If you’ll be flying with an energetic toddler, there are a few things you might rather do with the extra time you’d spend together in the airplane if you opt for family pre-boarding; undergoing root canal work may be among them. But while many parents and seasoned travelers are quick to say, “Wait as long as you can! Be the last ones onboard!” there are times when you might be very glad you did take advantage of family pre-boarding…assuming your airline still offers it (see tips below if not and the related post What ever happened to family pre-boarding?).
Have you taken advantage of family pre-boarding with a baby or toddler–or chosen not to? This months’ free Travels with Baby: The Ultimate Guide… book excerpt comes from a section tackling the issue in Chapter 17: At the Airport and on the Plane.
The Great Pre-boarding Debate
As airlines vie for the steadier, more lucrative repeat business of business travelers, many have done away with pre-boarding for families with young children (which might imply to the other passengers waiting to board that the airline favors travelers with babies and young children). If “family pre-boarding” is offered on your next flight, don’t be surprised if your call to pre-board actually comes after all of the frequent flyer members and business class travelers have boarded the aircraft (this could be one good reason to join the loyalty program if you haven’t already). Whether or not you are better off pre-boarding is another matter, and the answer is likely to change as your child develops and grows.
When to pre-board:
- If your child is slow to adapt to new situations, pre-boarding can be a good way to help him adjust to his new surroundings and make himself comfortable before takeoff.
- If you are flying with a car seat (especially for the first time), pre-boarding might allow you the extra time and attention from the flight crew to help get your car seat installed and settle into your seats. It is also much easier to carry a car seat down the aisle before passengers are blocking your path and resting their elbows on the aisle seat armrests.
- If you are flying a carrier that does not have pre-assigned seating, pre-boarding may be the only way to ensure your family gets seats together and ones that will be appropriate for car seats. (On Southwest Airlines, priority boarding may only be available with a paid upgrade. With AirAsia, you may choose to pay more to choose your own seats in advance.)
- If you are flying alone with your child, pre-boarding will help ensure you get the assistance you need folding your stroller at the gate, storing your baggage, installing your car seat, etc., all while taking care of your child.
- If you are boarding a large aircraft or traveling on a very full flight, pre-boarding will help you get to your seats expeditiously without getting trapped in a slow-moving line of passengers struggling to store their carry-on baggage—possibly bumping you or your child in the process.
- If you are traveling on a large airplane with a lap child and have seat assignments near the rear (where any remaining seats will most likely be found), you may want to board early to “squat” on an extra seat near yours in case you can claim it—or make a trade with someone for another vacant seat.
When not to pre-board:
- If you have an extremely active child, it might be best to let her burn off her energy outside of the aircraft and not board until the last moment possible.
- If you have a toddler that will be traveling on your lap, it may be best for the whole family to wait until the last moment possible to settle into your seats.
Helpful tips: Even if an airline doesn’t explicitly offer family pre-boarding, many will allow families to board early if they need to install a car seat, so be sure to ask at your gate if you’d like the opportunity to do so. And while airlines don’t always agree, it doesn’t hurt to ask if just one of the adults in your family can board in advance with the car seat to get it installed while the other adult lets the toddler burn off some extra energy. Sometimes they’ll allow it.
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Excerpt from Travels with Baby: The Ultimate Guide for Planning Travel with Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers . Copyright (c)2007, 20014 by Shelly Rivoli.