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American Is Now the First U.S. Airline to Guarantee Your Family Can Sit Together

The carrier has already published the major change to its customer service policy.

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Even though plenty of things can get complicated on your way to catch your flight, the boarding process is arguably one of the most stressful of the air travel experience. And while solo travelers may fear getting shipped to the back of the plane or ending up in a dreaded middle seat on a long flight, families traveling together face an extra level of uncertainty if they can't manage to get seat assignments near one another. The issue has led to last-minute scrambles where parents may rely on the kindness of fellow travelers to switch spots so they can be next to their young children. But now, American has announced it will be the first airline to guarantee that your family can sit together. Read on to see how the new policy could affect your next trip.

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American will now guarantee that your family can sit together for free on flights.

A family boarding a flight with their carry on luggage

Traveling with young ones in tow may have just gotten a little less stressful. On Feb. 28, American Airlines announced that it had updated its policies to guarantee that children traveling on a flight will be seated next to an accompanying adult. The new rules apply to all kids under 15 and eliminate any extra fees during booking.

A spokesperson for the airline told Best Life that while the carrier has followed this procedure since 2019, it recently updated its customer service plan on its website to reflect the changes. The carrier's newly posted policy states that its "goal is to have families seated together."

"American Airlines lets families sit together at no additional cost," the airline said in a statement emailed to Best Life. "We are proud to offer industry-leading, customer-friendly policies that ensure a positive travel experience for families traveling together. Our current policies allow families to sit together without having to pay more, and we are pleased to update our Customer Service Plan to provide additional clarity to families traveling with us."

The new rule still has a few restrictions.

people boarding the plane

According to the company's website, the new rule applies to all ticketed children 14 and younger—even if they are booked on Basic Economy fares that are typically more restricted. However, the carrier points out that there are still a few restrictions, including that all travelers must be booked on the same reservation. In addition, adjacent seats must also still be available in the same class of service when booking children's tickets.

The rules may also not apply if passengers make changes to their seat placement once they've been assigned by the airline. And the size of your flight's aircraft can also affect availability, including if its seating configuration can't accommodate the number of children in your group or if the company switches to a smaller plane after booking.

"If these conditions aren't met, we will still try to seat children adjacent to an accompanying adult," the airline's website states.

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The airline says it has been working with officials leading up to its policy announcement.

American Airlines Plane on Runway
Santiparp Wattanaporn/Shutterstock

While the company has helped families sit together for years, the recent update to its publicly posted customer service policy changes the weight of the carrier's promise. Now that the plan has been submitted to federal regulators, the airline is liable for penalties if it cannot deliver on its promises to travelers.

American has been working with the Department of Transportation (DOT) as it plans to unveil a new family seating dashboard next Tuesday, a spokesperson for the carrier told Best Life. The new hub will provide travelers with information on which airlines will guarantee that families will be seated next to one another, with the requirement that each carrier includes the rules in its public customer service plan to be included. The spokesperson also clarified that while DOT would require airlines to consider all travelers 13 and under, American would apply its policy to those under 15.

"A parent should be able to sit next to their child without paying extra fees, asking other passengers to swap seats, or facing a last-minute scramble at the gate," DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg tweeted on Feb. 28. "That's why [the DOT] is moving to require airlines to guarantee fee-free family seating…I appreciate American Airlines becoming the first U.S. airline to commit to putting this guarantee in its customer service plan."

Other airlines are beginning to implement similar rules.

crowded american airlines flight
Samuel Ponce / Shutterstock

At the moment, families who book flights on American will receive adjacent seat assignments thanks to an internal matrix that processes requests every 15 minutes, a spokesperson for the airline tells Best Life. Travelers are prompted to refrain from choosing seats through the process so they can be sat next to their children.

But American isn't the only airline trying to make it easier for families to travel together. On Feb. 20, United Airlines announced it would release a new seat map feature this month to help families sit next to each without paying a fee. The new program allows travelers to easily search for available adjacent seats and to switch to a different flight to the same destination at no extra charge if none are available, CNN reports.

On Feb. 21, Frontier Airlines announced that it would also change its seating assignment system so that kids under 14 would travel next to an accompanying adult free of charge, USA Today reported. Typically, the carrier adds a fee for selecting a seat.

Last year, Delta Air Lines confirmed that it blocked off specific seat selections so family travelers could more easily sit together. But in response to the changes announced across the industry last week, it also said that it "does not charge family seating fees and regardless of the ticket class purchased, will always work with customers on a case-by-case basis to ensure their family seating needs are met," per Skift.

Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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