On March 6, 2023, the United States Department of Transportation (“DOT”) launched a new online dashboard in an attempt by the Biden Administration to put pressure on U.S. airlines to address customer concerns regarding family seating. The online dashboard represents an effort by the DOT to publicly pressure airlines to eliminate fees related to family seating in the absence of specific rulemaking on this issue.
According to the DOT, the dashboard highlights which U.S. airlines guarantee fee-free family seating, and those that do not. In a press release that accompanied the rollout of the dashboard, the DOT indicated that it has already “begun work on a common-sense rulemaking to ban airlines from charging families junk fees to sit together.”
U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg stated, “Parents traveling with young kids should be able to sit together without an airline forcing them to pay junk fees.” Secretary Buttigieg continued, “We have been pressing airlines to guarantee family seating without tacking on extra charges, and now we’re seeing some airlines start to make this common-sense change. All airlines should do this promptly, even as we move forward to develop a rule establishing this as a requirement across the board.”
According to the DOT, “[t]o receive a green check on the dashboard, an airline must guarantee that parents can sit next to children age 13 and younger for free if adjacent seats are available when they book. And they must include that guarantee as part of their customer service plan so that it is backstopped by USDOT enforcement if they fail to deliver.”
President Biden has also called upon Congress to enact legislation to address fees related to family seating and the Biden Administration plans to send Congress proposed legislation addressing this issue in the coming weeks.
This online dashboard represents another step by the Biden Administration in strengthening consumer protections in the aviation industry. The family seating dashboard follows a prior dashboard unveiled in the summer of 2022 that highlighted airline commitments related to controllable flight cancellations or delays. In light of this new family seating dashboard and the Biden Administration’s focus on strengthening consumer protections, airlines should take stock of the fees charged to seat passengers in specific seats on flights.
The DOT’s March 6, 2023 press release regarding the family seating dashboard can be found here.