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Skies less friendly for families

By Rose Raymond ·
Monday, June 4, 2012
Posted: 4 pm ET

Cheap and convenient airline travel for families may be on its way out in the U.S., as cash-strapped airlines seek new ways to make money. Among the frills being stripped: early boarding for families with children and the ability to purchase multiple seats next to one another at no charge.

Preboarding a luxury for the wealthy?

United Airlines recently dropped its policy of providing priority boarding for families with small children flying in coach class, according to numerous media reports. Previously, families with young children -- even those in coach class -- were among the first to board the plane.

Waiting for a flightWhile still the norm on many U.S. airlines, several other airlines have also dropped pre-boarding for families with young children, according to a CNN report. The move appears to have been made in an effort to simplify the boarding process, an airline spokesman was quoted as saying in the report.

However, families with little ones that pay the extra money to fly first or business class are still able to board early, according to CNN, and the airline says staff still make a pre-boarding announcement asking any passengers who need boarding assistance or extra time to come forward.

What does this mean for families? If you fly United with your young children, you'll have to either shell out big bucks for a business-class or first-class ticket, or stay in coach and convince airline staff that your family legitimately needs extra time boarding.

New trend of charging for seating

The convenience of pre-boarding allows families to get children situated and buckled in and stow car seats and extra luggage without throngs of passengers passing by. Once seated, most if not all parents would prefer to sit next to their children.

But many airlines these days, including American, Spirit and United, charge extra for certain seats, such as some aisle and window seats and seats near the front of the plane. If you're looking for plane tickets for a family of four, it's quite possible that the only way to secure four seats next to one another will be to purchase one or two of the premium seats, which can cost $25 or more, according a report from The Associated Press.

For a round-trip flight for four people, assuming two of the seats had to be purchased each way, this could add about $100 to the total flight cost.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., recently took a stand against this practice. In a press release and letters to officials, he called on major airlines to waive premium seating fees for families with children trying to sit together, and he asked the Department of Transportation to take steps to regulate the practice.

"Children need access to their parents, and parents need access to their children," Schumer was quoted in the press release. "Unnecessary airline fees shouldn't serve as a literal barrier between mother and child."

Schumer also mentioned that the practice could have safety implications, particularly if parents elect to sit away from their children to avoid paying an extra fee.

Do these airline policies bother you? Would you choose an airline based on the amenities it offers families? Let us know in the comments.

Hat tip: Kristin Arnold.

Follow me on Twitter @rosehelen.

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Marco Cabrera
June 05, 2012 at 9:41 am

This is disgusting. (Nicely written though :) ) It is yet another way that the airlines are trying to bring in a few more dollars "where they can", while they are actually making passengers rethink if the flight is the right choice. I don't know a single parent that would purchase a ticket for their child and not want them close to at least one parent. And some people cannot afford the extra for an individual seat. Perhaps the airlines should consider not making it harder for the bulk of their business to buy tickets. If they were to increase the cost of every ticket $1, they would see more revenue while alienating fewer people. A family of four could conjure up $4 per flight, where as $100 could make or break the option of a flight.

June 04, 2012 at 6:41 pm

Fly Southwest!

Timothy Wahl
June 04, 2012 at 5:45 pm

What is especially aggravating is that we the people have the power to stop this nonsense. Enough is enough. Don't travel, at least by plane. There's enough to do close your own back yard. If enough of us do that, things will change. Strength in unity would be true with gasoline or about anything else. We're an apathetic, complacent bunch, aren't we? Dish rags.