Statement: DOT calls on airlines to drop family seating fees, improve refund process

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) on Friday told airlines to eliminate fees to seat children with an accompanying adult, warned that it will crack down on other consumer-unfriendly fees and published its first ‘Bill of Rights’ to help passengers with disabilities.

The DOT actions come a week after U.S. PIRG and a half-dozen other consumer advocacy groups sent a letter to Congress asking the chairs and ranking members of the Senate Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee and the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee to tell airlines to change their policies to prioritize passengers.

Among our recommendations: Dropping fees airlines often charge to seat parents and caregivers with their minor children. The DOT’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection (OACP) on Friday issued a notice recommending that airlines make sure children 13 years old or younger can sit next to an accompanying adult at no extra charge. The DOT said it continues to get complaints from flyers on this issue, including one instance where an 11-month-old baby was seated apart from an accompanying adult. The notice said the DOT will continue to monitor complaints and consider further action.

The DOT also said it plans to announce additional protections this year concerning two other issues U.S. PIRG’s coalition has pushed for — refunds for cancelled flights and unreasonable fees for baggage, changing a flight and other basic services.

In response, Teresa Murray, Consumer Watchdog with U.S. PIRG, said:

“Of all of the ridiculous fees that many airlines have imposed over the years, charging a parent or a caregiver extra to sit with a young child is at the top of the list. We wish the Department of Transportation would do more than just call on airlines to drop these family seating fees and instead require them to drop the fees now. But this is a step in the right direction.

“We are encouraged that the DOT finally seems poised to take the gloves off and stick up for flyers whose rights have been abused for way too long. We hope the Department of Transportation and Congress will use their authority to protect passengers in all of the ways we’ve recommended, including requiring airlines to issue quick refunds, make fees transparent and, of course, minimize cancelled and delayed flights.”


Others joining in the recommendations are: American Economic Liberties Project, Business Travel Coalition, Consumer Federation of America,, National Consumers League and Travelers United.

U.S. PIRG has put together a guide to your rights to a refund under federal law and tips to understand airlines’ policies on credits and vouchers, which flyers don’t have to accept when the airline cancels the flight.