Rows of empty seats of an American Airline flight are seen, as coronavirus disease (COVID-19) disruption continues across the global industry, during a flight between Washington D.C. and Miami, in Washington, U.S., March 18, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Biden administration on Monday asked U.S. lawmakers to approve legislation to bar airlines from charging family seating fees if adjacent seats are available during booking.
U.S. Transportation Secretary (USDOT) Pete Buttigieg wrote lawmakers and sent them draft legislation that would ban airlines from charging an accompanying adult to sit next to children 13 or younger if certain conditions are met.
Buttigieg wrote USDOT “remains concerned that airlines’ policies do not guarantee adjacent seats for young children traveling with a family member and that airlines do not guarantee the adjacent seating at no additional cost.”
The draft proposal reviewed by Reuters would apply to families traveling on the same reservation and in the same class of service and would make requirements effective 180 days after passage, subjecting airlines not in compliance to potential fines.
The bill would direct airlines to offer refunds or seats on another flight if adjacent seats were unavailable under certain conditions.
Last week, American Airlines (NASDAQ:AAL), Alaska Airlines and Frontier Airlines agreed to guarantee in customer service plans not to charge family seating fees if specific conditions are met. USDOT unveiled a government dashboard highlighting airline commitments.
Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV) Chief Executive Bob Jordan said last week the airline is in discussions with USDOT about the family seating dashboard. Southwest, which has an open seating plan, lets parents traveling with children six or younger board ahead of some other passengers.
Jordan says he believes the percentage of time families cannot find seats together on Southwest “is much, much lower” than other airlines.
Airlines for America, which represents large U.S. airlines, says its carriers do not charge for family seating, but most do not include commitments in customer service plans. Carriers not honoring written commitments can face USDOT enforcement actions.
USDOT has begun drafting regulations to end all family seating fees but that could take years to finalize.
President Joe Biden in February urged airlines to take the action, saying, “Baggage fees are bad enough – airlines can’t treat your child like a piece of baggage.”