Family Matters

More Airlines Bid Adieu to Family Pre-Boarding

Some airlines, most recently United, are simplifying their boarding process by making fussy toddlers and their frazzled parents wait in line and board with childless passengers.

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Along with free checked bags and complimentary grub, the airline industry appears to be obliterating another passenger perk: family pre-boarding. Those boisterous queues of parents and children, shlepping car seats and double strollers ahead of the rest of coach-class fliers, are officially a thing of the past at United Airlines, US Airways and American Airlines.

Most other airlines still allow families to board planes before childless passengers, in an effort to give them extra time to settle into their seats with their bulky gear and fussy toddlers. But United made its policy switch away from family pre-boarding in April to “simplify the boarding process and to reduce the overall number of boarding groups,” United spokesman Charles Hobart told USA Today.

(MORENo Kids Allowed: Malaysia Airlines Corrals Children Under 12 into Special Zone)

Of course, what simplifies life for one group only complicates it for another. According to USA Today:

United’s decision, says Brad Schaeppi, who flew United from Houston to Minneapolis on Sunday, makes traveling with his 6-month-old son, Asa, more uncomfortable.

“With an infant who can be unhappy at any moment, it’s nice to be able to go in and sit down and know you are on the plane, and you can manage your infant,” he says.

This is just aviation’s latest perceived slap in the face to parents, who are now banned, along with their kids, from the upper deck of Malaysia Airline’s brand-new A380s; to placate families, the carrier has designated a section on the main deck just for them.

Truth be told, not everyone has thought it fair that Mom, Dad and the kiddies get to skip into the aisles ahead of everyone else. Some passengers may harbor frustration with what could, in some circumstances, qualify as a pre-boarding hoax: several adults sashaying on board with just one kid — even an older child, who doesn’t need any more measurable assistance than an adult.

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Personally, I feel ambivalent about the privilege: why would anyone in her right mind want to spend a minute more than required in a sealed aluminum tube, coaxing her little ones to cooperate and stay quiet? When I was a mother of babies, the extra time and space afforded by pre-boarding made it a bit easier to wrangle an ungodly amount of infant gear. But now that my kids are older, I prefer to board with everybody else.

As Brian Sannicandro of Philadelphia commented in response to USA Today’s story:

I have small children and I’m always on the fence about early boarding. I like the option b/c it allows me to get the stroller folded up and bags and kids settled, but on the other hand, it’s like an extra 30 mins you have to put the kids on the plane b/c boarding these days is such a darn nightmare w/ all the stupid carry-ons … Recently I started preferring to be one of the last ones on the plane better — especially if we don’t need overhead space, that way it’s less time to have the kids in the plane. Sit down, put bags under the seat, close the door, and go!

On the other hand, oh, how I love the family priority lanes at airport security checkpoints. (If you’re on the fence about having kids, it’s worth it for no other reason than the joy of skating through the TSA tangle.) Fair or not, this parental advantage has prompted me to consider hauling a stroller around until my youngest graduates high school.