I Have to Pay Extra to Sit with My Child? The Biden administration is calling on Congress to ban family seating fees

In an effort to curb what advocates have dubbed, airline “junk fees,” The Biden administration is calling on Congress to craft and pass legislation to ban one of the most controversial of these fees: family seating. In letters addressed to both the Senate and the House of Representatives, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg wrote, “Upon review of the airlines’ seating policies, DOT remains concerned that airlines’ policies do not guarantee adjacent seats for young children traveling with a family member and that airlines do not guarantee the adjacent seating at no additional cost.”

President Biden included his administration’s intention to combat airline junk fees in his 2023 State of the Union address. The Transportation Department is working on a rule to guarantee family seating but said because the “rule-making process can be lengthy, the President and DOT are calling on Congress to do this immediately” and have proposed legislation.   

In the meantime, consumers can review the Airline Family Seating Dashboard on the Department of Transportation’s website prior to purchasing airline tickets. This dashboard ​​rewards airlines with a green check if they guarantee that an adult family member can sit next to their young children if seats are available. It also  includes links to each airline’s customer policies. 

In response to these criticisms, Hannah Walden, a spokeswoman at Airlines for America said that airlines “already work to accommodate customers who are traveling together, especially those traveling with children, and will continue to do so.” According to an Associated Press article on the topic, the pressure campaign is causing airlines to make policy changes. Major airlines including Frontier, American, and United said they would include family seating guarantees in customer service plans, violations of which could result in DOT fines.

Despite the shift in policies, the Biden Administration believes Congress needs to pass a law for a permanent fix to what it sees as an unnecessary burden on families. Until Congress acts, families looking into air travel should be aware of these fees and can use the dashboard to avoid them.

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