United’s new family seating policy helps customers, hurts competitors and gains political favor
United Airlines airlines have announced a new family seat policy that makes it easier for families to get assigned seats together at no additional cost. This gives them an edge over competitors, on an issue they see becoming mandatory anyway, and earns them political points with the Biden administration for doing so.
United’s seat map tool searches for available adjacent seats during the booking process. They will use this to make more adjacent seats available, even in more expensive coach seats, when children under 12 are part of a booking. A full rollout of the capability will take place next month.
The airline also allows free flight changes with no fare difference when adjacent seats are not available prior to travel. Their new policy even applies to basic economy fares. However, the policy does not apply to economy plus or premium cabin seats.
Regulations may be coming
While only 0.38% of DOT consumer complaints are related to family seating issues, some of the focus on the Department of Transportation’s pending regulations on fee disclosure also includes family seating surcharges, Secretary Buttigieg has ridiculed airlines for charging extra for families to ensure they are seated together. Additional rules are expected.
Family Seating Benefits Airlines
Airlines would like families to sit together. It means parents supervise children, and it keeps other people’s children away from unrelated passengers. It improves the cabin experience and airlines won’t lose a lot of money on it. And it reduces complexity at the gate and during boarding when families try to get the attention of gate agents and flight attendants for reseating assistance, helping to ensure a timely departure.
The biggest barrier has been the investment in technology, to make assignable seats available when young children have a reservation with adults or to program automatic seat assignment to populate together in that case.
United gets ahead politically, imposes future costs on competitors
United imposed vaccine mandates on workers before the Biden administration did. They led the way in environmental investment (and sought fuel subsidies) by funding direct carbon capture, electric aircraft, and renewable fuels. Now they are giving the Biden administration and Secretary Pete what they want to impose on other airlines.
- They see a mandate coming
- United actually turned around on IT, they were one of the least capable, but made massive improvements to the booking experience and their app experience.
- They are able to do this. Policy sounds logicalis it helpful for a flight to have pre-teens supervised by their parents.
- And it makes sense to help impose costs on competitors. If United can do this, so can other airlines. It undermines objections to a federal mandate.
- All while gaining political favor.
This is a customer win, a win over competitors and a political win all in one. United has become very politically savvy since writing their story about President Obama’s former press secretary.
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