Can I Sit with My Child Flying Basic Economy? Questions, Answered

Can I Sit with My Child Flying Basic Economy? Questions, Answered

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Before the era of basic economy, parents could count on selecting their seats for free – or at least getting assigned a spot next to their children.

But with the advent and adoption of basic economy by almost every major U.S. airline, that’s become less certain. What rules and restrictions do these no-frill fares have? Can I get a seat for free or will I have to pay for it? And will the airline really separate me from my young children?

That last question is a source of heartburn for many families. So we got some answers from the three major U.S. airlines on their seat assignment policies for minors (older than two and younger than 12) flying basic economy with a parent.


Basic Economy: What You Should Know

Before we dive in, it’s important to know a few things about basic economy. Here’s what the three legacy U.S. carriers – American, Delta, and United – offer passengers who book a basic economy fare.

In this case, we’re particularly interested in the seat selection policy for passengers flying basic economy. Here’s what the three legacy carriers offer for basic economy travelers:



  • Baggage: Get a carry-on bag and personal item for free; pay $30 each way for a checked bag (or $60 each way to Europe).
  • Seat Selection: Available for a fee, starting at roughly $10 each way. Otherwise, seats are automatically assigned at check-in or at the gate.
  • Boarding: Final boarding group.
  • Read more: What’s included in an American Basic Economy ticket?



  • Baggage: Get a carry-on bag and personal item for free; pay $30 each way for a checked bag (or $60 each way to Europe).
  • Seat Selection: Available for a fee seven days before departure, starting at $29 each way. Otherwise, seats are assigned at check-in or at the gate (but you may be able to get a better seat for free).
  • Boarding: Boards last in Delta’s new boarding order.
  • Read more: What’s included in a Delta Basic Economy ticket?



  • Baggage: Get a personal item for free; pay $30 each way for a checked bag (or $60 each way to Europe). No carry-ons allowed unless flying to Europe.
  • Seat Selection: Available for a fee, starting at roughly $7 each way. Otherwise, seats are automatically assigned at check-in.
  • Boarding: Final boarding group.
  • Read more: What’s included in a United Basic Economy ticket?


Budget carriers like Frontier and Spirit never include bags or seat assignment in the ticket price, so it will always cost extra for seat assignment. Alaska Airlines has a basic economy “Saver” fare that allows passengers to pick seats at the back of the cabin for free. Hawaiian Airlines has started selling basic economy fares as has JetBlue, which also charges a fee to pick most seats. And then there’s Southwest, which doesn’t sell basic economy fares – and says it never will.


basic economy children


We flew all three legacy carriers’ basic economy fares in one day, so check out our “battle of basic economy” to find out the winner.

Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like: airlines use basic economy fares to nudge you into upgrading to Main Cabin. The fear of not having more than a carry-on bag and not getting to select your seat is often enough to scare many passengers into paying extra to avoid basic economy.

But do the rules of basic economy fares bend when a seat is ticketed to a minor? We turned to the three biggest U.S. legacy airlines for their policy on minors’ seating in Basic Economy.


What The Airlines Say About Seating with Children

There are plenty of stories about parents approaching gate agents to make sure they’re seated next to their children. Or swapping seats with a neighbor once onboard.

But we reached out to American, Delta, and United to get their formal policies on how they handle seat assignments with minors and adults on basic economy fares. Here’s what they had to say:



Our automated system will run within 24 hours of ticketing, and assign them seats together – a child (under 12) and an adult. This is regardless if they purchased a Basic Economy ticket. In this case, seat assignments would appear 24 hours after ticketing (even on a Basic Economy reservation).”

Translation: According to its policy, American will always assign a minor and adult traveling together seats next to each other, even when flying basic economy. That’s a surprisingly family-friendly policy.



“Our Basic Economy fares are designed for travelers who don’t mind where they sit. These seats are assigned after check-in or at the gate which means passengers traveling together, including families, may not be seated together, as highlighted throughout the shopping experience. While our Airport Customer Service team makes every effort to seat families with young children together regardless of ticket type, customers who need to be seated beside another person in their family are encouraged to select Delta’s Main Cabin product that allows for seat selections and ticket changes.

“That said, we do offer the option for Basic Economy customers to purchase a seat assignment starting seven days from departure. It’s important to note that options for seat selection are limited to only the eligible seats that remain available at the time of purchase. In some cases, multiple seats together may not be available at the time of seat selection.”

Translation: While you can purchase seat assignments and may be able to secure seats next to each other with the help of a Delta agent, it may not always work. Delta’s policy makes clear that if you need to sit next to your child, you should buy a main cabin economy fare – which typically costs an extra $40 each way.



“Customers who book Basic Economy an onboard experience similar to our standard economy, but there are some restrictions associated with this fare such as complimentary advance seat assignments. For this reason, we don’t suggest Basic Economy for families who want to be seated together. We understand that some families will still be interested in this fare class, and when seats are available, we work to book families traveling with children together starting 72 hours before the flight departs.”

Translation:  Much like Delta, Unites also discourages parents and families from booking basic economy fares, saying there’s no guarantee they’ll be seated together. However, United stresses that the airline will try to seat children with parents starting 72 hours before departure. But that’s a narrow time window, at which point many of the seats next to each other may have been taken.


What You Can Do

Of course, it won’t always work this way in practice.

You may find agents with airlines like Delta and United are far more accommodating with your own travels. And despite American’s generous policy on paper, it may not always be the case that you’re automatically assigned seats next to your child. It will often come down to the luck of which agent you speak with – and you can’t count on that.


basic economy children


So that said, there are a few things you can do to try to ensure you get a seat next to your child.

  • Buy a main cabin economy fare. While it stinks that airlines are now charging more for the pleasure of picking a seat, it could be worth paying the price for the comfort of being next to your children.
  • Pay for seat assignments. All three major airlines allow even basic economy travelers to pay extra for seat selection. United’s policy is among the best, as you can pay for a seat from the time you check out. American allows that too, but Delta doesn’t allow you to pay for a seat flying basic economy until seven days before departure – and it’s typically expensive at roughly $29 per seat.
  • Message your airline on Twitter! While it may not always work, you may find an agent willing to assign you and your child seats next to each other.
  • If you’re flying Delta and unwilling to pay for a seat, you can try the little-known method to pick your seats for free 24 hours before departure. Just beware that it won’t always work to snag two (or more) seats together.
  • Finally, be kind. Your final option is to politely ask the ticketing counter agent or gate agent if you could be seated next to your child – or ask a flight attendant for help once you’re on board.


Unfortunately, there is no requirement for the airline to provide a complimentary seat assignment, even when a minor is involved. American’s policy is clearly the best, but even then, the only way to ensure you get a seat next to your child is by paying for that seat.


Bottom Line

Unfortunately, the spread of basic economy spells trouble for traveling parents and families. There are some ways to ensure you sit together, and some airlines handle it better than others.

But if you want to make sure you sit next to your child on the plane, your safest bet is to simply pay for it.


Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

10 Responses

  • This is bs especially if a child is a minor. But good luck to the person who gets to sit by my hyper 5 year old, at least I’ll have a pleasant flight (jk..jk..). Can you guys imagine how quickly carriers would accommodate families if this happens regularly? Can you imagine what a horrible flight everyone would have due to stupid rules such as these, especially if children are sitting away from parents whom would control them? I say parents should just start booking and letting carriers deal with the fallout from their greediness. Such rules wouldn’t last very long. Flights are already miserable enough as it is stuck in a cramp space for a few hours, let alone being next to a child with no one in charge of them anywhere close to them.

    • Ya they just make it our fault when they try to remove our children from the flight and we put up a fight

  • We recently booked a basic economy ticket for 2 adults/1 child (11-year-old) one-way that included 2 separate flights on United about 6 weeks out.
    My wife called the MileagePlus customer service number and was easily successful in asking to be assigned seating together with her minor child. YMMV of course. I also would have called HUCA if the first call had not been successful.

  • If you want seats together, pay the fare. We’ve had a plane held up while a family of 5 pitched a hissy fit about seats. We pay the fare. You can’t have it both ways.

  • Hey Karen, try this one on—trying to book a flight for my family to London. United wants to charge me $650 extra just to select my seats. That’s an insane amount of $ for something that used to always be free. It’s easy to say “just pay the full fair” but are you willing to pay $650 extra just to select a seat?? Rules like these just feel like they are targeting families with young kids. “We know you won’t want to be separated from your kids so we are going to stick it to you—happy holidays”

  • A Malcar you are right on the money. They are basically price gouging families with young children. It’s one thing to pay a small sum for one passenger but totally different to multiply by 4 or even more. It never used to be a question to sit next to your young child but now we are extorted. Add that along with baggage fees if you would rather check two larger bags than carry four or more smaller bags and have to find over head storage, not to mention booster seats and such, and you could nearly double the price of flying for a family. That’s insane.

  • No, Karen, it is absolutely ridiculous to have to pay to sit next to your own small child. It shows how greedy the American airline industry has become. International airlines make sure a small child is sitting next to at least one parent. They will also seat an older child within one row of a parent, which is a great compromise. I have no problem paying extra if I want an exit row, bulkhead, more legroom, etc. And, I don’t expect all 4 if us to sit together, but it’s complete b.s. that airlines think it’s ok to seat a 2 yo away from a parent.

  • This infuriates me to no end, and feels like it unfairly targets parents of young children. I don’t use overhead bin space, don’t care where I sit on the plane (so long as it’s next to my child) and actually prefer to board last when I’m traveling with fidgety children. So the extra $240-320 (for a family of 4) we’re often charged just for wanting to keep tabs on our children feels obscene. What if there’s an emergency on board, can I trust a stranger to affix their oxygen mask or properly evacuate my 4 year old? What’s to keep a pervy stranger from inappropriately touching an unattended kid? It happens to adult women on planes. Who would be liable in these instances, the cheap-o parents, or the criminally greedy airlines?

  • Time to re-regulate the airlines. So sick of getting charged for everything little thing (most of which used to be free) while they take taxpayer handouts and execs rake in money.

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