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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