United Airlines is improving the passenger experience for families travelling together, with an update to its family seating policy that makes it easier for children under 12-years old to sit next to an adult in their party for free. The policy applies to all customers booked in the economy cabin, including those with Basic Economy tickets.
United says the new policy has been made possible through a series of investments in a seat map feature that dynamically finds available adjacent seats at the time of booking. The online seat engine first reviews all available vacant economy-class seats and then opens complimentary upgrades to available Preferred Seats, if needed. The technology is simpler than using more manual processes to seat families together, such as blocking random seats or asking agents to facilitate seat swaps at the gate, which can slow down the boarding process.
The complete policy change will go into effect in early March, but customers travelling with children aged under 12 will start to see more adjacent seat options immediately.
In instances when adjacent seats are not available prior to travel – which can happen due to factors such as last-minute bookings, full flights or unscheduled aircraft changes – United’s new policy also lets customers switch for free to a flight to the same destination with adjacent seat availability in the same cabin. Customers won’t be charged any extra fee if there is a difference in fare price between the original flight and the new flight.
“In an era where more families are working in a hybrid environment, they’re travelling more often,” said Linda Jojo, chief customer officer for United. “We’re focused on delivering a great experience for our younger passengers and their parents and know it often starts with the right seat. We look forward to rolling out more family-friendly features this year.”
This news follows United’s news last summer that the airline has worked to improve its ability to seat families together more easily by optimising its seat engine to prioritise families who did not have seats assigned before their day of travel, and to prioritise adjacent seating for families during schedule changes, aircraft swaps or irregular operations.