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It’s been weeks since United Airlines decided to yank preboarding privileges from families with children, but the controversy is only just now reaching its boiling point.
More than 30,000 consumers have answered the airline’s change with an online petition, claiming the company is unfairly punishing parents who need extra time to wrangle their brood before flights.
The petition is the latest in a wave of consumer backlash against the airline, which is facing a proposed class action suit filed by frequent fliers who claim it reduced their perks following its 2010 merger with Continental Airlines. So far this year, United has racked up the highest number of consumer complaints of any U.S. airline.
The preboarding petition, hosted by Change.org, was spearheaded by New York City mother Kaja Meade.
“Like many other parents, I rely on preboarding as part of my travel plan. It’s not an amenity, it’s a necessary service,” Meade said. “This is another airline policy that’s bad for travellers, and I’m concerned that others may follow United’s lead.”
To be fair, United is one of at least three airlines to recently do away with family preboarding, including US Airways and American Airlines. Some airlines, such as Delta and JetBlue, don’t offer preboarding outright but invite passengers who need additional assistance to step forward before other passengers board.
In its defence, the airline said the change would smooth out wrinkles in the boarding process for all travellers by reducing the number of boarding groups.
It’s hard to deny the logic there, as boarding flights now takes longer than ever. A report by Boeing found boarding times on 140-passenger domestic flights averages around 30 to 40 minutes today – more than double the 15 minutes it took back in 1970.
Discount airline Spirit also cited smoother boarding times when it hiked the fee for checking carry-on bags at the gate to a whopping $100 earlier this year.
With more passengers relying on carry-ons in order to avoid hefty fees for checking bags, overhead bins on flights tend to fill up almost instantly. That often leaves those last to board—penny pinchers flying coach—to either involuntarily check their bags or crowd the aisle as they try to squeeze their bag into unavailable space.
For those toting children, checking a diaper bag or other parental paraphernalia they might need in-lfight isn’t always an option.
Read the full petition here.