This week’s DOT Airline Customer Service Dashboard update advises everyone on which airlines are family-friendly and which are not. Of course, our interest lies in the six airlines with flights to Hawaii, which include Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, Southwest, and United. But if you think this is all straightforward, think again.
According to the government dashboard, only Alaska and American guarantee that children under 13 can sit beside an accompanying adult for free.
The government has been trying for months to bring the airlines into compliance on a request basis, and since it apparently isn’t working as they’d like, they are using this new technique to try to shame or cajole the airlines into an agreement. According to the Department of Transportation (DOT) dashboard:
Airlines must adhere to their commitments. DOT will hold them accountable if they fail to do so. If you believe an airline has not fulfilled its customer service commitment, contact the airline to ensure it gives you what is owed. If you are not satisfied with the airline’s response or conduct, you may file a complaint with DOT.
This all comes as the government’s aviation gurus are in a mess in light of the widespread travel chaos that has plagued the industry since the COVID-19 pandemic and even more so recently.
Hawaiian Airlines’ Take On DOT Request.
Beat of Hawaii contacted Hawaiian Airlines for their response, given that the new “Airline Customer Service Dashboard” shows them and three other airlines with an in-your-face red X regarding family seating.
Alex Da Silva, Hawaiian Airlines’ Director, External Communications, gave us the following:
“As you know, we are a leisure carrier, and we understand how important it is for families to sit together. We have always had robust processes in place to ensure that families are seated together. Guests booking our Main Cabin Basic fare product should be aware that they will not have access to seat selection at the time of booking, but we will accommodate them on the day of travel or offer them alternative options for travel.” Alex also pointed out that “there is no DOT rule mandating families to sit together so the use of the term noncompliant can be misleading.” See BOH clarification below.
That comes after Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said, “Parents traveling with young kids should be able to sit together without an airline forcing them to pay junk fees.”
As we understand, to obtain the dashboard’s “green checkmark,” an airline must guarantee that parents and kids can sit together for no additional cost if seats are available during the purchase process. That statement must be included in their customer service plan. Thus far, that has only happened at Alaska, American, and Frontier (which doesn’t fly to Hawaii).
BOH: First, when we read that statement “…if seats are available during the purchase process,” it feels like there’s a potential loophole here for the airlines. If you buy Basic Economy, seats are by definition, not available in the purchase process. So where does that leave families? Second, while the Dashboard seems to have as its goal to shame airlines into compliance with their request, there is no actual DOT rule in effect at this time with which airlines can be required to comply. It sounds like a lot more clarification is needed by DOT.
Delta does not charge for family seating but only works with customers on a case-by-case basis.
United just upgraded its family seating but also remains non-compliant. They now allow switching flights to the same destination when adjacent seating isn’t available. And there is no charge or fare difference for that change.
From what Hawaiian Airlines told BOH, their plan appears similar to United.
Southwest is also non-compliant. They do offer “Family Boarding, which occurs after the “A” group has boarded and before the “B” group begins boarding.” Southwest also says that “families with children ages seven and older, parents can seek assistance from a Flight Attendant for help with finding a seat adjacent to their child.”
The DOT dashboard strategy
DOT said, “The dashboard will serve as a bridge to help families while the Department advances a rulemaking to ensure airlines seat young children adjacent to a parent or other accompanying adult.”
It appears that DOT’s tactics are working. They said, “Prior to urging, none of the 10 largest U.S. airlines guaranteed meals or hotels when a delay or cancellation was within the airlines’ control, and only one offered free rebooking. Now, all 10 airlines guarantee meals and rebooking, and nine guarantee hotels when an airline issue causes a cancellation or delay.”