The US Department of Transportation (DOT) has warned US airlines always to ensure that children aged 13 or younger are seated next to their accompanying adult without additional charges. This comes at a time when consumer complaints against airlines are up more than 300% above pre-pandemic levels, and DOT is working to protect airline passengers with its pro-consumer actions.
Thinking for the families
Airlines have been charging ancillary fees for several years to boost non-ticket revenue, including assessing for anything from checked-in baggage and overweight baggage to the choice of picking your seats. The three major US carriers, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines, consistently charge extra for preferential seating that excludes additional legroom or benefits. Instead, the preferential seating charges only include changing an assigned seat to one closer to the forward of the aircraft or a window seat.
Unfortunately, this proves a hassle for passengers traveling with young children. If unable to afford or were not made known about the additional ancillary fees, they may be scattered throughout the cabin away from each other. And though the Department acknowledges it receives a relatively small amount of complaints for such instances, it is still one too many. One example was when DOT received a complaint whereby an 11-month-old child was seated far away from any accompanying adult. DOT issued the notice based on the 2016 Law on Family Seating Policies, which the Department initially deemed unnecessary that year.
Also known as the FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act, it gives DOT the authority to regulate family seating if necessary. And the new notice offers several suggestions, such as allowing families to board early if the airline uses an open seating policy. The other solution pertained to airlines using seat-blocking technology on reservation systems, as they should ensure there are enough for families. However, this does not embody being upgraded to an extra premium seat.
Southwest Airlines is the only significant US carrier to operate an open-seating policy. Photo: Vincenzo Pace I Simple Flying
Time to change the policies
The Department is giving airlines until November to rectify their policies. Suppose airlines continue to have seating policies and practices that disallow a child to sit beside any accompanying adult family member for free from November onwards, DOT will not hesitate to take regulatory actions to prohibit airlines from doing so. Secretary Pete Buttigieg said:
“Today’s announcements are the latest steps toward ensuring an air travel system that works for everyone. Whether you’re a parent expecting to sit together with your young children on a flight, a traveler with a disability navigating air travel, or a consumer traveling by air for the first time in a while, you deserve safe, accessible, affordable, and reliable airline service. “
Currently, only Southwest Airlines uses an open-seating policy that allows families with children aged six and under to have priority boarding. Breeze Airways have more specific family seating policies that will enable children between 2 and 12 to choose a seat between two accompanying adults for free.
DOT will review airline policies again on November 8th and take regulatory action if required. Photo: Airbus
However, Airlines for America, the primary lobby group for the US aviation business and the three leading US carriers, retorted against the notice by highlighting:
“US airlines have always worked to accommodate customers who are traveling together, especially those traveling with children, and will continue to do so. Each carrier sets their own policies that fit individual business models.”
DOT plans to propose formal rules by August through codifying requirements for airlines to prompt refunds when airlines cancel or make a significant change, including when tickets purchased are non-refundable. The Department also plans to issue rules requiring detailed fee disclosure for baggage, cancellation, and family seating costs at the time of purchase. This also includes the need to issue final regulations requiring passenger airlines to refund fees for significantly delayed bags and refunds for services like onboard WiFi that do not work.
Source: Travel Pulse