United Airlines has reversed its policy of letting families with small children on to flights before the rest of the passengers. “Pre-boarding” will still be offered in business and first class, but families traveling in coach will now have to queue with the rest of the group.
The changes were quietly introduced last month, and have drawn strong criticism from traveling parents and consumer groups like FlyersRights.org. The new rules are a product of the United-Continental merger, completed in May 2010, when the two airlines agreed on a “common boarding policy”.
United has defended its decision, claiming that reducing the number of separate boarding groups will make the process easier and more efficient for everyone. The airline stressed that boarding assistance would still be available to families and any other passengers who need it.
Most domestic carriers in the United States offer some kind of pre-boarding option, affording parents the chance to get their kids seated and settled before the cabin fills up with passengers. Yet a number of airlines have changed or abandoned their pre-boarding rules in recent years.
American Airlines doesn’t offer a standard pre-boarding service either. Such a policy is impractical, according to a spokesperson, due to the large number of families traveling on some flights.
Delta, JetBlue, Virgin America and US Airways still have provisions for pre-boarding, although the exact rules vary from one airline to another.