There is much to say about the difficulties of traveling with young children, but the Department of Transportation is doing at least one thing to make the process simpler. According to a notice released last Friday by the DoT, the Office of Aviation Consumer Protection (OACP) has issued a notice urging U.S. airlines to ensure that children ages 13 and younger are seated next to the adult accompanying them at no additional charge.
The notice indicates, “the Department will monitor airlines’ actions in this regard and consider what steps, including potential regulation consistent with the Department’s authorities, may be appropriate to ensure airlines’ seating policies and practices are not barriers to a young child being seated next to an adult family member or other accompanying adult.”
According to the new guidance, the OACP is encouraging airlines to offer an option at the time of booking for customers to indicate they will need seats for children they are accompanying. “If adjacent seats are not available at booking, OACP encourages airlines to provide clear and accurate information to the parent or other adult traveling with the young child to enable the adult to make informed decisions on how to proceed,” the notice indicates.
It’s worth noting this only applies when both tickets purchased are in the same cabin class; airlines are not required to provide an accommodation that would result in a child being upgraded to a seat in a section that would command a higher fare. Otherwise, airlines are expected to seat children with their parents to the maximum extent practical.
Airlines that don’t offer the option to indicate you’re traveling with children at the time of booking are instructed to have an “open seating policy,” whereby the airline can ensure adults traveling with young children are able to be seated so that at least one adult is adjacent to each young child at no additional cost. (Some companies, like United Airlines, may still try to encourage you to purchase advance seating assignments to ensure your entire party sits together.) If you haven’t made arrangements at the time of booking, alert the gate attendant that you’re flying with a child to make sure the correct accommodation is made before boarding. If the airline is unable to handle your request, you can file a complaint with the OACP via email at C70Notice@dot.gov.
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