Basic Economy Family Seating – Is It Possible?
Flying basic economy is an idea I do not relish. It is bad enough if flying alone. Flying as a family, it’s even worse. The lack of advance seat selection is the biggest issue when kids are along. Basic economy family seating is better handled with European carriers, as U.S. airlines don’t really make guarantees that you’ll be seated together.
While not sitting next to my twelve-year-old might not be the a deal breaker, not sitting next to my five-year-old would be a nonstarter. We simply wouldn’t fly. So basic economy family seating is a critical consideration when deciding which tickets to book.
I’ve already covered the general basic economy experience with each major carrier. All basic economy products (with the exception of Alaska) do not offer any sort of advance seat selection. This is not an issue if traveling solo, not even with United, the worst of the bunch.
But with families, seat assignment can be make or break. Here is what each carrier offers traveling families:
Basic Economy Family Seating Policies
Some European carriers have great basic economy family seating policies, such as KLM’s guarantee that all kids under 12 will sit next to an adult. KLM allows families to select seats free of charge at least 4 days prior to departure. Virgin Atlantic is also required by law to provide family seating, per the following:
But what about U.S. carriers? Things should have been a bit better after the Families Flying Together Act of 2015, but all this really did was require air carriers to provide you an “are you really sure?” screen that informs you of your fare’s restrictions. It does not require them to actually accommodate seating your family together.
Here is what each offers in terms of basic economy family seating guarantees:
- Alaska Airlines – No guarantee that parties of two or more will sit together. However, Alaska does offer a limited number of seats for selection with their Saver (basic economy) fares.
- American Airlines – The published policy is to seat children under 15 next to at least one adult. The entire party may not be together.
- Delta Air Lines – No guarantees for traveling families that kids will be seated next to adults.
- United Airlines – No guarantees for traveling families that kids will be seated next to adults.
- JetBlue – No guarantees for traveling families that kids will be seated next to adults. They are the most recent to launch a basic economy product, dubbed Blue Basic.
Southwest Airlines also doesn’t offer basic economy, but they do have free-for-all seating. However, families will nearly always be seated together, as parents with kids age 6 and under board between Group A and Group B. This guarantees that there are enough pairs of seats left that you can be next to your kids.
Should You Fly Basic Economy With Kids?
Deciding whether to fly basic economy or not as a family requires you to weigh a number of considerations. If basic economy is much cheaper and you save $100s on your trip, it might be worth chancing.
If you’re able to fly a carrier where you do have an opportunity to skirt around the issue of seating, then go for it. Not sitting together is the primary issue I have when booking basic economy with kids. I’ve not yet done it due to this very reason.
You do have the option to select seats for a fee before check-in with many carriers. If it is only critical that you sit by your favorite child, then maybe you could just pay for two and not the other. Okay…I kid about the favorite. But this might just be a valid scenario for a parent traveling with their 15, 12, and 6 year old.
Finally, you can always plan to ask folks to swap seats, if needed. My guess is that most would help try to accommodate you. However, I personally wouldn’t make it a plan to bank on the kindness of strangers to make sure you all sit together.
Case Studies of Traveling Families I’ve Seen
While traveling for work I have been able to observe traveling families a number of times. There have been multiple instances where kids were not seated with parents. I’ve actually had a child seated next to me twice without a parent in the same row.
In both cases the kids appeared to be at least 8 years old. Each was also in fairly close proximity to their parents, with mom or dad either a row ahead or behind. In both cases, all family members occupied middle seats in consecutive rows.
I don’t actually know whether the family booked basic economy, or whether they had to be accommodated on the flight last minute due to a missed connection. All I know is that everyone was separated. The kids ended up being totally cool flyers. And an 80-pound kid next to me is much preferred over a 240-pound dude on a cross country flight.
There was a third case where a kid in the window seat across the aisle from me on an American ERJ-145 was seated five rows ahead of (who I assume was) his dad. He looked to be about nine and seemed entirely comfortable sitting by himself.
Based on these observations, it seems some parents and kids are perfectly fine not being seated together. My kids wouldn’t be especially thrilled if we were seated separately. My 8-year-old son had reservations when we had one person between us in the same row after getting upgraded to first class on a Delta flight. Luckily, the man in the aisle seat swapped seats with him.
At the end of the day, it’s up to you whether you want to risk booking basic economy with kids in tow. Basic economy fares can be tempting due to the savings they offer, but make sure you consider any potential pitfalls if you’re traveling as a family.
I much prefer to book fares where I know that we can select seats ahead of time. However, there are cases where I might consider saving some money by booking basic economy, as long as I am confident that basic economy family seating won’t be an issue.
Would you fly book basic economy with your kids?