Good For Everyone Or Not? United Bringing Back Early Boarding For Families With Young Children

United Airlines is bringing back early boarding for families with children 2 years of age and younger.  They got rid of this a few years ago, but apparently saw enough of an issue to reinstate it.  From yesterday’s announcement:

Travel can be stressful for parents juggling diaper bags, strollers and car seats while keeping an eye on young children. To help relieve some of that stress, beginning on Feb. 15 we will invite families with children aged 2 and younger to pre-board right after customers with disabilities and military service members in uniform.

By pre-boarding families, we give them an opportunity to get their bags stowed and get their children settled before other customers board. As one of our San Francisco-based flight attendants responded in a survey, “all they need is to get their child sorted and seated. It relieves most of the anxiety of travel.”

They’re right.  Pre-boarding for families with very young ones does relieve the anxiety of travel.  It’s a complicated process to get on board with a young child.  On top of all the other variables to boarding a flight, young ones have (at best) an erratic ability to adhere to a plan.

I love Mommy Points, and she does a great job describing the process in painstaking detail.

Interestingly, there’s another side to this issue that I didn’t consider.  I spoke with a few top-tier elites on UA about this yesterday (both 1K and Global Services).  They really don’t like the idea.  The Global Services folks were more demonstrative about wanting the ability to board quickly and work on their laptops, feeling that children would impede that process.  Notably, none of the folks I spoke with have kids.

Another point they brought up would be the confusion caused by families with children over the age of 2 who either mistakenly or purposely try to board early.  The lines to board flights on United are already disgustingly long.  I wish I had taken a picture this morning because the Group 2 boarding line was easily 50 people long, stretching all the way out into the concourse to the seating area on the opposite side.  That’s a problem I find more unique to United than American in my daily travels.

I generally find United employees to be more, ahem, surly than their contemporaries at other airlines, so I have little doubt they can enforce the policy correctly to keep things moving.  Whether they do so or stand complacent remains to be seen.

Early Boarding For Families

She’s Too Old For Pre-Boarding. Is He?

Unsurprising to most, I think criticism of a family boarding policy utter crap.  Those may be strong words, but there are so many areas where United is deficient right now.  Some have seen small areas of improvement, but they have a ways to go before being an excellent airline.  Showing all of their customers they care about them is a good step in that direction, one that is highly unlikely to impede a Global Services customer from racing to their seat.  There will be exceptions (Orlando flights), but this is not going to be a big issue.  It really wasn’t before.

What’s left unanswered here is whether United plans to board flights earlier than they do now, or squeeze this in over the same time period.  United does a good job boarding bigger planes earlier than small ones.  Does this change mean we’ll move to T-35 or T-40 for some boarding categories?

The other question is when, not if, Delta and American will make similar announcements.  I’ve heard anecdotally that American is actually good about this if you ask the gate agents nicely.  I’m not surprised by that.  But, just like their announcement yesterday to bring back snacks in coach (and free live TV on international flights!), they’ll want to make sure they stay ahead of the Joneses.

I’m curious to hear what you have to say.

Is early boarding for families with young children a good idea or a bad one?

The post Good For Everyone Or Not?  United Bringing Back Early Boarding For Families With Young Children was published first on Pizza In Motion.

16 Comments

  1. Honestly, I don’t think it changes their boarding times with any sort of significance. Right now, they’re already boarding those who need extra time (i.e. disabilities, wheelchairs, etc.) and military ahead of GS. I also think it’s a good thing, as long as they strictly adhere (as much as is reasonable) to the age limit. Also need to make sure they have a policy in place about large groups traveling together. For instance, if it’s a family of 4, an aunt and uncle, and grandparents, not all 8 of them need to be boarding early in order to get one small kid seated.

    1. I completely agree. Allowing families to board first is fine so long as you don’t let people take advantage of it. I’ve seen lots of families with 8-year-old kids or half a dozen members trying to board early.

    1. ROFL. Gotta admit, it’s really in the day but this may be the comment of the day. I strongly disagree. But, I’m guessing both of us are biased based on our respective travel patterns.

    2. Don’t like kids, then choose a mode of travel where you can control who you travel with. Fly private or drive yourself.

      Airplanes are just the 21st century version of a bus or train.

      Shoot, my dad flew for American Airlines for 25 years, he referred to himself as a glorified bus driver on more than one occasion.

  2. So not only do we have to swap with crying and screaming, but we’ll also have less room in the overheads, nice. Just because travelling with kids sucks doesn’t mean I should bear any of that burden, we have chosen not to have kids (yet). When we were little kids my parents rented a van and drove, until we were old enough. Why can’t all families do that?

    1. Less room in the overheads, because they let two or three families board before you? That’s not very persuasive.

      You shouldn’t bear ANY of that burden? If you don’t want to interact with people, stay home.

      Regarding just renting a van, sure, I’ll just rent one and drive from Seattle to Atlanta and back over a five-day weekend.

      Also, are you saying people should subject themselves and their children to greater risk of injury and death by driving in a car rather than taking a plane because you don’t want to be around kids?

      I can understand people arguing that children that cannot seat and eat quietly shouldn’t be allowed in a fancy/romantic restaurant, but air travel is how everyone gets around these days. If you don’t want to rub elbows with random strangers, then don’t fly.

    2. Dave, can’t wait until you do have kids and try to organize them for a plane trip. It would be a bit of a pain for me to drive my family to the Caribbean. If you’re an elite traveler, I can’t imagine that the addition of a family or two before you is going to take up enough overhead space to make a difference.

  3. Ed, I think that a lot depends on how well United implements this policy. It could be wonderful or it could be a nightmare. I’m guessing somewhere in between, but the magic 8 ball hasn’t spoken yet. This is United, after all, not the ACME of consistency.

  4. I travel with my 8 and 2 yr old and honestly, I think I would prefer boarding as latest as possible. I know the whole overhead bin space is a big deal to people, but we only carry one small carryon each that fit uder the seat so that’s never an issue…

    My little one, as most little kids, can get bored, fidgety and restless and waiting another 20 minutes or so for the rest of the plane to board means that I have to keep my 2 yr old occupied that much longer. If you already have a seat assignment, unlike Southwest, I would want to board last.. get in, seated, buckle up then push back!

    1. Juno, if we could get our stuff into just under-seat carry-ons, I’d board later too. But, the advent of checked bag fees has contributed to the madness of the boarding process, making it a priority to board earlier.

  5. My daughter does it the opposite with her 2 1/2 year old and 7 month old – she tried to get on last so the kids don’t have to sit any longer in their seats while waiting for others to board. Sometimes boarding can add an extra 40 minutes if it is a long flight. I think she does it the correct way!

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