DOT Launches Free Family Seating Airline Dashboard

Updated: Jun. 07, 2023

Air travel just got a little bit easier for flying families.

If you’ve ever flown with friends or family, you know how disappointing it can be to be seated apart. Fortunately, the Department of Transportation (DOT) seems to be making good on its promise to minimize “junk fees” for families while flying. The latest manifestation of this policy is the launch of a new free family seating dashboard, designed to help families choose airlines that allow them to sit together for free. Here’s everything you need to know about the dashboard, as well as which airlines are most amenable to families.

What is the new family seating dashboard?

The family seating dashboard is an online tool for families to check the seating policies for 10 popular American airlines before booking flights. The dashboard specifically highlights which airlines will guarantee that guardians and children aged 13 or under can sit together when booking airline tickets, not just those who vaguely promise to “make efforts” to do so. The DOT launched the dashboard on Monday, March 13, 2023, following up on the Biden-Harris administration’s promise to reduce consumer costs for Americans.

Check out Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s official statement below:

Which airlines guarantee fee-free family seating?

As of writing, only three American airlines guarantee adjacent seats for a child 13 years or younger and their accompanying adult at no additional cost. Those airlines are:

In an interview with Travel + Leisure magazine this week, a representative for Alaska Airlines said that while the carrier has always “prioritized sitting families together,” now it “guarantee[s]” it, so long as certain conditions are met.

What conditions need to be met for these airlines to seat families together for free?

Family traveling by plane and reading a travel guideHispanolistic/Getty Images

The family seating conditions depend slightly on whether the airline assigns seats or has an open seating policy. Here’s the breakdown:

Assigned seat policy conditions

  1. The child and adult are on the same reservation.
  2. When booking, the adult either chooses seats for the entire reservation or does not choose seats for the entire reservation.
  3. It is physically possible to seat the family together: adjacent seats are available, the aircraft is not substituted for a smaller aircraft, and the seat layout allows for adjacent seating.

Open Seat Policy Conditions

  1. The child and adult are on the same reservation.
  2. The adult notifies a gate agent of the need for adjacent seating prior to boarding.
  3. It is physically possible to seat the family together, as above.

How do other airlines handle family seating?

A few airlines have not guaranteed free family seating, but have offered specific tools to make it easier for families to sit together. Here are those airlines’ information:

Delta Airlines

Delta offers a dynamic seat map that blocks off rows in the main cabin for parties of three or more people to book. It also suggests contacting its Reservations department if you are unable to book these seats through its website or app.

Southwest Airlines

Southwest does not yet offer any amenities for family seating. However, in December 2023, it will launch a pilot program allowing families with children to board the plane first. Given its open seating policy, this will allow more families to sit in adjacent seats.

United Airlines

On United Airlines, if families are unable to book seats next to each other on a flight, the carrier allows you to “switch to another flight with availability in the same cabin for free” without charging you for the difference in fare. Additionally, it claims that “soon” families with children 12 or under will be guaranteed adjacent seating in Basic Economy.

Will all airlines offer free family seating soon?

Hopefully, yes. According to Secretary Buttigieg, this year the DOT is launching “regulations to require that airlines allow children 13 and under to sit with a parent or legal guardian at no extra cost.” Following in the footsteps of the Passengers’ Bill of Rights, it seems likely that soon airlines will be required to seat families together. In the meantime, be sure to check out our tips for stress-free flying, as well as those provided on the dashboard. Safe travels!