Don’t leave it to chance: How to make sure your family sits together on a plane

Mar 23, 2022

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As a mom of three, I’m no stranger to the ins and outs of flying with family. I know how to disassemble and reassemble my double stroller with ninja-level precision so it will fit through the baggage scanner at security, I throw screen time rules out the window on travel days and I don’t take any chances when it comes to getting my family’s seats together when we fly.

It was probably due to the fact that I know how turbulent flying with kids can be that I happily gave up my seat on a recent kid-free flight when asked by a father if I would switch seats with him so he could sit with his young son.

I was quick to say yes because he had a window seat a couple of rows in front of my own window seat. Had he been in a middle seat, maybe I’d have preferred an adult beverage thrown in to sweeten the deal.

Related: Why is it so hard for airlines to seat families together?

You can avoid the stress, frustration and possibly the cost of an adult beverage to encourage someone to move at the last second by securing your family’s seat assignments long before you arrive at the airport.

Let’s take a look at the guidelines for some of the most popular U.S. airlines, along with some general tips to help ensure your family’s seats are together when you board the plane.

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In This Post

American Airlines

Like most major airlines, American Airlines allows you to choose your seats at the time of booking or at any time leading up to your flight. There is no fee to choose your seats if you book a first-class, business-class, premium economy or main cabin fare, but you will have to pay a fee to choose your seats if you choose basic economy tickets, American’s least expensive (and most restrictive) fare type.

Related: Here’s what it’s really like flying business class with little kids

Screenshot of American Airlines fare types
(Screenshot from American Airlines)

It’s important that you do everything in your power to choose seats for your entire family at the time of booking. This is the only way to guarantee your family will sit together during your flight.

To do this, American advises the following:

  • Book your entire party’s tickets in the same reservation.
  • Book your tickets as early as possible so there are more available seats to choose from.
  • It’s better to skip seat selection than to choose just a few seats or seats scattered throughout the cabin.

Related: Your ultimate guide to American Airlines AAdvantage

If you decline to select or are unable to find seats together for your family, American will theoretically automatically assign seats a few days after you purchase your tickets. If none of this happens, call the airline or, as a last resort, speak with a gate agent at the airport to ensure the seats they chose for you are together.

American will do its best to seat your entire party together, but it does try to assign seats so children under 15 are seated next to at least one adult in your party.

Alaska Airlines

In order to select your seats at the time of booking on an Alaska Airlines flight, you’ll need to book either a first-class, premium or main cabin ticket. Only a limited number of advance seating assignments are available to customers who purchase Alaska’s saver fare tickets. If no advance seats are available, the seats will be assigned at the gate, which is not ideal for a family wishing to sit together.

Alaska Airlines A320
(Photo by AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)

To guarantee your family sits together on an Alaska Airlines flight:

  • Book as early as possible and reserve your family’s seats together at the time of purchase.
  • Book children on the same reservation as adults.
  • Confirm seat selections made through third parties on Alaska Airlines’ website or by speaking with a reservations agent by phone.
  • If you are unable to get reserved seats together with your family during booking, call an Alaska Airlines reservation agent to review available seating options.
  • As a last resort, check in online exactly 24 hours before your flight, as this is when most unclaimed seats become available (does not apply to saver fare seats, which are assigned at the gate on the day of departure).
  • Arrive at the gate at least 60 minutes prior to your departure time and speak with a gate agent. Alaska does block a limited number of seats to accommodate families and other needs on a first-come, first-served basis.

Delta Air Lines

All but one of Delta Air Lines‘ fare types allow you to select your seats when you purchase your tickets.

If you want your family to sit together, you’ll want to steer clear of Delta’s basic economy fares because they do not include advance seat selection. If you purchase first class, Comfort+ or main cabin tickets, you’ll be given the option to select your seats during the booking process.

Screenshot of Delta's fare types
(Screenshot from Delta Air Lines)

Delta’s other tips for getting your family’s seats together include:

  • Book children on the same reservation as the adults in your party.
  • Confirm seat selections made through third parties by calling a Delta reservations agent or on Delta.com.
  • If you are unable to obtain seats together with your family, contact Delta by phone to review your options or, as a last resort, speak with a Delta gate agent at the airport.

Delta does try and seat family members together, but only upon request. Flight attendants will sometimes ask for volunteers to switch seats and the airline also block a handful of rows in the main economy cabin on most flights to accommodate groups and families, but there are no guarantees unless you reserve your family’s seats together prior to arriving at the airport (and preferably at the time of booking).

Frontier Airlines

Frontier Airlines’ base fares can be alluring to budget-conscious flyers, but if you want the luxury of advance seating assignments, you’ll have to pay extra.

Unless you have elite status with Frontier, seat selection fees run between $17 and $90 per passenger per flight segment and there are no fare types that include complimentary seat selection for non-elite members. However, you could potentially make up the extra cost by joining Frontier’s Discount Den and choosing a “Kids Fly Free” flight.

Exterior of Frontier plane on the runway
(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Frontier states on their website that “the only way to ensure that [your family] will sit together is to select seats at the time of booking.”

Frontier also recommends that families:

  • Book as early as possible and purchase advance seat reservations at the time of booking.
  • Book children on the same reservation as adults in your party.
  • If you book through a third party, visit Frontier’s website as soon as possible to purchase advance seat selections.
  • Check in as early as possible online or through Frontier’s mobile app and Frontier will assign group seats together if any are available.
  • If your family is not assigned seats together, speak with a gate agent for assistance.

With Frontier, you’ll have the best prices and most options by choosing your seats when you purchase your tickets. After that, there are no guarantees, but if you have left everything to chance you’ll want to ensure you check in as close to 24 hours before departure as possible.

JetBlue Airways

JetBlue offers complimentary seat selection with all fare types except Blue Basic. That means that Blue and Blue Extra fares include free advance seat selection, but there is a fee of between $5 and $40 each way to choose your seat more than 24 hours prior to departure for Blue Basic fares (seat selection is available for free at check-in).

When you are purchasing your JetBlue tickets, you’ll have to do the math to determine whether you’ll actually save money by purchasing a Blue Basic fare once you add in the seat selection fees for your entire family. You may be better off with a regular Blue fare.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Other tips from JetBlue include:

  • Book as early as possible for maximum seat selection availability.
  • Book children on the same reservation as adults.
  • Confirm seat selections made through a third party on JetBlue’s website.
  • If you are unable to obtain seats together at the time of booking, contact a JetBlue agent at check-in or at the gate and they will do their best to seat your family together.

That being said, JetBlue does its best to keep families together and blocks a limited number of rows until the day of travel for passengers with disabilities and unaccompanied minors. If any seats are available after accommodating these passengers, JetBlue may be able to use them to seat families together.

Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines is the one airline on this list that does not assign seats in advance, so you cannot purchase a specific seat assignment ahead of time.

With Southwest’s open seating policy, you will be assigned a boarding group (A, B or C) and position within that boarding group (1 through 60-plus) at check-in. Essentially, A1 is the best boarding position and you’ll have the most seating options available to you when you board the plane.

Because of this, the strategies for getting your family’s seats together on a Southwest flight differ from other airlines.

Check in on time

To get as high of a boarding group as possible, you’ll need to check in exactly (like, to the second) 24 hours prior to your flight. This should land your family in an A or B boarding group and most of the time you won’t have an issue getting your family’s seats together. You may have to venture to the back of the plane to find those seats, though.

Southwest Boeing 737 taxxing at Chicago Midway International Airport
(Photo by KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Utilize family boarding

If you have a B or C boarding group and are traveling with a child 6 years old or younger, you will have the option to board between the A and B groups during “family boarding.” Southwest’s policy states that up to two adults can board with a child age 6 or younger during family boarding. If you have more adults than this in your party, speak with a Southwest gate agent to determine your best strategy for finding seats together once on board.

Purchase EarlyBird Check-In or Upgraded Boarding

You can also purchase EarlyBird Check-In, which gives you the convenience of automatic check-in 36 hours prior to your flight (Southwest’s regular check-in process begins 24 hours prior to your flight). This means you’ll automatically receive an earlier boarding position and more available seats to choose from than if you’d done it yourself.

EarlyBird Check-In pricing starts at $15 per passenger per flight segment and you will need to purchase it for everyone in your party. Depending on availability, you may also be able to purchase Upgraded Boarding at the gate for between $30 and $50 per person per flight segment to secure an A1-A15 boarding position.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card and Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card holders can receive two EarlyBird Check-Ins per year, which can bring the total cost for your family down a bit. The Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card also has a benefit of four Upgraded Boardings per year.

Rapid Rewards A-List and A-List Preferred members (and those traveling on the same reservation) automatically receive a boarding position 36 hours prior to departure, though you will still need to check in within 24 hours of your flight to receive your boarding pass.

Screenshot of Southwest fare types
(Screenshot from Southwest Airlines)

Buy a Business Select fare

Finally, you have the option to purchase a Business Select fare, which, among other perks, includes priority boarding in the A1-A15 group.

Speak with an agent

If you don’t heed our advice and find yourself at the airport with a less-than-desirable boarding group, Southwest advises that you speak with a gate agent or flight attendant and they will see if any passengers are willing to move to accommodate your family if you aren’t able to get seats together.

Spirit Airlines

Spirit Airlines keeps its family seating advice plain and simple. The only way to guarantee you’ll be able to sit with your family is to purchase your seat assignments ahead of time.

Seat assignments start at $5 per person per segment and vary by route and seat location in the aircraft. You can purchase your seat assignment at the time of purchase, during check-in or anytime in between, but the earlier you choose the seats, the better chance your entire family will be able to sit together.

Spirit Airlines Plane
(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

There are ways to save money when purchasing your seats, though. Spirit Saver$ Club members receive low fares and discounted prices for add-ons like bags and seats. There is an annual fee, but if you have a large family or plan on flying Spirit Airlines often, the cost may be less than purchasing seats for your entire group.

Speaking of frequent flying, members of Spirit Airlines’ Free Spirit loyalty program at the Gold level receive, among other perks, free seat selection at the time of booking. However, unlike with Frontier’s program, Spirit’s elite status perks such as seat selection do not confer to other members on the reservation.

United Airlines

United Airlines advises families wishing to sit together to purchase an economy fare or higher. These fares include complimentary seat assignments at the time of booking, while basic economy ticketholders may be able to pay an additional fee for advance seat assignments, if any are available.

Screenshot of United Airlines fare types
(Screenshot from United Airlines)

You’ll probably want to avoid basic economy on United if you want your party to stay together. In fact, United explicitly states on their website that they are not able to guarantee your family will be able to sit together if you purchase a basic economy fare and do not purchase advance seat assignments.

Here are a few more helpful tips for families flying United Airlines:

  • Book your tickets as early as possible and reserve your family’s seats together at the time of booking.
  • Book children on the same reservation as adults.
  • Confirm seat selections made through a third party.
  • If only scattered seats are available at the time of booking, you are better off letting United’s system automatically choose seats for you as they will attempt to seat families on the same reservation with unassigned seats together.
  • If you do not select seats in advance, United’s system will attempt to find adjoining seats for you and your children under 15 on the same reservation, regardless of fare type.
  • If you are unable to obtain seats together, arrive early at your departure gate and speak with a gate agent. They will ask for volunteers to move seats and help accommodate your family.

General tips

There is a lot of overlap with the guidance for getting your family’s seats together on most U.S. airlines (with Southwest being the exception).

Seated together on a JetBlue A320. (Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

You want to do everything possible to:

  • Book early and select seats when you book. Do not wait until the last minute to check your seat assignments.
  • Avoid saver fares, which often do not come with complimentary seat selection.
  • Choose your family’s seats at the time of booking, whether it’s included with your fare or you have to pay an additional fee.
  • If you are unable to get your family’s seats together at the time of booking, call the airline and speak with a reservations agent to determine the best course of action.
  • Keep checking seat availability in the months and weeks leading up to your flight, especially in the final week before your trip and again 24 hours before your flight. These are the times when people make last-minute changes or elite flyers receive automatic seat upgrades, freeing up space on the seating map.
  • If you arrive at the airport and still haven’t been able to secure your family’s seats together, politely ask a gate agent or flight attendant for help. You may still have the option to pay for an upgrade or they can assist you by finding open seats. It may be too late to do anything official, but they’ll be much more willing to help if you approach them with kindness.

Related: Where to sit on a plane with 2 small kids

Bottom line

Sometimes kind travelers will help parents who end up in a bind onboard, but there’s no guarantee. You have to plan ahead — and sometimes pony up the extra cash — in order to ensure your family can sit together when you fly.

Featured photo by Hispanolistic/Getty Images.

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