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It seems like it is almost unheard of for an airline or hotel company to actually change their policy in a way that benefits consumers, but yet, here we are. United recently announced a change to how the allocate seats, and at least on the surface, it seems that this is a change in a positive direction. We shall have to see how it works in practice.

The State of Sitting Together With a Family On a Plane

Currently, it’s a bit of a hit or miss situation if you’re traveling with kids and trying to sit next to them. With the advent of Basic Economy flights or low-cost carriers charging for seat assignments, you may not be able to choose seats. Even if your ticket allows you to choose seats, you may not realize you can do that, which just leaves it up to randomness when you check in.

(SEE ALSO: Well, how would YOU arrange 6 kids on a plane?)

(SEE ALSO: Help! I’m Stuck Next to Someone Else’s Kid on an Airplane)

I believe most if not all airline seat scheduling systems ATTEMPT to seat families together (especially if there are kids on the reservation), but it may not always be possible, depending on when you check in and how full the flight is. Another potential wrinkle is equipment changes. On my recent flight back from Hawaii to Chicago on United, I had arranged the 7 of us in 2 rows plus 1, but then we had an equipment change and it threw all of our seating off. Some of us were seated throughout the plane. In my case, I ended up just regularly checking the seat map and some seats opened up that worked for us.

The one outlier here is Southwest Airlines, where you don’t have seat assignments and instead board in order. While there are pros and cons about this system, one pro is that, assuming that you have an early enough boarding position, you should be able to sit together.

a hand holding a phone with a message on it

United Adding Family-Friendly Seating options

United has just announced a family seating policy where their system will automatically open up Preferred Seats on reservations that include someone 12 years of old or younger, to make it easier for families to sit together.

Here is the full text of United’s announcement

United today announced an improved family seating policy that makes it easier than ever for children under 12-years old to sit next to an adult in their party for free – including customers who purchase Basic Economy tickets.

United’s new policy is made possible through a series of investments in a new seat map feature that dynamically finds available adjacent seats at the time of booking. The online seat engine first reviews all available free Economy seats and then opens complimentary upgrades to available Preferred Seats, if needed.

Customers traveling with children under 12 will start to see more adjacent seat options immediately and the complete policy change will go into effect in early March.

In instances when adjacent seats are not available prior to travel – due to things like last minute bookings, full flights or unscheduled aircraft changes – United’s new policy also lets customers switch for free to a flight to the same destination with adjacent seat availability in the same cabin. Customers also won’t be charged if there is a difference in fare price between the original and new flight.

“In an era where more families are working in a hybrid environment, they’re traveling more often – and they’re flying United,” said Linda Jojo, Chief Customer Officer for United. “We’re focused on delivering a great experience for our younger passengers and their parents and know it often starts with the right seat. We look forward to rolling out more family-friendly features this year.”

Many airlines try and use a more manual process to seat families together that can include blocking random seats or asking agents to facilitate seat swaps at the gate. Those circumstances often result in more stress and a longer boarding process for everyone.

Today’s announcement reflects the investments United has made in its technology and tools. Since last summer, the airline has worked to improve its ability to seat families together more easily by optimizing the airline’s seat engine to prioritize families who did not have seats assigned before their day of travel and prioritize adjacent seating for families during schedule changes, aircraft swaps or irregular operations.

United Polaris®, United First Class® and Economy Plus® seats remain separate products and are excluded from this family seating policy change.

The Bottom Line

Trying to find seats together for your family can be tough to manage, especially if you’re not that savvy with flying or if you don’t have the time, money or knowhow to select seat assignments. While my kids are now old enough that I would be fine with them sitting not directly next to me, when they were younger that would have been a much bigger problem. The change to United’s seating policy is certainly at the very least a step in the right direction.

What do you think of United’s new seating policy? Leave your thoughts in the comments

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