children experience that and which don’t based on how much money their parents have?

    Have a heart. Please.

  31. Well its obvious Biden doesn’t manage his own Twitter account – the man can barely speak without us wondering what the crap he’s saying.

    I thought the airlines that charge for seating already have plans in place to ensure children aren’t separated from a parent when it comes to assigning seats – eg: they will guarantee a child next to at least ONE parent.

    But yes, Twitter post to try to cover up the horrible actions (and inactions) of the past few years. Too bad every year isn’t an election year.

  32. Airlines could solve this problem in 5 minutes. Once a parent or guardian enters a date of birth denoting a minor child the transaction can not be completed unless seats are chosen where the parent is next to the minor.

    If that means guardian needs to PAY for seat assignments, so be it

    The issue is parents DON’T want to PAY to select seats together than bitch and moan when they’re not

  33. Gene and Gary,
    my point is not that airlines didn’t get aid but that the amount of aid that was pumped into the economy was in the trillions of dollars.
    What airlines got was relatively small in comparison.

  34. Mets Fan in NC says:
    Agree 100% have all PAX enter age and make the parents pick seats. Southwest would have to do the same thing….. These PAX are the Blabber Mouths who complain that 13 yr old Johnny is all by himself but at the same time he takes the school bus home and is alone for 4 hrs while parents are at work.

    Then there is the parent who things EVERY MALE in the world wants to touch their child… GET OVER IT. You parents are SEX BIGOTS. That is the only thing you see when you see a Male then we know what you think about 7 24… I do not want to touch your dirty slimy bug invested dirty rude child with no manors.

    OPEN up your wallet and pay for a seat.

  35. Matthew writes:
    sorry but people shouldn’t be rewarded for breeding

    – If his parents hadn’t bred, Matthew wouldn’t be here.

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