Christine Park

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

No More Pre-Boarding for Families

This hasn't been a great week of news for parents planning to travel with children this summer. The friendly skies? Not so much.

First, we learned that it might be harder to get seats together this summer because major airlines are reserving more and more seat assignments for passengers willing to pay an extra fee. People traveling together are finding that the only way to sit next to a spouse, child or friend is to shell out $25 or more, each way. And indeed, this is what I found as I was booking our flights on Allegiant from Fresno to Hawaii. There's no way I'm going to attempt a 5-hour flight with my 5-year-old and 3-year-old sitting next to strangers. So I had no choice but to shell out an extra $200 for our family of 4 just for the privilege of sitting next to each other. Airlines say their gate agents try to help family members without adjacent seats sit together, especially people flying with small children. Yet there is no guarantee things will work out.

And it gets better. United Airlines has ended family pre-boarding . The airline says it made the move to simplify the boarding process, according to the article in USA Today. So people lugging strollers, car seats, and tiny tots are expected to join the cattle call and fight for luggage space while the rest of the impatient passengers pile up behind you?

The airlines' approach can be summed up this way: "The customers that are more loyal, who fly more often, we want to make sure they have the best travel experience." -- Eduardo Marcos, American Airlines' manager of merchandising strategy. Which tells me very plainly: tough luck, because I'm not a frequent flier, I don't matter. I take offense to that. How is my hard-earned money that I spent on my ticket, somehow less valuable?

At least kids are still allowed to fly at all. You might think I'm being facetious, but I blogged a while back about Malaysia Airlines banning children altogether from first class, even entire flights.

I just read a NY Times article on Flying with Children, and it told the story of a family traveling with twins, who begged to buy some milk for the babies, and were refused because the milk was for coffee only. The article's experts suggest: "Even when airlines offer food onboard, often the thing you want is sold out. To ensure that your family has what it needs, bring it yourself." At this point, I believe a handful of family courtesies remain on flights, including checking a stroller and car seat at no charge and children under the age of 2 can fly free on a parent’s lap. I'm foreseeing it's only a matter of time before strollers and car seats are charged luggage fees.

I think airlines are missing out, by alienating families. Many of my friends are choosing trains, road trips or cruises over flying.

In the meantime, if you are looking for a child-friendly flight, here's what the NY Times found:

EARLY BOARDING No. Families who want to board earlier can ask the gate agent or pay $10 a person to guarantee a spot in the first boarding group in coach.

SEATING Bulkhead seats toward the front of coach are reserved for elite passengers or sold as “preferred seats” 24 hours before departure for a fee starting at $4.
KIDS’ MEALS Sells a number of “kid-friendly choices” like $10 turkey sandwiches with chips.

ENTERTAINMENT Free child-friendly movies on overhead televisions on most flights longer than four hours. Streaming video via Wi-Fi will be added to 85 MD-80 aircraft before the end of 2011.
STROLLER GATE CHECK Yes, except noncollapsible strollers or those weighing 20 pounds or more, which must be checked at the ticket counter.


EARLY BOARDING Yes (no age limit), ahead of first and business class.

SEATING Bulkhead seats may be available for families 24 hours before departure.

KIDS’ MEALS $4.50 kids’ peanut butter and jelly plate, served with fruit and vegetables.

ENTERTAINMENT Last year, Delta brought back the kiddie pilot wings it used to hand out. On flights with seatback televisions, Delta offers 16 On Demand children’s television programs that cost $1 per episode or $6 for a television bundle. (Flights without seatback screens may not offer children’s movies at all.) Some flights have Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network via satellite television (at no charge).


EARLY BOARDING Yes, for families with children under the age of 2, along with passengers who paid extra for seats with more legroom.

SEATING Bulkhead seats are reserved for customers with disabilities up to 24 hours before departure, with remaining seats sold as “Even More Space” seats for $10 to $65 extra.

KIDS’ MEALS JetBlue doesn’t offer meals on any of its flights, but snacks, including Animal Crackers, are free.

ENTERTAINMENT Seatback televisions offer 36 channels of DirecTV, including children’s programming and 100 XM Satellite Radio channels free. If time permits, pilots are encouraged to show children the flight deck and offer them JetBlue trading cards.



EARLY BOARDING Yes, for families with children up to 4 years old, after passengers in boarding Group A, which includes elite fliers, full-fare passengers and those who pay $10 (each way) for early-bird check-in.

SEATING There are no seat assignments. Like other passengers, families must find an open seat once onboard.

KIDS’ MEALS No meals onboard. Peanuts and pretzels are free.

ENTERTAINMENT Flight attendants are encouraged to offer children coloring books and airline wings.




SEATING Bulkhead seats are typically reserved for elite passengers or sold for a fee starting at $9.

KIDS’ MEALS Snacks and meals, including $7.49 cheese and fruit plates, are offered, depending on length of flight and time of day.

ENTERTAINMENT Most of United’s fleet has overhead screens that show in-flight movies. Continental offers satellite TV on more than 75 percent of its 737 Next Generation aircraft and plans to install the service on more planes in 2012.

STROLLER GATE CHECK Yes, except large, noncollapsible strollers, which must be checked at the ticket counter.

US Airways

EARLY BOARDING Yes, for families with children 4 and younger, along with elite passengers and those who paid extra for bulkhead seats.

SEATING Bulkhead seats are reserved for passengers with disabilities until an hour before departure and are assigned at the gate agent’s discretion.

KIDS MEALS Snack boxes, which include dried cranberries and almonds ($6), and meals including fruit and cheese plates ($8), depending on the length of the flight and time of day.

ENTERTAINMENT Nothing on domestic flights.

STROLLER GATE CHECK Yes, except for noncollapsible strollers, which must be checked at the ticket counter.

Virgin America

EARLY BOARDING Yes, for families with “small children,” after first class and passengers who paid extra for roomier coach seats.

SEATING Bulkhead seats are reserved for “main cabin select” passengers who pay more when booking or $39 to $129 extra to upgrade 24 hours in advance.

KIDS’ MEALS Half-sandwiches like peanut butter and jelly served with organic fruit gummy bears ($4).

ENTERTAINMENT Individual seatback screens offer parental controls, free satellite TV including the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon, movies ($5 to $8) and premium programs like “Go Diego Go” ($2 to $7), free video games and seat-to-seat chat.


1 comment:

  1. Honestly, I think this is a great policy. Many airlines are banning children under 18 in business and first class. Great idea. I hate paying five times or more what economy passengers pay, and get stuck near kids screaming. Parents made the choice to have kids, so why should they get all the benefits. Tax breaks, cheaper airfares, cheaper or no cost extra carry on. I’m so tired of everything they get extra for free. It’s about time that they start paying like everyone else. I say start charging infants a full fare seat and not a quarter of what everyone else pays. And like many airlines, delegate the very rear of every plane for children and those travelling with them. I’m happy to patronise an airlines that ban children in any premium seating. Sorry but we honestly pay way way more money and those who do should reap the benefits. Not those on the lowest revenue fares. Frequent fliers spend more money and should get the benefits, not just a family flying once year for a holiday. If you want to sit together either pay more for a ticket, as most full fare economy seats allow you to choose your seat right away. If you choose the cheaper seats you need to pay for the privilege to choose a seat. Just like me paying for a full fare first class seat, I get benefits that I do not pay for. Thankfully this is the route airlines are going and not the opposite.....I can't imagine lounges being opened to families.