New United Airlines Policy: Good Idea or Bad?

United Airlines recently – and very quietly – announced they will no longer allow early boarding in economy class for families with children. Essentially, they are not adopting a longstanding policy from Continental Airlines, their recent merger partner. As expected, this has created a firestorm from some passengers as seen by the comments on this article by CNN.

Parents with small children are quick to point out that they require extra time, what with collapsing strollers and carrying items such as child restraint seats, diaper bags, toys to keep their children quiet, snacks, etc. Some note the FAA position that children in restraint seats should be in the window seats for safety reasons. By boarding early, they are able to have their children seated sooner and out of the way of other passengers.

The families also extoll the benefit that by boarding sooner, they won’t accidentally hit other passengers with their clunky carry-ons. Moreover, some say, the boarding process will be slower for everyone if families board later.

Other passengers are equally vocal, noting that many parents abuse this privilege by boarding with children that can easily walk down a jetway. Some naysayers feel no families should board early, while others believe that certain families use (or abuse) early boarding only to insure themselves overhead bin space.

Flying out of Orlando (MCO) over 40 times a year, I have probably seen more flying families and more strollers in the jetway than most. In my experience with Continental, the gate agents were pretty good about allowing only families with very young children to board early. Families with children over toddler age generally had to wait based on their boarding pass assignment unless there were other special needs, of course.

Adding to the trauma for some passengers, many families travel with more than one child. It is not unusual to see a family with one infant in arms along with a few more children. At times, there might be three or more families like this who were early boarding a flight. No doubt some of the non-family passengers envision overhead compartment space disappearing as each family member with a carry-on or two boards before them.

What do you think: Was it really that big a deal when families with very small children were boarding early? Is United right that these families should board just like everyone else? Is this really an issue more about overhead bin space than whether or not families can or should be accommodated?

Speaking of traveling with kids, this post by a gate agent may help those of you who might be traveling with your family this summer.

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  1. United States government and companies punish middle-class singles. Married couples, families with kids enjoy benefits, social welfare, even priority boarding. I believe we have seen a lot of people who abuse the benefits. It is time to stop.

  2. Speaking as a middle-class single, I think we enjoy a lot of benefits that families with children don’t…like the freedom of travelling somewhere for 3-4 weeks with only a carryon. Life is more difficult with kids. Get over it!! I think families with kids under five should have priority boarding.

    I can definitely see how boarding families with all others would hold up the process. This is silly and I hope they go back to the old way. Does Delta board families first? I am thinking of switching to them anyway…

  3. Hi Pam — My husband flies Delta often and says that:

    Delta policy is that those with special needs who require additional time may ‘preboard’ before everyone else. Generally, those passengers are in wheelchairs but may include the elderly who walk with canes, those who may be traveling with items like their own medical equipment, and yes, families with very small children. I believe this is also when they board unaccompanied minors.

    These passengers, plus those in their traveling parties, are the first on the plane. After they board — and of course, nearly all of them are in coach — then Delta begins the normal pecking order starting with their Premium zone, which is their zone name for first class passengers.

  4. People are so ignorant complaining about young children getting on early. Duh, idiots, it is for YOUR convenience as much as mine, so we don’t hold up YOUR boarding. Sorry you feel you can’t wait a few minutes when you are single, unencumbered, etc. Sure, kids who can walk easily, older kids, don’t abuse the system, but I am about to fly United with a 16 month old and I guarantee you other passengers would BEG for us to board first and tuck him out of their foot room and way WAY before they hit the aisle. You had them you pay for them? What a moron. I DID pay for my baby’s seat and YOU will be paying the entire trip if he is miserable because of some policy of you not wanting to accommodate a small child they way you politely would the elderly, the disabled, or anyone else who JUSTIFIABLY needed more time or consideration.

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