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DOT’s Review of U.S. Airline Family Seating Policies

Statutory Requirement

Initial Review (June 2016- June 2017) 

  • In response to the statute, the Department reviewed the seating policies of the largest U.S. airlines.

  • As part of its review, the Department also searched its consumer complaint database for family seating complaints filed with the Department from June 1, 2016 to May 31, 2017.
  • Fewer than .5% (.005) of over 10,000 complaints received by the Department against U.S. airlines during this period involved family seating.  No single airline received a majority of the complaints.
  • Through this process, the Department learned more about when families tend to experience problems in being able to sit together and how family members could best ensure that their child is seated next to an adult family member.
  • Based on the low number of complaints received and review of airline family seating policies, the Department determined that it was unnecessary to direct airlines to establish policies on family seating.  However, the Department found that families could benefit from practical tips to make sitting together easier when flying within the United States.

  • The Department added a family seating page to its consumer website containing practical tips to help families obtain seats together and be better informed when choosing among transportation options.  The Department's family seating webpage is available here

Follow-up Review (July 2017 to June 2019)

  • The Department reviewed family seating complaints filed directly with the Department from July 2017 through June 2019.  This review revealed that the Department continued to receive a low number of family seating complaints - approximately .5% (.005) of the aviation consumer complaints received by the Department against U.S. airlines.

  • The Department also conducted a follow-up review of the family seating policies of the largest U.S. airlines and found that since its initial review some airlines had enhanced approaches applicable to family seating.  For example, certain airlines use automated systems to better ensure young children are seated next to at least one adult family member. 
  • After this follow-up review, the Department updated its family seating webpage to provide consumers with additional information to make sitting together easier when flying in the United States.  This includes more detailed information on the seating policies of each of the largest U.S. airlines.

Family Seating Complaints (2020)

Because of the significant interest in family seating and recent increases in the number of family seating complaints filed with the Department, the Department will provide information about family seating complaints each month in the table below.  The recent increases in family seating complaints correspond with an advocacy group's efforts to encourage air travelers to file complaints with the Department if they are dissatisfied with an experience related to family seating. 

Complaints Filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation

(U.S. and Foreign Airlines)

Complaints Filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation

(U.S. and Foreign Airlines)

Month Number of Family Seating Complaints Total Number of Complaints
January 2020 54 1,258
February 2020 30 1,129
March 2020 86 4,756
April 2020 0 17,520
May 2020 0 18,691
June 2020 2 13,454
July 2020 4 9,327
August 2020 1 6,353
September 2020 1 4,808
October 2020 3 4,061
November 2020 1 3,052
December 2020 2 3,122
January 2021 0 3,197
February 2021 4 2,610
March 2021 5 3,124
April 2021 8 2,820
May 2021 6 2,853
June 2021 9 3,415
July 2021 14 4,339
August 2021 18 6,004
September 2021 8 3,635
October 2021 2 3,295
November 2021 8 2,997
December 2021 21 3,670
January 2022 5 4,394
February 2022 9 3,189
March 2022 18 3,848
April 2022 20 4,582
May 2022 15 3,885
June 2022 23 5,402
July 2022 83 6,416
August 2022 68 6,744
September 2022 42 5,699
October 2022 31 5,000

The Department will post information for subsequent months as complaint data for the month is published in the Department's Air Travel Consumer Report (e.g. The Air Travel Consumer Report with January 2020 complaint data was published in March 2020).

Continued Monitoring

  • The Department continues to monitor and review family seating complaints on a regular basis.  It plans to update the family seating webpage to include new and helpful information for families as airline business models, practices and procedures evolve.


Last updated: Wednesday, January 11, 2023