President Biden recently announced that he intends to crack down on “junk costs,” including airlines charging families to sit together. While no laws have yet been passed, United Airlines is proactive with its new family seat policy. This is a positive move, with even better optics.
How United Airlines will put families together
United Airlines has a new family seating policy that makes it easier than ever for children under 12 to sit next to an adult in their party for free. This is even offered on Basic Economy tickets, which normally do not offer free seat assignment.
This new policy is made possible through a series of investments in a new seat map feature, which dynamically finds available adjacent seats at the time of booking:
- The system first evaluates all available economy seats to attempt to allocate seats
- If not available, preferred seats will be opened (these are not Economy Plus seats with extra legroom, just standard economy seats that are more desirable)
Customers will see these options immediately and the full policy change will take effect in early March. Note that this new feature does not apply to First Class, Polaris, or Economy Plus, as there are no realistic ways to open seats there.
In the event that adjacent seats are not available prior to travel (for example, due to a last-minute booking, a full flight, or an unscheduled aircraft change), United’s new policy allows customers to transfer free of charge to a flight to the same destination with availability from adjacent seats in the same cabin. You will not be charged if there is a difference in fare between the original and new flight.
Here’s how United’s Chief Customer Officer, Linda Jojo, describes this development:
“In an era where more families are working in a hybrid environment, they are traveling more – and flying with United. We are focused on delivering a great experience for our younger passengers and their parents and know that it often starts with the right seat. We look forward to rolling out more family-friendly features this year.”
This has been played very well by United Airlines
This United initiative is impressive in a number of areas.
First of all, United has invested an incredible amount of money in technology over the past few years, and this is a pretty clear reflection of that. The fact that United can roll out something like this so quickly suggests that the technology has been around for a while, as I imagine this is something other airlines struggle to implement so quickly.
Second, this is a really customer-friendly move with great optics. The reality is that if families can’t sit together, it can quickly sour an experience for a family, and it can cause a bit of chaos at the gate or on board as people try to get a new seat to accommodate families. The optics of this are also great in the sense that United voluntarily complies with new government regulations before they are even implemented.
I think these moves are part of an overall shift that has seen United go from being the last of the “big three” airlines in just about every way, to now leading in many areas. Don’t get me wrong, United is far from perfect – the airline still has a service culture problem (at least compared to Delta), United’s Wi-Fi offerings are weak, and Polaris catering has become downright terrible.
Still, United is moving in the right direction overall in my opinion, and Scott Kirby is doing a good job of slowly transforming the airline for the better.
It boils down
President Biden has promised to crack down on the allowances for families traveling together on planes, and United is proactively complying before any laws are even passed.
United has a new feature that automatically reassigns standard economy seats when traveling with children under 12. Plus, preferred seats open up when regular economy seats aren’t available, and families can even transfer to other flights that do. adjacent seating available.
This has been played really well by United. The execution and speed of implementation here is a pleasant surprise.
What do you think of United’s new family seating policy?