Off-Topic: Toddler Safety on United Airlines

I want to make any parents aware that when you book United, if you want to keep your toddler seated safely with a parent, you will likely have to pay a premium in addition to the cost of your ticket.

Of course, as always, this is my personal blog and does not necessarily reflect the opinions, thoughts, etc. of my employer, dog, etc.

To help break down this situation, we need to look at a flight situation we had just two months ago. When we relocated in May, we checked the seat map and it looked much like it does for our upcoming flight:


What you’re seeing is that there are a lot of seats left in the economy cabin, but they are all “Economy Plus” for a $64 a piece upcharge. There is also an alert when you hit the page:

“All seats available for complimentary assignment have been taken. More complimentary seat assignments may become available when you check in for your flight. If available at this time, you may choose to purchase a United First or Economy Plus seat.”

In May, observing this exact situation, we asked United if they could fix this for us since we have a 3yo. We requested only one parent, but their agent ^FM went above and beyond the call of duty to seat all three of us together at no extra charge.

7 May

{confirmation number redacted} We’d like our 3yo to sit with a parent, not a stranger. We’d also like to know if we can use our car seat on the flight. Thanks!

7 May

Your seats are 8C & 7BC and 15DEF. Approved child safety seats may be used on the plane for more info see . ^FM

7 May

Thank you so much! We’ll look into whether our car seat is FAA approved – is there anywhere I could get seat dimensions (i.e., will it fit?)

It is noteworthy that the assigned seats were “Economy Plus” seats. ^FM didn’t magically free up the “complimentary seats” that were unavailable through the seat map on the United website. ^FM just made sure that our kid would have a responsible adult seated beside her.

It is also noteworthy that ^FM didn’t even make an issue of this. The reply was just a notification that it was done. Because of their rapid and easy response to this situation, we chose to fly United again, but they have changed their tune. I asked them just as nicely…

3 Jul

For {dest>arr redacted} flight on conf {conf# redacted}, can we please get our 3yo ({kid’s name redacted}) to sit with at least 1 parent (David or Brandy)? Thanks

… but all responses have been to the effect of “Cough up the cash!” This is just one of many.

Here is the final DM action from this morning, where apparently ^JP went and found ^FM (watch the signature change) to clarify what they had done last time. There is just one problem… In May, we got the same “There are no complimentary seats left” alert and were subsequently assigned Plus seats at no extra cost. Why the change in July?


We have EconomyPlus seats available for purchase as advised for all three passengers. Otherwise seats will be assigned at the airport. ^JP


Remember also we only request one parent with the child, not both. So this is TWO SEAT ASSIGNMENTS. United is being unreasonable.


(1/2) When customers are traveling with small children and seats are changed, we do our best to re-seat them together. At the time of


(2/2) booking if complimentary seats are not available, you may continue to check or our airport co-workers will work with you. Thanks ^FM

So it looks like we will be paying United about $130 in upcharges. On this airline, keeping your toddler safely seated with a parent instead of with a stranger is considered a luxury upgrade. Parents, as you plan your travels, please consider this when you see United’s ticket price and make sure you budget for the “upgrade.”

Please do share this.


About David Ruttka

I've been "making computers do things" since I first saw King's Quest on a 286 PC in the mid-80's, but I turned it into a career just over a decade ago. While the majority of my experience has been on the Microsoft stack (C#, .NET, ASP.NET), I've recently been diving deeper into JavaScript and exploring the Ruby universe. Occasionally, I'll do a public speaking gig or write a blog post. When I'm not coding, I enjoy spending time with my family, watching hockey, and playing the occasional video game. You can also find me on Stack Overflow, Google Plus, and Twitter. Microsoft Certified Programming in HTML5 with JavaScript and CSS3 Specialist; MCPD Windows Developer 3.5
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