United, addressing huge passenger concern, making it easier for families to sit together

New dynamic seat map feature will sit children under 12 next to adult in their party for free, regardless of type of ticket purchased

Addressing an issue that most feel should have never been an issue, United Airlines announced Monday that is improving its family seating policy, making it easier for children under 12 to sit next to an adult in their party for free, including customers who purchase Basic Economy tickets.

United’s new policy is made possible through a series of investments in a new seat map feature that dynamically finds available adjacent seats at the time of booking. The online seat engine first reviews all available free Economy seats and then opens complimentary upgrades to available Preferred Seats, if needed.

United officials said 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. United, as most know, is the leading carrier at Newark Liberty International Airport.

In instances when adjacent seats are not available prior to travel — due to circumstances such as last-minute bookings, full flights or unscheduled aircraft changes — United’s new policy also lets customers switch for free to a flight to the same destination with adjacent seat availability in the same cabin. Customers also won’t be charged if there is a difference in fare price between the original and new flight.

To be clear, this isn’t a United issue, but an industry issue that United is looking to address.

And United officials noted that their top-tier seating options — United Polaris, United First Class and Economy Plus seats — remain separate products and are excluded from this family seating policy change.

Still, Chief Customer Officer Linda Jojo said she feels the announcement is an upgrade in policy.

“In an era where more families are working in a hybrid environment, they’re traveling more often — and they’re flying United,” she said. “We’re focused on delivering a great experience for our younger passengers and their parents and know it often starts with the right seat. We look forward to rolling out more family-friendly features this year.”

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. Those circumstances often result in more stress and a longer boarding process for everyone.

United officials said the announcement reflects the investments United has made in its technology and tools. Since last summer, the airline has worked to improve its ability to seat families together more easily by optimizing the airline’s seat engine to prioritize families who did not have seats assigned before their day of travel and prioritize adjacent seating for families during schedule changes, aircraft swaps or irregular operations.