United Airlines has launched a new seat map feature that dynamically finds available adjacent seats at the time of booking, while a new policy will allow passengers to switch flights for free if none are available.
If adjacent seats aren’t available prior to travel due to last-minute bookings, full flights, or unscheduled aircraft changes, United said on Monday that it will let customers switch for free to a flight to the same destination with adjacent seat availability in the same cabin. Customers won’t be charged if there is a difference in fare price between the original and new flight.
United said many airlines try and use a more manual process to seat families together that can include blocking random seats or asking agents to facilitate seat swaps at the gate. It claims those circumstances often result in more stress and a longer boarding process.
Polaris, First Class, and Economy Plus seats are excluded from its family seating policy change.
Customers traveling with children under 12 will start to see more adjacent seat options immediately, and the complete policy change will go into effect in early March.
Eight-five percent of parents said in the 2022 U.S. Family Travel Survey released on Wednesday that they’re very likely to travel with their children in the next 12 months, another sign of family travel’s strong recovery.
In addition, 47 percent of the 1,000 respondents in the survey by the Family Travel Association and the New York University School of Professional Studies Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality said they’re planning to take a multi-generational family trip. Meanwhile, 46 percent of respondents said they’re planning to travel with family members beyond parents and-in laws.
Family travel spending is also poised to surge in the next year. Fifty-three percent of respondents plan to spend more on domestic travel in the next year while 49 percent expect to increase spending on international travel.
The survey reveals the waning impact of the pandemic on travel decisions. Only 10 percent of respondents not planning to travel said they felt unsafe because of the pandemic, a 14 percentage point drop from last year. Fifty-seven percent of respondents said they believe the pandemic is largely contained and they felt comfortable traveling without many restrictions.
However, more than half of parents surveyed said their travel behaviors and preferences had changed in the last two years — 45 percent of respondents said somewhat while 13 percent said a lot. Almost half of all respondents said the pandemic triggered the changes while 28 percent attributed the shift to the their financial situation, including the impact of inflation. Sixty-seven percent of respondents said they now check cancellation policies when they booking trips while 47 percent said they now buy travel insurance.
“This year’s survey shows that while the pandemic impacts family travel less than last year, the last two years have also led to changes that are likely to last,” said Dr. Lynn Minnaert, former clinical associate professor at the Tisch Center.
“Families are excited to get back out there, but peace of mind and value for money are key priorities when they make travel decisions.”
The U.S. Office of Aviation Consumer Protection has issued a notice urging airlines to do “everything in their power” to ensure children aged 13 or below are seated next to an accompanying adult with no additional charge.
The U.S. Department of Transport said it continued to receive a low number of complaints from consumers about family seating, but there were complaints that involved instances where young children, even as young as 11 months, were not being seated next to an accompanying adult.
In November the office will review airline policies. If their seating policies and practices are barriers to a child sitting next to an adult family member or other accompanying adult family member, the department said it will consider additional action consistent with its authorities.