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.
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?