by Cassandra R. Elias
Although just recently publicized back in April, United Airlines quietly ended its policy of allowing families with small children to pre-board flights early.
Up until then, following the disabled, families with children could board before other passengers. The thinking was that with all their extra gear and hub-bub, it would make the boarding process easier for everyone.
However, a United representative tells CNN that the change came because, "We figured it would be better to simplify that process and reduce the number of boarding groups."
But Kate Hanni of flyersrights.org says the change is detrimental to families as one of the few things parents can count on when it comes to air travel is the ability to get themselves settled before the throngs of people board the plane. She is hopeful that United will change their mind.
Most major carriers allow parents with young kids to board before most passengers and some, like American Airlines announce at the gate that any travelers needing extra time or assistance talk to the gate crew. So while American Airlines, along with U.S. Airways have dropped family pre-boarding, they still allow for special circumstances.
George Hobica from Airfare Watchdog says the policy shift was a business savvy move on United's part. As more airlines charge for priority boarding, passengers are more willing to pay to guarantee space in the overhead bins for their luggage -- space that could be taken by early boarders.
Parents can still pay to board early and avoid the mad dash on the plane. Priority boarding programs begin at $9 and up, so a family of four can now expect to pay $36 or more for the privilege.
Hobica says, "If you don't want to pay, families waiting to board last could be a good thing. Many families with small children tell me that they prefer boarding last anyway, since that's an extra half hour or more that their little ones won't be squirming in their seats. So it's a win-win."
There has been talk around the web that if this privilege is taken away, that pre-boarding for the disabled and elderly will be next. However, it should be noted that there is a difference between letting a family on early simply because they have a five year old with them and letting a family on early because they have a child with autism or another special need which, without the pre-boarding can cause them emotional, mental or physical problems.
The differences between the elderly and disabled's needs are also covered by federal law so we would assume that the airlines can't simply revoke that privilege from these groups.
In any event, there seems to be a real backlash against the airlines on this issue. Where do you stand? Will this change the way you travel? Would you be willing to pay a small fee for the pre-boarding privilege? Tell us what you think!