United to offer family seating, free of charge


United Airlines has announced that they will offer adjacent seating when children under 12 years old are part of a booking. This will even apply in basic economy — and if adjacent seats aren’t available, they’ll allow a free change without fare difference. This all adds up to a very family-friendly policy.

United Airlines Airplane

The announcement says that the new dynamic seat map will ensure that children under the age of 12 will be seated adjacent to an adult in their party, opening up complimentary upgrades to “preferred” seating where necessary (though premium economy and business class are not included in this policy change). In cases where there are no available adjacent seats prior to travel, United will offer a free change to a flight to the same destination with adjacent seat availability without a fee and without having to pay a fare difference.

I understand that airlines have created the basic economy product specifically in order to make it undesirable to purchase (so that people will pay more for full economy). But then they don’t make all economy class seats available even when you book a fare that would include free seat selection. Just recently, I booked a flight for my family and despite seats being available in regular economy class rows, some of those seats were labeled “preferred” so that it was impossible for me to select adjacent seats for our 5 year old or 2 year old to sit adjacent to either my wife or me. My choice was to book an aisle and a window in the same row or pay more for “preferred” seats (that we don’t really prefer). Again, I wasn’t even buying a basic economy fare — it just felt like money grab that United was going to make me pay more to make sure that my 5 year old and 2 year old each sat adjacent to at least one of us.

That just doesn’t make sense to me. Nobody else on the plane wants to sit next to a 2yr old who only wants to be near mommy. Seating minors next to strangers has seemed to me like a such a poor idea on the airline’s end. At the very least, it has felt like a PR nightmare waiting to happen….and in a worst-case it could obviously be dangerous (and for the record, that’s why I paid extra for “preferred” seats even though it felt like a ripoff). I think this is a smart move from the airline’s perspective as it increases customer satisfaction (both for parents and for everyone else who doesn’t have to deal with an upset kid separated from their parent). View from the Wing also points to the fact that United has reason to expect that this may become a requirement anyway, but it’s great to see them get the technology implemented in order to make it happen now.

This change has apparently already taken place on some flights and will be rolled out on all United flights in mid-March.

H/T: View from the Wing

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I had a similar situation on Delta recently — there were not enough contiguous seats for me to sit next to my 5-year-old (regular economy ticket). I messaged them via their website, and an agent arranged seating without any fuss (I think they put us in seats that were not assigned to another passenger but were blocked for some reason).

I welcome a more clear policy, just saying I think it often already works this way, at least if you ask nicely.


I find United’s announcement confusing. Does this mean than if I pay for any economy seat selection for myself, I can select the adjacent middle seat for my child for free? Or are they only opening the minimum they need to at the back of the plane?


Yes us parents should get something for free. Children should be seated with parents without having to pay extra. How is this controversial?


You already get a LOT for free. Dependent tax breaks, free public education paid for by taxpayers without kids, etc etc etc.


An educated workforce benefits the entire country by making it more attractive to companies and organizations that need well-educated employees.  Therefore, the education of our population should be a top priority and the expense incurred should be shared by everyone.


That is a tired old argument. Education is important of course, the question is who should pay for it.
Parents should pay more, because they get 99% of the benefit of their child being educated. Certainly those who can’t afford it should get help, but it’s ridiculous that a wealthy family of 4 doesn’t pay a dime, but gets tax breaks over a single person or couple earning the same amount. Making everyone pay and putting it in the hands of government has
turned the current education system into garbage with no accountability, churning out indoctrinated drones that can’t even read or do math.

Last edited 1 year ago by Mantis

The topic is entitled parents, we are on topic 😉


Don’t forget the topic of people who like to rant about education system and make zero sense while doing so


I was simply responding to two rants about how your offspring are somehow creating some great societal benefit that I should pay equally for.

Just because you are too simple minded to understand the argument doesn’t mean it doesn’t make sense. Your argument of “parents should get something for free”, with zero logical reasoning or evidence to support it, reads like something a 5th grader would write.


It’s the same as paying taxes for roads even if you don’t own a car. Those roads still benefit you e.g. deliveries, police, ambulances, someone driving to your house to install internet, etc

Other people having kids still benefits you so pay for it regardless. When you’re childless and 60 and sit down at a restaurant and a 20 year old waiter serves you, that’s because someone else had children, otherwise it would be another 60 year old serving you. Since having new police officers, pilots, car mechanics, etc, is something you will need, you must bear the cost of their elementary education which got them there.

Last edited 1 year ago by staradmiral

Good for some folks, bad for others. Parents get something for free whereas everyone else get screwed out of this. A couple traveling together won’t have the same no-cost privilege as a couple with a child. Doesn’t fly as a good thing in my book.


Great, so everyone else gets screwed now because some parents can’t plan ahead, or are too cheap to pay the price of the seats together. And yes, everyone else will pay for it…there is no free lunch, there will either be higher costs passed on, or reduced good seat availability unless you are traveling with kids. United as usual trying to virtue signal that they are wonderful and kind, like in their self righteous latest commercials. They want us to forget about David Dao, and basically every interaction ever with one of their grumpy old FAs.


I’ll never forget the flight (years ago, before the preferred seating money grab), where I couldn’t get a seat next to my daughter. I asked people around to switch, and it turns out 3 pairs of passengers had been separated with the airlines seating algorithm. We all paired up, but t shows that this problem of separating people in the same reservation goes back years.


Air Canada has done this for awhile now. It’s a very nice feature.


So here is the moral quandry, I wonder what the Points/Mileage folks are going to do when it becomes apparent there are some easy ways to game this system? Generally do you think all of us ‘deal’ seekers will ruin this and force United and the like to rescind?


Either your travel is booked with children or it’s not. I don’t see any ways to game this system. Family boarding has been around a long time.


It is definitely possible. I’m not going to be the one who posts it. But yea, if you want free seats or in some cases United will even move you to a better flight if seats aren’t available.