By Ben Mutzabaugh
Afraid your children won't get to sit next to you on a flight? Starting today, leisure carrier Allegiant Air says that's unlikely to happen on its planes.
Allegiant has changed has its check-in system so passengers under age 14 will be seated next to at least one adult traveling on the same flight.
Andrew Levy, president of Allegiant Travel, says the change won't guarantee an entire family will be seated together. But it will keep children from being separated entirely from a parent or guardian. The airline also doesn't allow unaccompanied minors to fly by themselves.
The move comes as the busy summer vacation travel season gets underway and as as airlines, including Allegiant, have increasingly begun charging fees for advanced seat assignments, even in coach class.
Many airlines charge extra for reserving a "preferred" coach seat, such an aisle seat or one in a roomy exit row. And some, including Allegiant, charge for any advanced seat assignment.
Charging extra for seats is a part of a broader trend by U.S. carriers to boost revenue through so-called ancillary fees. But it's also increased the possibility that children could be seated away from parents.
Nevada-based Allegiant is a small airline that runs scheduled and charter service mostly to leisure destinations like Las Vegas.
Splitting up parents and their children has drawn the ire of at least one U.S. senator, Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. He has urged the Transportation Department to consider discouraging airlines from imposing seating fees that could prevent families from sitting together.
Allegiant's Levy says its change is unrelated to Schumer's call and that the change was in the works as the airline ended its open boarding policy for those who didn't buy seat assignments in advance. "This is just something we thought was the right thing to do," Levy says.
Joe Brancatelli, publisher of the business-travel website Joesentme.com, says Allegiant made a "smart move" in making the family-friendly change. And, he says, it's good policy for the airlines' target demographic: people going on vacation.
"Allegiant is as leisure as they get," he says. "Their percentage of family travelers is probably higher than just about any airline."
Will other airlines follow suit? Brancatelli isn't sure -- unless there's a fee attached.
"I'm sure that somebody at one of the big legacy airlines will invent 'family seating' where for $25 the airline guarantees you sit together," he says. "It ain't going to be free."