Thursday, May 24, 2012

United Ends Pre-Boarding For Families

Last month, United did away with their policy that allowed passengers with small children to "pre-board" before other customers (but after elite-level frequent flyers). Instead, these passengers will now need to board along with their designated boarding group. In the past few days, this decision has received a lot of attention in the press, as well as the travel blogs.

I'm all for simplifying what has become a really, really convoluted boarding process - and while I don't have any first-hand experience to draw from, I can't help but wonder how much of a difference it's going to make in practice. I also understand that there's a "social courtesy" element here, but none of that leads me to think that passengers with small children should be entitled to board earlier just because they have kids in tow (maybe these are the customers that CFO John Rainey thinks are over-entitled!).

At the end of the day, what it boils down to for me is overhead storage space. The sad reality is that there's never enough (a topic for another time), and the earlier you board, the better your chances are that you'll be able to find a spot for your bag. It seems logical and fair to me that elite frequent flyers should get first dibs on that precious limited resource. After that, I don't see how it would be fair for certain passengers to move to the front of the line (and thereby increase their odds of finding space for their bags), simply due to the fact that they have young children along for the ride.

To me, "social courtesy" doesn't extend that far. What do you think?


  1. Also families with small kids often have TONS of baggage, so they take up at least their fair share of the overhead space. On the flip side, they are SO slow to board that it backs up the whole process if they don't go first.

  2. The "it only makes things easier / faster for everyone" argument is one I'm certainly sympathetic to. As I thought about it more though, I still don't think it overcomes the "overhead bin advantage".

  3. If you are worried about the overhead bin advantage, limit their carry ons. Don't just punish all families. I say keep the families boarding first and limit what they can bring on. It does make things faster for everyone to get them out of the way, and once you have children, you'll understand how much a difference it makes for these families trying to drag their little rugrats on the plane.

    What United is saying, "hey business travelers, you are more profitable... we like you more"

    Oh, and one other thing... I don't think families have that much baggage per person. How much baggage do little kids needs?? They carry their little Dora the Explorer bookbags and a teddy bear. If anything they use less baggage per person, it is just that they get on first.

    1. It is mostly about the overhead bin advantage for me - and unfortunately, I don't know that limiting carry-ons would be sufficient (unless you limit them to LESS than each passenger is technically permitted). If the plane is full (and they usually are), and every passenger brings a 20" rollaboard on (which they're certainly allowed to), there just isn't enough space. It's unfortunate that that's the way things are these days, but it is the reality.

      In practice, I'm curious to see how much of a difference it actually makes. It's not like families were the first people on the plane - they were always boarding after first/business class, elites, and credit card holders. That can easily be half the plane or more. So I guess I'm questioning whether it truly makes much of a difference to board half-way through vs. somewhere in the last half - either for the ease of family in question, or for the speed and efficiency of the plane as a whole.

      In terms of United liking frequent-flying business travelers more because they're more profitable, are you saying that they shouldn't feel that way? Should they like the once or twice a year, leisure traveler more? I don't see the argument for that, but there are more than a few posters on FlyerTalk who might argue that that's already the direction things are going :)

  4. I'm not faulting United for favoring their more profitable frequent flyers. I was saying this is a sign to them. Nothing wrong with that.

    United could feasibly institute a police where families are able to pre board but the children are not able to bring rollaboards on the plane. Thus incentivizing them to either check bags, pack lighter, or utilize the early boarding option.