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United drops early boarding for children

11:31 AM, May 23, 2012   |    comments
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Just in time for summer vacation, families with small children traveling on United Airlines will no longer be able to board early.

Families with children who aren't flying first or business class now have to board with their ticketed boarding groups.

The airline adopted the policy last month "to simplify the boarding process and to reduce the overall number of boarding groups," says United spokesman Charles Hobart.

Most airlines, including JetBlue Airways, Virgin America and Delta Air Lines, let families with small children board before most coach passengers.

"We work to make the travel experience as comfortable and easy as possible for our customers and know that families traveling with small children may have their hands full and need extra time to get settled in on their flights," says JetBlue spokeswoman Allison Steinberg.

The move comes as airlines increasingly charge fees for passengers to board early and sit in certain seats.

United's decision, says Brad Schaeppi, who flew United from Houston to Minneapolis on Sunday, makes traveling with his 6-month-old son, Asa, more uncomfortable.

"With an infant who can be unhappy at any moment, it's nice to be able to go in and sit down and know you are on the plane, and you can manage your infant," he says.

US Airways says that in the last year it dropped family preboarding for families with children but still lets them on earlier in the general boarding process.

American Airlines has for several years made families without premium status board with most everyone else. Gate agents, however, are on the lookout for families who may need help, says spokesman Tim Smith. "The reality is that many flights and markets - think Orlando or other leisure destinations - can have many, many families on flights," Smith says.

Continental Airlines allowed families to preboard, but the old United did not. The carriers merged in 2010 and have been aligning policies since. Hobart says the boarding process has run smoothly despite the change.

Andrew Thomas, author of Soft Landing: Airline Industry Strategy, Service and Safety, says airlines have to balance the needs of a small group of travelers with premium customers and those who pay to board first.

Edward Gee, a Houston resident, says he's seen early-boarding privileges abused by several adults going on with one child. "It doesn't take any longer to seat a family in the main boarding (time) than it does with a preboard," he says.

By Nancy Trejos, USA TODAY


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