Days after President Biden targeted airlines for charging families “junk fees” during his State of the Union address, Frontier Airlines announced that it would automatically seat children under 14 with at least one parent during flights for free.
Budget airline Frontier is one of several carriers randomly assigning seats unless passengers pay a fee to select them. Unfortunately, this means families with young children are all but required to pay to reserve seats together or risk their kids being seated rows away.
Frontier has now announced it will overhaul this policy and automatically seat at least one parent with each child under 14 for no additional charge. In addition, the seats will be assigned based on family members’ ages before the check-in window opens. Frontier said these measures have been rolling out over the last few months.
“We recognize the importance of seating children next to an adult with whom they are traveling,” said Daniel Shurz, senior vice president of commercial at Frontier Airlines. “Since last October, we have been doubling down on our efforts and further enhancing our system for ensuring a parent is seated with any children under the age of 14 in their family group.”
Frontier Airlines is one of several carriers to react to Biden’s criticism during the State of the Union speech earlier this month. Speaking before Congress and 27 million television viewers, the president renewed his administration’s commitment to tackling hidden fees in the travel industry.
Biden said that airlines would be required to display the ticket’s total price upfront, including any baggage and seating fees—a rule change his Department of Transportation (DOT) is already working to implement.
“And we’ll prohibit airlines from charging up to $50 roundtrip for families just to sit together,” said Biden. “Baggage fees are bad enough – they can’t just treat your child like a piece of luggage.”
Last July, the Department of Transportation issued a notice to airlines requesting they do everything they can to seat children under 13 with accompanying adults for no fees. The agency suggested that if airlines didn’t change their policies, they might take regulatory action.
Airlines are already reacting to Biden’s speech. Earlier this week, United Airlines announced it will overhaul its family seating policy to make it easier for children under 12 to sit with their parties. This includes passengers with basic economy tickets, which don’t typically come with free seat assignments.
The policy is driven by a new seat map feature, which dynamically locates adjacent seats available when booking. The system first attempts to find adjacent economy seats and, if unavailable, will open up preferred seats – basic economy seats that don’t offer extra legroom but are located closer to the front of the aircraft and usually require a fee to reserve.
If adjacent seats for families aren’t available prior to travel, for example, due to a last-minute booking or aircraft change, customers will be switched to another flight with adjacent seat availability for no additional charge.
Meanwhile, low-cost competitors Breeze and Southwest affirmed that they already allow families to sit together for no additional cost.
Breeze usually charges for seat assignments on its cheapest tickets but waives the fee for family seat selection.
Southwest, famous for its free-for-all seating policy, where passengers grab seats as they’re let on the plane in groups, has for years permitted families with children aged six and under to board between groups A and B to nab seats together. It’s also trialing tweaks to its seating policy, including allowing families to board first, provided they sit behind row 15, and allowing families with children up to age 13 to use the family seating time.