I’ve had the opportunity to fly with children cross-country twice this year, once on Northwest and once on United.
Northwest offers early boarding for those traveling with small children which was so great as I was traveling by myself with my 2 month old baby. It was so nice to be able to board the plane and get situated without holding up the line.
So after that experience, imagine my disappointment when I learned a month later when traveling with my husband, 3 year old, and 3 month old that United doesn’t offer early boarding for those traveling with small children, only for disabled passengers. There is so much that goes into boarding when you have kids with you, holding up the line of the entire plane of passengers only adds to the stress.
Your family can only move as fast as its slowest member. And anyone who has traveled with small children knows how slowly they can move down the jetway, onto the plane, down the aisle, until they come across their seat. My husband and I were busy trying to quickly collapse the stroller at the end of the jetway so we could gate check it and my infant’s car seat then lugging our toddler’s car seat down the aisle, installing the car seat, trapping, err buckling, her into the car seat, ensuring proper drinks, snacks, coloring books, crayons, headphones, iPods, laptops, and movies are organized within the pockets in front of us, and storing all carry-on bags and jackets in the overhead bins and beneath the seats in front of us. Both my husband and I were sweating by the time we sat in our seats.
When I inquired with the United gate personnel scanning boarding passes, she assured me that ‘studies have shown’ that early boarding of those with small children was not as efficient as having everyone board at the same time. Only disabled passengers are granted early boarding. Apparently, it’s more efficient for the disabled to board early, but not those with small children even though I’m fairly certain that a disabled person would have been able to board the plane quicker than us. When I told her that Northwest offered early boarding and how disappointed I was that United didn’t extend the same courtesy, her response was, "Well, you do have a choice on who you fly." Nothing like a warm and fuzzy response right before you hold up an entire plane’s worth of people.
When I combine the no early boarding with the fact that United will start charging $25 for a second piece of checked luggage on May 6, 2008, I realized that United just doesn’t care about traveling families. This past trip, we were gone for a week, so we checked 6 pieces of luggage not including the stroller and car seat that we gate checked and then we each had luggage we brought on the plane – a small backpack for my daughter, a huge backpack for my husband, my large diaper bag, and a briefcase containing our laptop. I can’t imagine paying $75 in ‘excess luggage’ charges, in addition to the cost of our tickets, just for the privilege to fly United. How can anyone go on an extended trip with two small children and only check three bags?
I would be very interested in knowing how this affects the number of families that chose to fly United. I know for certain that their numbers just decreased by one.