United reverses itself, admits families with small kids really do need extra boarding time

Queue up no more.
Queue up no more.
Image: Reuters/Eduardo Munoz
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Starting Feb. 15, families booked on United Airlines flights will be able to skip the line and board early once more if they’re traveling with small children. That’s no doubt a relief to many a traveling parent—and it also may leave many wondering what took so long for the airline to reinstate the accommodation.

United had canceled its family-first policy as part of a bigger boarding policy revamp in 2012, forcing parents to wait to usher their kids—and their strollers, and toys, and bags—onto planes during general boarding. United senior vice president Sandra Pineau-Boddison told the AP Monday (Feb. 1) that the move “takes a little bit of the stress out of the travel situation” and that “some things are just the right thing to do.”

In short, the airline admits-but-doesn’t-admit its original policy switch four years ago was a mistake.

That switch, defended at the time as a step toward simplifying the boarding process, drew ire from parents all over the US, with people complaining of “extra hassle” and “anti-family” practices. United’s reversal aims to both placate those lingering grievances and save time for other customers, as gate-checking strollers and boarding restless children before everyone else is likely to cut down on congestion during general boarding.

While family boarding policies currently vary across different airlines, most allow some form of early family boarding—albeit usually after first- or elite-class members, who drum up a lot of profit by paying for that type of prioritization. United’s switch, though, exemplifies the way airlines are finally starting to pay more attention to customers’ intrinsic interests and needs, in addition to the size of their wallets.

Taken along with United’s recent announcement that it’s bringing back free snacks to coach class (as is American Airlines), flying with children just got a whole lot easier.