United Introduces Dynamic Seat Map for Families

by Anthony Losanno

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United just announced a new family seating policy that will make it easier for children (under age 12) to sit next to their parent for free. New dynamic seat maps will show adjacent seats during booking and offer them for free (this includes passengers who purchase Basic Economy tickets).

UA 757-200

Starting in March, the new seat engine will review all free Economy seats and then open “complimentary upgrades to available Preferred Seats, if needed.” United marks most of its seats with an upcharge for non-elites, so this could save passengers some money (especially on Basic Economy tickets, which would normally not get a seat assigned at booking). With this policy, parents can select a seat and not worry about the cost for the seat next to their own. This does not include United Polaris®, United First Class® and Economy Plus® seats.

Family Travel

I hope that this will alleviate some of the seemingly inevitable conversations I hear with gate agents before every flight where a parent approaches the podium to declare that their seats are not together (and the gate agents need to fix it). This makes the gate agents scramble to get children seated with parents and is difficult on full flights (which is most these days). I have my doubts this new feature will have much of an impact as so many either are or act clueless currently.

Personally, I don’t know how anyone books a trip and does not choose seats. Schedule changes, aircraft swaps, travel changes, etc., can all cause people to lose seat assignments. I feel sorry for these passengers. My sympathy fades for people who try to save a buck and don’t choose seats while booking to ensure they’re together.

Anthony’s Take: This new feature sounds good and paints United as family friendly. I’m not sure of its impact as I feel many times people don’t choose seats together to save money and then expect the gate agents to fix it. We’ll file this under we’ll see how it plays out.

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ChickB February 20, 2023 - 3:45 pm

I think this is a step in the right direction, but I have to tell you that you overshadowed what might become good news in the airline industry with extraneous noise.

While I mostly agree with “My sympathy fades for people who try to save a buck…”, exceptions being for folks who have to get somewhere and legitimately don’t have the money to pay the additional fees, it kind of grinds my shorts to read “Personally, I don’t know how anyone books a trip and does not choose seats”. Of course you don’t, most of us in the frequent flyer community know tricks that most don’t, and/or have status and disposable income to overcome these issues.

I happen to agree that some (many, most, pick your word) do intentionally leave this to the GAs and fellow passengers to ‘figure it out’ to save money. But I can also tell you that at least some folks legitimately have no option. One example: families traveling on US government orders (DOD, DOS, USAID, DOC, DOJ, etc) generally do not get ticketed until 3-5 days prior to travel and can’t pick seats prior to ticketing because the reservation is being done by some unknown agent somewhere else in the world. By the time they control the ticket the only seats available may be scattered all over the airplane.

This includes folks transferring from NYC to WAS, or FLL to ORF, but it also includes families transferring from WAS to BKK, or MEX to JIB, or any of the hundreds of other remote locations in the world where our public servants work. And they’re all doing it in economy, often carrying the maximum number of bags allowed so that they have at least some of their stuff while they wait months for their household goods to show up.

Try doing a 30 hour trip WAS-PNH with 3 young kids (2, 7, and 9) who resent having to leave their home and friends, while manhandling 10 carryons (2 adults, 3 kids) in economy (vice 1B), all while hoping that your dog doesn’t die in the cargo hold, if you were even lucky enough to get him on your flight. These are not the bulk of parents you’ll hear complaining at the gate, but it’s a not-insignificant subset of them.

My point is, as a fellow passenger you have no way of knowing which category that person is in, and it does a disservice to your readers to stir this pot while conveying a positive change in United’s policies.

Elena February 23, 2023 - 3:45 pm

I agree with you. It bothers me when a flight attendant asks, AFTER passengers are seated, to please move around to accommodate an adult/s with kids. If it is so important to sit together (which it IS for any responsible person) you take care of insuring those seats right at booking. Those of us who choose our seats beforehand shouldn’t be inconvenienced by “smarty” parents. If you don’t have a few extra dollars to guarantee your kids are next to you, you shouldn’t fly until you do.

Mari C. February 26, 2023 - 7:18 pm

A young woman once asked me to switch my aisle seat for her friend’s middle seat so they could sit together. 🤣

Frankfurt Airport Lufthansa
Anthony Losanno February 26, 2023 - 11:01 pm

I believe it. I had a guy ask me once if I would give up my paid first class seat to take his wife’s economy seat so they could sit together. Um, nope.


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