After Southwest Airlines quietly expanded family boarding on some flights to allow families to board together with children up to 13 years old, the Biden administration is looking to speed up a complete ban on fees for family members to sit with small children on airplanes.
“Parents may unexpectedly find themselves unseated with their young child on a flight, or paying large fees to sit next to their children,” the White House said in a Feb. 1 statement. “The president believes that no parent should have to pay extra to sit next to their child.
Connected: Just let families sit together now
Most airlines charge passengers to select seats in advance when flying certain types of fares, which is the only way to guarantee seats together in these cases.
Even if your fare type includes free seat selection, whether a couple can find two seats together, let alone three or more per family, depends on the number of seats available at the time of booking.
If you don’t pay in advance for a certain seat, all airlines will automatically give you one for free during check-in.
Unlike most other major airlines, Southwest is known (and often criticized) for its unconventional boarding process, requiring passengers to choose seats based on the order in which they board, often creating an anxiously competitive process.
Since Southwest does not allow passengers to select seats in advance, the only way to increase your chances of being seated together is to purchase the airline’s EarlyBird Check-In, which automatically checks you in 24 hours before your flight, guaranteeing an earlier boarding position and opportunity to select your preferred location, if available.
Although attaching EarlyBird to your booking used to guarantee an A boarding pass, those days are over. To truly secure an A boarding pass, you’ll need to pay an extra $30 to $60 each way to get an A1-A15 boarding position.
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Traditional airline seat fees, including those charged by American, Delta and United, can end up costing passengers between $20 and $100 each way, depending on the airline, fare type and route. The most restrictive type of airline fare, commonly known as basic economy, is usually not eligible for certain non-chargeable seats.
Read more: Southwest Airlines offers increased family check-in age on some flights
“There is often a charge for normal economy seats together because so many rows are reserved as extra legroom [or] premium (no extra legroom, but closer to the front of the plane), said TPG executive editor Scott Meyerowitz. “Unless you’re one of the first 20 non-elite people to book, you’re not going to find three or four seats together without paying.”
Biden’s latest push to Congress follows a public reminder to airlines of an existing Department of Transportation policy prohibiting charging passengers age 13 or younger to select a seat next to an accompanying adult.
Based on this, it appears that every airline is in violation of this policy, raising the question of why the DOT has refrained from taking tougher action.
According to the White House, the agency will “publish a dashboard on family seating fees and begin rulemaking to ban the practice,” while Biden is calling on Congress to “accelerate the ban on family seating fees so DOT can address these practices more quickly than by making rules.”
A spokesman for the president declined to comment beyond the published remarks.
In addition to airline seat fees, the White House targeted two other types of fees, including credit card late fees, to lower the legal limit credit cards can charge consumers to a maximum of $8 or 25% of the required payment .
This follows efforts by Congress to reduce merchant credit card fees in the name of market competition.
Biden also called out “surprise resort and destination fees,” which hotels typically withhold from disclosing until check-out.