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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).
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.
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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