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Monday, August 25, 2008

Families Flying with Small Children

We're in the middle of an era where airline travel is now a matter of dollars and cents and what they'll charge you for and what they won't. We're livid with the new ways they're trying to save money because their biggest methods involve charging us more, cutting off services and using practices that in most people's minds should be illegal. (That's right, I'm talking about "overbooking" and selling more tickets than there are seats on the plane as insurance against cancellations - which I'm sure makes sense to the airlines but it sounds like purely illegal activity in MY book.) Anyway, with all the rage regarding the possibility of being treated as nothing more than sacks of meat freight and paying tickets based on our weight - we seem to have overlooked an interesting trend that this blogger sees as a potentially good idea and a potentially bad one.

More airlines have stopped letting families with small children board before the general public, including Southwest Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines.

There are, of course, two schools of thought regarding this course of action.

1) This is a great idea, because it's more efficient and those not travelling with small children that get seated faster.

The numbers don't lie. It's primarily an efficiency thing. So before you accuse any of the airlines of being anti-parent, anti-children, anti-family or anti-caring-about-those-travelling-with-small-children, please bear in mind that test after test proves that it's an inefficient way to board a plane. Just ask Delta, the leading airline in service experiments:

"If you're bringing on people who need assistance — younger kids — all at once, you potentially create a bottleneck on the front end, as opposed to randomly dispersing them based on where people are sitting in the aircraft," explained Delta spokesman Anthony Black. "The best process is to board the aircraft normally."

And doing so, he said, saves an average of 10 to 12 minutes over allowing families to preboard.

You know, it's hard to argue with 10 to 12 solid minutes of difference between a plane being ready for takeoff and a plane still stuck on the tarmac with flight attendants telling you to stow things completely under the seat in front of you.

Meanwhile, the parents in the family units travelling with small children generally need extra time to deal with their extra baggage (both the luggage and the human varieties) and the fact that they have limited hands/arms with which to deal with it all. But does it make more sense to let them take that extra time BEFORE allowing the rest of the passengers to have THEIR time dealing with baggage and settling in? Or should they be stuck managing things when the rest of the passengers are - taking the same amount of extra time, but at the SAME time as other people?

Normally, I'd say good riddance to the families-board-first initiative - but I'm also aware of the lesser-talked-about second school of thought regarding this issue.

2) This is a horrible idea, because children could wind up ANYWHERE.

Speaking as a non-travelling-with-small-children passenger, there's one benefit I've found to having to wait those extra minutes while the breeders on my flight get to take their sweet time buckling in Junior. That benefit is that when it's time for ME to board, I have a visual of all potential child-endangered seating. If you don't want a brat kicking your chair or be in a onw-row vicinity of a screaming baby - the best strategy is to let them on first and then pick the spot that's clear of their threats. I work to identify all snot-nosed kiddies in those 30 seconds of travelling down the claustrophobic aisleway so I can pick a window seat as close to the front but as far as possible from the broodlings.

Without this system - if you let all general passengers start boarding in one group - my seat's perimeter could be invaded by Children of the Corn in a later boarding group! While no parent is really going to raise an eyebrow to someone passing up their row to find other available seating, getting up to get the hell out of there once they have arrived is probably going to be a confrontational issue. Especially if it's interrupting their several-minute procedure of getting settled in. Which means you're either stuck being a jerk or stuck with the little ones the entire flight.

Now please don't think of me as some ogre who's against children and thinks that they're all a bunch of snot-nosed poopy-pantsed screaming bundles of pure evil and annoyance. I've personally had very few flights that have been affected by young people - and those that were involved babies with colic who frankly disturbed the ENTIRE plane, no matter where you were located. But then again, I've made it a point to take these proactive measures to ensure that I DON'T have a lot of flights being affected by your little ones.

Don't take it from me, though. Try asking AirFareWatchDog.com and their poll about how the flying public feel about those travelling with their little children. There was a news story about it as well, citing that regarding the question of "Should airlines have a section of the plane reserved for parents with babies and younger children?" 58% of pollsters responded that "Yes, they should have done this long ago." 27% said "Yes, but they never will and it'll never work." and the remaining 15% went with "No. This is a bad idea."

85% of people think that child-carrying clans should sit in a separate section of the plane, even though a third of them think it'll never happen. I frankly don't think it'll work, either, but that's from a logistics standpoint. I'm not thinking about the business situation of their "overbooking" and whether it's okay to fill up cancelled Family Zone seats with standby Adult Zone passengers - I'm just thinking about the fact that most people want to stow children away somewhere they can't be HEARD. You can't soundproof a section of an airplane. It'll prevent the kicking and reduce the risk of germ infestation and being nagged or stared at by the unsupervised toddlers you'll occasionally encounter. But it won't reduce the overall noise they generate in a variety of ways.

So here's my idea.

If you're an airline lucky enough to still have TICKETED SEATING, meaning you purchase a ticket and it's got your seat row and number on it - then to hell with those and their small children, because there's no reason to have them waste those 10 to 12 minutes. You know where you're sitting, as does everyone, and you board by groups from the rear of the plane to the front as it's the most efficient method, and that's that.

If you're an airline like so many nowadays with GROUP SEATING, meaning you purchase a ticket and it's got your boarding group on it - then for the sake of those who don't want to be around your little ones, we have to let you on first so we know where NOT to sit. We hate the thought of losing another ten minutes to standing around with an A-Group boarding pass while we wait for the endless stream of priority seating passengers to settle in, but at least we have a chance to save ourselves from being bothered DURING them flight - provided we spent the time and effort to get an A-Group boarding pass and show up early enough to have a pick of seating in the child-free zones.

So that's my idea for how to solve the problem. Of course, my opinion really doesn't matter, since I'm an extra-large sack of meat freight who'll be flying as little as possible to avoid being charged per-pound just to visit family.

Do you have ideas about this issue (other than calling me names or treating me like an ogre)? Leave a comment and join the debate!

And then Digg this article!

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