United needs to make it simpler for households to sit down collectively free of charge

A United Airlines plane departs Newark International Airport in Newark, New Jersey on January 11, 2023.

Kena Betancur AFP | Getty Images

United Airlines said Monday the new technology will open up more seats on its flights, allowing children to sit with an adult in their party without paying a fee, a type of fee that has been under scrutiny by the Biden administration in recent months was taken.

United will show parents or other adult travelers traveling with a child under the age of 12 access to “preferred” seating at the time of booking, as well as regular economy seating if needed, so they can be seated together.

The change applies to travelers on Standard and Basic Economy tickets and will be fully effective next month, although United has already increased some seat availability.

The airline also does not charge customers a fare difference if they transfer to a flight to the same destination with adjacent seats.

Airlines have been charging travelers for booking seats in “preferred” locations on flights in recent years. They do not have extra legroom or other perks, but are often located in front of the aircraft, although they can cover a significant number of seats on an aircraft.

President Joe Biden has urged lawmakers to “speed up the ban on family seating fees,” the White House said earlier this month. In July, the Department of Transportation urged US airlines to “do everything in their power” to ensure travelers under the age of 13 sit next to an accompanying adult at no additional cost.

“Baggage fees are bad enough,” Biden said during his State of the Union address earlier this month. “Airlines can’t treat your child like a piece of luggage.”

Such seats usually vary in price. On a return flight between Newark, New Jersey and Los Angeles in August, preferred seats on a United flight were shown as $37 each way for one person.

Delta Airlines said it blocks certain rows of seats so families can sit together.

“Delta does not collect family seating fees and will always work with customers on a case-by-case basis, regardless of the class of ticket purchased, to ensure their family seating needs are met,” a spokesman said in a statement Monday.

American AirlinesThe booking platform automatically searches for available seats for Main Cabin and Basic Economy passengers at the time of booking. Preferred seating and the extra legroom section, Main Cabin Extra, open up the day of departure if needed, a spokesman told CNBC.

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