Ah, the joys of family travel. Navigating a long, slow line at check-in with suitcases, backpacks, headphones and bulky neck pillows. Forgetting to empty the water bottles before reaching security and forcing everyone to chug. Paying $20 for a bag of pretzels because your child refuses all of the snacks you've carefully packed. It's enough to make you consider turning your summer vacation into a road trip.
But now there's one less headache awaiting parents who embark on air travel with their kids. The Department of Transportation has released new guidelines that direct airlines to provide parents and children under 13 with adjacent seats at no additional cost.
The Office of Aviation Consumer Protection (OACP) released a statement explaining that while the number of complaints it receives about this problem are relatively low, "even one complaint is significant for the impacted travelers."
The notice explains that airlines "should do everything that they can to ensure the ability of a young child (age 13 or younger) to be seated next to an accompanying adult (over age 13) family member or other accompanying adult, without charging fees for adjacent seating."
The OACP says that in four months it will monitor airlines' actions in this regard and, if necessary, enact further regulation. The notice alone, however, puts the pressure on airlines to accommodate families' requests for adjacent seating.
There are a couple of caveats to the guidance. Airlines need to seat young kids next to one accompanying adult, but they're not required to seat your whole family together, which could leave you passing iPads and headphones and snacks up and down the aisles, surely to the delight of your fellow passengers. And it won't save you from the nightmare scenario in which you get boxed in by your kids while your co-parent happily snoozes away ten rows back.
The guidance also doesn't require ever-generous airlines to upgrade anyone's seat "to another cabin class or a seat with extra legroom or seat pitch for which additional payment is normally required."
The DoT advises families to purchase tickets that allow you to select assigned seats, book all members of your family on the same reservation, and contact the airline directly before your flight if you have a seating issue.
This new guidance won't work the magic of making your flight comfortable or enjoyable, but it will ensure that no kid gets stranded without a grown-up.
As for children over age 13? You may be able to convince them to pay extra for the privilege of not sitting next to you.