Recently, industry trade group Airlines for America said they expect a record 234.1 million passengers to travel worldwide on U.S. airlines this season, a reflection of vacation-hungry families, low oil prices and overall strong demand for air travel.
That's good news for airlines, yet full planes — and the extra fees many airlines charge for preselecting a seat – means families may have trouble getting seated together on airplanes, making it likely adult travelers may find themselves planted next to cranky children.
As part of the FAA Reauthorization Bill of 2016, airlines were supposed to ensure that families flew together without charging extra fees. However, "the rulemaking for this law has never taken place," said Charles Leocha, co-founder of the consumer advocacy group Travelers United, with the policy tied up in bureaucratic red tape since its passage.
Although some airlines make strides to seat families together, the lack of a regulatory framework means families flying this summer "are still on their own," said Suzanne Kelleher, a family travel expert at Tripsavvy.com.
Southwest Airlines, which doesn't have assigned seats, gives families traveling with children six years or younger a head start in the boarding process, prioritizing them ahead of most other travelers in a way that insures families can get seats together.
American Airlines "checks for families traveling with children 13 and under a few days before the flight, and seats each child with an adult," said airline spokesperson Ross Feinstein. "If the automated system doesn't find adjacent seats for families, our agents will assist families at the gate."
Meanwhile, United Airlines staff works "to keep families seated together and will ask customers onboard to move seats to accommodate families," said United spokesperson Charles Hobart.
If preassigned seats haven't been secured, "Check in online 24 hours before your flight, when you should be able to see your seat assignments," Kelleher said. "If you see that your seats are not together, call your airline's customer service center."
If sitting together as a family is a priority, "It can be worth it to shell out the extra cost for 'premium seats' to make sure to get seats together," she said.
Kids flying solo