On February 5, 2024, seemingly out of nowhere, President Biden posted on both X (formerly known as Twitter) and Threads saying that children should be able to sit with their parents on airlines without an additional fee. Naturally, the posts drew a ton of fire from respondents… But is he wrong?
Here’s the post in full:
“You ought to be able to fly with your child – and sit next to them – without paying an additional fee,” Biden says. “It's time all airlines offered fee free family seating.”
So, first of all, where does this post come from? In fact, this is an issue Biden’s administration has been banging the drum about for years. Back in 2016, airlines were required to reseat children 13 years of age or younger next to their parents, even if the initial seat assignments were elsewhere, free of charge. The Department of Transportation backpedaled on this law in 2017, and then again in 2019, due to the low level of complaints. One wonders if the low level of complaints was due to the fact that the law was working, but I digress.
Then on July 8, 2022, the Biden administration had the DOT backpedal again (frontpedal?) and firmly urge airlines to disclose how much they charge to rebook seats for families. They followed up on March 6, 2023, to make sure parents don’t have to pay what they call “junk fees.”
“Parents traveling with young kids should be able to sit together without an airline forcing them to pay junk fees,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg via a release posted to the DOT website. “We have been pressing airlines to guarantee family seating without tacking on extra charges, and now we’re seeing some airlines start to make this common-sense change. All airlines should do this promptly, even as we move forward to develop a rule establishing this as a requirement across the board.”
A cursory search of Google shows that many airlines almost immediately followed the direction, and if they were charging these “junk fees,” they ceased doing so.
That all said, why is Biden posting this now? And is it still an issue? Clearly those responding don’t think so, with multiple calls to concentrate on his job, “pandering,” and much harsher words. But this is also A) social media, and B) an election year, so Biden could post “pizza good” and get the same sorts of responses. Short version, whatever your political leanings, this is not a good litmus test of whether an issue is important or not.
As is, according to A View From The Wing, the complaint level for this issue is very low, and most major airlines like American and United already have implemented the directive from 2023. While some airlines may still have “junk fees” associated with rebooking, it’s definitely not a widespread issue. Pure speculation, but it’s possible this seemed like the sort of relatively innocuous post that most folks can agree with, aka of course parents want their kids to sit next to them. The kids on the other hand? That’s another story.