United Ends Early Boarding for Families

a baby car seat with a pink designIn April, United got rid of pre-boarding for families. Previously, families with small children could board before general boarding. According to CNN, United’s spokesperson said:

“We figured it would be better to simplify that process and reduce the number of boarding groups.”

Uh, okay. Whatever. That reasoning sounds like, well, an excuse. It seems there are two frames of mind to this issue: the parents who want extra time to get their kids, carseats, and gear settled onto a plane before the masses descend, and the other people who get frustrated at the amount of room taken up in the overhead bins by families. The comments in the article above are almost evenly split. Some people wonder if they’re trying to drive off families, some speculate that it’s about people who pay for early boarding getting irritated by families boarding with them. Others say all the families should have to ride in the back.

I don’t have kids yet, so I don’t have any experience myself on that side of it. However, it does seem like it would be easier to board a few minutes early to get the carseats buckled and the kids in them, before having people tapping their foot while they wait for you. Also, I fly enough so that I have status, so I get to board early and don’t usually have to worry about overhead bin space. My concern with having families with small children boarding with everyone else is that it will end up slowing the entire boarding process down. I wonder if United is accounting for that…..

I think the real issue here is that airlines aren’t consistent with their bag policies. Correct me if I’m wrong, but shouldn’t a stroller that has to go in the overhead bin count as your non-personal item carry-on? So if families are getting on a plane and taking up more than their allotted space, it seems more like a problem with the airline and less with families in general. If the policy is one carry-on and one personal item per passenger, both within a certain size, then everyone should have to abide by it, whether they are a frequent flier or a family of four.

Readers, what do you think? Should families with small children be allowed to board first? Or is United doing the right thing in having them board with everyone else?


  1. I think they should allow families with very
    Young children to board first. There is no reason that that a family of four should board first if the kids are 8 and 10.

  2. This rule is abused so much. I have seen a group of six boarding because they have one kid that looks around five, there are tons more cases where I have seen four or five boarding under the same circumstances. I’m not going to complain.

  3. I may get flamed for this, but I see boarding 1st and Biz and then before coach let the family’s to pre-board. When I fly coach, sure, let them get the time they need. But if you pay or burn points, 1st and biz should pull over others. (unless you have kids and also are in 1st and biz) 😉

  4. My husband boards first to install the carseats while I keep our small boys out in the gate area for last-minute wiggling and a potty run. My goal is to be the last person on the plane so we just sit down, buckle up and get going.

    Families aren’t allowed any more carry-ons than regular folk – but if you see me carrying three bags, it’s because my 3 yo pitched a fit and refused to carry his turtle backpack (that he insisted on bringing, of course).

    Installing carseats on an airplane is the real timesuck – and it’s really difficult to install one while simultaneously wrangling a small child. It’s nice to have a minute or two to get situated without worrying that you’re holding up the rest of the passengers.

    Delta Points, you may get flamed just for suggesting that people bring kids into 1st or biz!

  5. United’s boarding policy is to board all window seats first then middle seats then aisle seats. Theses two policies together mean a 3 year-old walking down the aisle of a plane looking for seat 32 F while their parents are in the airport teminal. How in the world do these two policies work together?

  6. That everyone up in arms over the announcement ignores that they weren’t really pre-boarding anyways is both sad and ridiculously entertaining.

    Being between groups 5 & 6 in the boarding wasn’t really pre-boarding anyways. If anything this is just taking the lipstick off the pig that was already there.

  7. Strollers aren’t allowed in the plane – 99% of the time they are gate-checked (for free). Car seats can also be checked for free (they don’t count as a bag for checked luggage). Some people choose to use car seats on the plane for safety reasons (I was never one of them – too much hassle).

    I think allowing families to board first (I agree, after 1st class/business class & Tier1/Platinum/whatever but before the rest of coach) is an easy gesture from the airline to make flying with kids better. Why would they want parents/kids stressed out even MORE? That makes no sense. It absolutely was a lifesaver when I traveled recently alone with my 2 kids.

    As for everyone else? Trust me, we parents would much rather be traveling ALONE rather than with our small children (you know what I mean – going on a trip with kids is great…except for the traveling part, ha!), so why not make it a little easier???

    I have to say, I’m getting really sick of the airlines at this point. It seems the only way to travel humanely is to be like my husband – frequent flyer, platinum or above, company’s paying for your ticket, business class. The rest of us seem to be paying to be stepped on & up-charged at all opportunities.

  8. The only issue I see with allowing families to board first is because United -doesnt- board the window seats first, the mess of ‘we as a parent and child have gotten settled in our middle and aisle seat’, still leaves a random stranger to squeeze past them into the window seat quite a lot of the time.

    That is just as delay provoking as anything else….since they have to get back up anyhow and then they aren’t actually settled anyhow.

  9. I think pre-boarding is a good idea if the children are under 5. Parents do need the extra time for them.
    I have also seen this seriously abused. An 11 year old and 6 other family members do NOT need to pre-board.
    This is really a matter of clear policy and enforcement.

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