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I was all set to rant about my unpleasant experience with United Airlines today but the company has had a pretty rough day already and I figured that screaming on my blog would only be cathartic for me. So I'm going to try to be constructive. 

My main complaint is that flying on United with a family is just downright unfriendly. Here is a summary of how it was so sucky this trip to the Bay Area with my 2 1/2 year-old son and 8 month-old daughter. 

  • No guaranteed seats together. This is a new policy. If I were flying with my husband it would be inconvenient but with a toddler it is impossible. How can I let my 2 year-old sit in a row with two strangers!? When I booked the flight I called to request seats together and even offered to pay a premium but I was told that my only option was to upgrade to the emergency exit row for $70 per ticket. 

Me: Do you know that children are not allowed to sit in the emergency exit row? 

Phone agent: Oh yeah. Okay well then there is nothing we can do. Just ask some people to move when you get on the plane. 

I worried about this for weeks leading up to the flight knowing I'd have to beg a stranger to sit in my crappy middle seat. I called the airline again the day before the flight with the same result. I also asked every desk and gate agent I could find to help but no one would. They all told me the same thing: No ma'am, nothing we can do. Just beg for mercy from your fellow passengers. 

Luckily it worked out that I was able to switch with a kind soul but this is not a permanent solution. This was dumb luck.

United, plain and simple: this sucks! You've been able to fix this in the past but you are now simply unwilling? Why??   

  • No preboarding for families. This is also a new policy that I don't understand. Why not give young travelers a little extra time? I have A LOT of gear that I lug with me to accommodate my two little ones and that gear makes our flight a smooth sail. But I need time to deal with all of that stuff. I need time to break down my double stroller, set up my CARES harness, get myself seated with the baby in the Ergo, pull out the iPad for the flight, get a nursing cover, etc. Giving me a few minutes to do this without other passengers waiting impatiently in the aisle just makes sense! It keeps me from holding everyone else up!
  • No stroller coverage on domestic flights. This was my final straw today. We had a pretty smooth flight from San Francisco to Newark but when we arrived the sun hood on my Mountain Buggy Duet was broken off and the bent frame was tossed on the floor next to my folded stroller without explanation. I was directed to a baggage claim service desk where an agent inquired about the price of the stroller and its age. This is an expensive stroller but having a double helps A TON - especially since I flew the first leg of this flight alone without my husband. When I told her that it was not yet 4 months old and costs just under $600, her response was this: 

Agent: We suggest you travel with less expensive strollers because we don't cover them on domestic flights. 

I was dumbfounded. So if it were cheaper it would be okay for you to break it?? And is it any of your business how much it costs anyway? I choose the best products in order to make my travels easier - is that any of your business? Why kind of response is that?? 

I wasn't asking that they replace the entire stroller - just the sun hood, which costs all of $45. She said that she would look into sending us a replacement. She was kind enough, giving me a claim number and her contact information, but I was still dumbfounded by this policy. 

We may break your stroller so make sure it's cheap, parents! Oh and screw you for traveling with little ones too. 

Now I don't want to scream about how unacceptable this all is. I think thats pretty obvious. And I will vote with my dollars. In April Virgin America begins service out of Newark and then I will take my regular cross-country fares elsewhere. 

To their credit, United has responded to my Twitter ravings with offers to help. But it shouldn't come to this! These cold, unfriendly policies have really alienated my family and - I don't mean to brag - but we are seriously THE easiest travelers you can imagine. My kids never cry on planes, they don't kick seats, they don't have fits. They know the drill. They play with their toys, watch movies on iPad, sleep, and eat their lunches. They are seasoned travelers. We make it very easy on the airlines that accommodate us. Problem is: they don't make it easy on us. And they so easily could by throwing out the policies that alienate and starting with a new policy. It's called customer service. 

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Reader Comments (11)

I used to fly Continental before the merger with United and never had an issue. Most of the Continental personnel were from the South or were the pleasant people. After the merger, and the HQ was relocated from Houston to that godforsaken Northern city, it seemed everyone took on the rude attitudes of those folks from up there. From then on it's been Southwest for me. Safe travels!

January 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJ J Millhouse

I'd be interested to know how other trips and airlines you fly with children compare? Although our kids are older, Delta has always been accommodative to parents with children.

January 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRichC

Thank you for the heads up! We will not be using United! Tax evading and cruel to family travel!

January 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSean F

I fly a lot! Virgin, Jet Blue, Southwest are all far friendlier to families!

January 15, 2013 | Registered CommenterNatali

By imposing a surcharge for you to have a guaranteed seat next to your toddler (which is clearly a necessity), the airline is basically making you pay a penalty for traveling with a small child. They know they couldn't legally do that, so this is their workaround. Unbelievable.

January 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMichele

United is run my a huge union. Practically impossible to fire these people. The industry is also heavily govt subsidized, hence they know the fed will mot let them fail despite poor service and incompetence.

January 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge Lee

Sorry to hear you journey was a mare!
As a family we have had similar experience with budget airlines. Its especially difficult with your children so young. When ours got older we gave our children specific instructions to misbehave as much as they wanted if they were unable to sit with us. They were always disappointed when we ended up sitting together. My eldest daughter (now 15) had it all worked out.
In 2010 this came to head when due to fly with Easyjet for a two week holiday and they canceled the flight, only alternative was 8 days later. I now refuse to travel with any airline of the budget variety, we would prefer to fly BA and pay an additional $100 per seat, and guarantee we will get there.
I must say in conclusion well done you, for travelling with your young family, they will grow up with a much broader prospective on travel and the world.

January 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Kirby (London, UK)

Awful. I have a permanent disability and use a scooter. I never have walked. I don't even want to think about how this would impact me travelling with my wife and 8 year old. We'll drive to Florida from Illinois this spring, thank you.

January 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChristopher Kelly

I have flown United for business and personal trips for 20 years and finally gave up. They no longer care about their customers at all. It's truly sad. In the Bay Area they have more flights to more places than most other airlines, but I just won't tolerate their horrible product. In the past few years they have also become worse and worse about flight delays and cancellations. When three trips in a row involved three-hour or more delays or a cancelled flight that was the last straw.

January 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChris

Could not agree more with this post.United have been driving me crazy for years,cannot wait for the Virgin service to start up.

January 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHanna

that's a pilot for over 25 years in the Air Force. And I refuse to fly anywhere in the United States I'd rather take the extra day and drive. Only time I fly when I go overseas. I'm sick and tired of the airline security baggage rules, on friendly skies.

January 17, 2013 | Unregistered Commentergregg havens

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