June 11th, 2012
Time’s Bonne Rochman:
“Are families getting stiffed by airlines? There’s been lots of chatter recently over perceived family-unfriendly moves by carriers: charging parents and children extra to sit together, tossing a crying 3-year-old from a flight after he refused to buckle up, doing away with family pre-boarding.”
Rochman’s article on Time Healthland focuses specifically on the last point — that is, “doing away with family pre-boarding” — and goes on about how a a frequent-flyer mum has created a petition for folks against its removal to sign. More than 36,000 signatures have so far been recorded.
But let’s forget about the article for a minute, and revisit the concept of boarding an aircraft.
Despite the existence of different cabin classes, everyone travelling on a particular flight is going to be on the same aircraft. For virtually all passengers, it’s about getting from A to B with the least amount of hassles.
According to Rochman, three American-based airlines — including American, United and US Airways — have done (or will soon do) away with family pre-boarding, with the general argument being the streamlining of the process.
But do these policy-makers realise that by removing this one single step in the boarding process, it will most likely make “general boarding” (that is, the very last stage when everyone else can board the aircraft) a ghastly nightmare?
Not sold? Let me give you an example scenario to consider (please bear with me, it’s a bit lengthy-but-detailed):
- Family (Mum, Dad, three-year-old walking on twos, and an infant in stroller) arrives at gate way before boarding begins;
- Boarding is called, passengers in premium cabins “may board at their own leisure”;
- Those remaining passengers in economy are called to begin boarding, queue quickly develops, and Family is 15th in the sequence to board;
- There are around three other parent/s with child/ren spread out in the entirity of the queue;
- Family is three-quarter way down the aerobridge, stroller needs to be collapsed and stored into cargo hold, and Family spends around 2 minutes doing this, and lose their place in the queue;
- Family rejoins the queue, which has extended onto the aerobridge (due to congestion on the aircraft), with pace becoming slower
- Family is closing in on aircraft door, and both three-year-old and infant is becoming restless, Mum and Dad tries to keep them in-check;
- Around 8 minutes later, Family is finally on the aircraft, congestion still exists (those in front are either trying to get into their window or middle seat, and/or trying to fit their carry-ons into the overhead bin — and multiply this by around 10);
- Family is seated in the middle of aircraft, Mum and Dad have their hands full (carry-on and infant in hands) and three-year-old is becoming very impatient and restless;
- Family finally reaches seat, but their seating is separated by the aisle — hence, Mum needs to seat the older child first, while Dad fumbles around with the carry-ons and find an available overhead bin to place the items (because they wouldn’t fit beneath the seat in front);
- After a bit of assistance from a flight attendant, Dad was able to store the bag in a bin a few rows to the back, and is now trying to make his way back to his assigned seat — while Mum is struggling to calm her children (because of the change in environment, they have become uneasy); and
- Finally, after two more minutes of mingling, Family is seated and almost settled (barring the kids who seem to want a feed now, where a new situation seems to be brewing…)
Once again, it’s a detailed summary — but when you attempt to imagine the above scenario and run that through, you would probably stop before halfway, throw in the towel and say “this is ridiculous!”
Yes, I have to admit that the thought of mixing “families with children” into the general boarding queue is not only a crazy policy, but a very stupid one at the same time!
With pre-boarding for families, the same family-of-four I described above would have been able to go through the entire process with ease, and not have to deal with the challenges of having other passengers, who are also boarding, to worry about. The freedom will also expediate the entire process for the Family and everyone else who will subsequently board the aircraft.
So it really beats me as to why any airline would want to abolish pre-boarding for families, being a win-win scenario for virtually all air travellers of commercial airliners of today.
And as far as those airlines outside of the United States are concerned, I do not know of any that does not provide it. Hence, to even consider the boarding process without this stage just seems utterly mad!
EDIT: I’ve just spoken to a few aviation enthusiasts and frequent flyers. Apparently, “pre-boarding” — as the term goes in the US — is offered to a far-broader set of passengers, which simply complicates the matter of trying to bring greater efficiency to the overall broading process.
From a rest-of-the-world point of view, the move by various US-based airlines to re-define who gets the pre-boarding priveledge (in this case, anyone who has a “status”, those with large carry-ons and have paid baggage fees, etc.) has all but improved the flying experience for everyone.
To those people responsible for redefining how passengers should board an aircraft, I would like to invite you to become one of the general public and board several flights a week — experience just how “enjoyable” it can be to get on that plane, and finally plonk down onto your assigned seat.
Fortunately though, not all airlines practice the same procedures. I was on a Virgin America flight last week — and how they deal with their passengers is a far cry from how US-based legacy carriers attempt to do so similarly. It is just shocking.