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.

The tweak to the online seat booking engine is designed to help sit children under 12-years-old next to an adult in their party for free, and follows calls by the Biden administration to ban airlines from charging family-seating fees.

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.


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Tags: family travel, united airlines, white house