Brouhaha boils re: early boarding for babies


Here’s my opinion (via interview on CBS news last night) about that brouhaha brewing about United’s new policy not allowing families with kids to board early. Do you agree or disagree? Is the new policy fair to families? Or to frequent travelers?

My take: Airlines have lost control of the boarding process. There are so many people with “special” boarding privileges that the entire plane can fill up before general boarding (Zone 1) ever begins.

For example, United now offers special early boarding to those who have paid for its new Explorer credit card. They also offer early boarding to their best customers, such as Global Services or 1K members, or Star Alliance partners with status. Then there are those who’ve actually paid significantly more than everyone else on the plane for business or first class seats. United also offers early boarding to military in uniform and passengers using wheelchairs or crutches.

Until now, it’s allowed families with children to board early, too. Well, during summer travel season, families traveling with children can comprise half the passengers on the plane. (Flown to Orlando lately? You’ll see…)

So by the time “general boarding” starts, the plane is almost full- and nearly all the precious overhead bin space it taken. It’s crazy…and it irritates United’s best customers… those who have paid more for their tickets, or shown their loyalty as elite leve members of Mileage Plus.

So while it might appear that United’s policy change is an “anti-family” move, I think it brings some sanity back to the boarding process. And I also think that frequent travelers should be on the lookout for moms and dads boarding with them who need a little extra help when getting on the plane, and offer a hand getting settled.

What do you think? Please leave your comments below.


  • NobodyYouKnow

    I work for an airline. Won’t say which one, but I will say that we do board families with children under the age of five after we board those who have paid for upgrade seats.

    And quite honestly, I don’t see how it helps anyone except those who have children.

    We have assigned seats, so it’s not a matter of finding seats together. And if someone is really, really in need of extra assistance (mother traveling with two small children and a lap infant, for example), we will happily sneak them on with the upgrade customers.

    But there are an alarming amount of parents who abuse this perk… In fact I’ll go so far as to say a goo 90 percent of families abuse it.

    Listen people, you do not have to take your heavy-duty jogging stroller (aka: The Baby SUV) on a plane. You do not have to take the contents of your entire cereal closet on a plane. You do not have to take every toy in the toy chest on a plane. And it’s not okay to threaten companies and other customers that if you don’t get to take these things on a plane (and, in the case of the cereal, leave most of it on the floor when you leave) that your children will be so terrible we’ll wish you did.

    It’s a tacit threat: Give us extra perks or we’ll make your life hell. Sooooorrryyy… (shrug).

    The need for pre boarding is completely eliminated when parents stop dragging half their house onto a plane because they’re afraid that their precious snowflake might get cranky. I’m sorry, but it’s just bad parenting, plane and simple (yes, the spelling was intentional).

  • chris

    sent to The BAT via email:

    And the funny thing: families haven’t boarded *first* as far as I can remember. Families with no elite status boarded after elites. So imagine the back and forth:

    Mom: I have small children. Why can’t I board now.
    Agent: Ma’am, we haven’t called families yet.
    Mom: But I see a family over there boarding.
    Agent: They’re elite.
    Mom: Oh.

    Why not make it simpler for everyone?

  • Biggiggles

    Everyone - parents included - should get what they pay for. If they want early boarding, they should buy a Business Class ticket, of they can buy ‘Premier Access’.

    I’ve always resented early boarding for parents with children and I don’t buy the argument that it enhances everyone else’s boarding process. They aren’t disabled, they don’t have any particular mobility difficulty, they can manage standing in line.

    Once I was flying Ryanair in Italy, where everyone had politely queued up in front of the gate, when an American lady with a child asked if she could board before everyone else. Obviously she hadn’t flown Ryanair before… she was told “no”, and rightly so - parents need to queue up like everyone else. She just wanted to skip the line. If parents really value early boarding that much, then they can cough up the $ and pay for it just like everyone else.

  • CC Williams

    I’m a relatively new parent and a frequent flyer I have to say that giving the early boarding option to families is not only a nice gesture, but practical as well. US-based airlines seem to be the only ones that treat families as second-class citizens, hardly even going out of their way to allow families to sit together.

    We’ve learned that transitions for younger kids can be difficult so allowing them to settle in early can go a long way to having an enjoyable flight. I tend to think this new strategy is a little bit short-sighted…families travel too, so the rest of us should have to deal, that’s just life! Yes, you are traveling in a metal tube that has been optimized to seat as many people, including kids as possible. My kid is super-kinetic so when traveling I tend to let him board last since he hates being cooped up.

    Having kids has taught me a lot about compassion and empathy for parents. With young ones, how they behave on planes is largely out of the parent’s control. Amazing how I’ve done a 180 after walking in parent’s shoes…unfortunately I remember once scolding a parent for allowing her daughter to climb on the back of my seat, now I understand, put on my Bose and deal.

  • Tony

    The only time that I appreciate families early boarding is on Southwest. That’s because they all cram themselves into the front of the aircraft leaving the area behind the wings relatively child free. I have a problem with allowing families to pre-board when they have assigned seats however since they aren’t struggling to find seats together.

    I fly in and out of Orlando a lot and in the summertime or around the holidays it’s a nightmare. It’s bad enough I’m going to have your kid putting their feet on the back of my seat and kick for that 3 or 4 hour flight or that I have to listen to them scream incessantly from the time the door closes to when it opens up again. Do I REALLY have to try and fight for enough space for my small carry-on to fit into the bin you’ve already crammed full of diapers and other baby paraphernalia?

    My feeling is this: you were the ones who decided to have them, you decided to travel with them - now you have to deal with all the consequences of your actions. Either wait in line and board like the rest of us and try to find enough bin space for all your debris or as another poster here suggested take the mini-van to grandma’s house.

    No special rights for parents.

  • Ron

    Let them drive their mini-vans to grandmas house and keep those little screaming monsters off the planes.

    They seem to always get assigned seats right behind me and scream and kick my seat constantly and yet somehow the parent NEVER even notices this is happening until it has to be pointed out to them.

    If they want pre-boarding then assign them in the very last row of the plane away from everyone else.

  • http://www.travelinsurancereview.net/ Damian Tysdal

    I agree the pre-boarding list has grown with all of the clubs, cards, and special groups, but I believe this only helps get the plane boarded and departed smoothly. Storage space aside, kids need extra time to get situated and usually have additional ‘gear’, which blocks the aisle or row and makes the boarding process more hectic for everyone else.

    If overhead space is taken, then the airlines should enforce the regulations that allow for enough space for everyone.

    Of course, I travel with children so I might be biased.