United Airlines has introduced a new policy designed to make it easier for families to sit together.

Children under the age of 12 will now be able to sit next to an adult in their party for free, including customers with basic economy tickets.

Rather than use a manual process to seat families together, which can involve blocking seats or asking agents to facilitate seat swaps at the gate, the airline has invested in an online seat engine which automates the process.

The new seat map is able to find adjoining seats at the time of booking. The seat engine first reviews the available free economy seats and then opens complimentary upgrades to available preferred seats, if needed.

In the case that there are no adjacent seats available prior to travel, owing to circumstances such as unscheduled aircraft changes or full flights, customers will have the option to switch for free to a flight to the same destination (in the same cabin).

While adjacent seat options are already available to book, the complete policy change will go into effect in early March. Note that the carrier’s Polaris, first class and Economy Plus seats are excluded from this policy.

Linda Jojo, chief customer officer for United, commented:

“In an era where more families are working in a hybrid environment, they’re traveling more often – and they’re flying United. We’re focused on delivering a great experience for our younger passengers and their parents and know it often starts with the right seat. We look forward to rolling out more family-friendly features this year.”

Fellow US carrier Frontier Airlines followed United’s policy with its own version a few days later, with at least one parent automatically seated with any children under the age of 14 within their family group at no additional charge.