Family Early Boarding Policies on Major Airlines

Family with suitcases leaving airport

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If you are flying with kids to a destination, you may be able to board the plane early and get settled into your seats before the cattle call of coach passengers.

Depending on their ages and which airline you have chosen, some airlines invite families to board in front of everybody else, while others allow those with kids to slide in somewhere between elite passengers and regular coach-flying folk.

Why don't all airlines offer the same policy? Airlines want to board passengers as quickly as possible, but they also want to reward their elite flyers. In addition, airlines make money selling early boarding privileges directly to passengers. 

Boarding Strategy

Even if your airline offers early family boarding, there are caveats. For some families, boarding first can backfire—remember that once passengers are boarded, the plane still has to taxi on the runway and wait in a queue to take off. Boarding too early can mean your child is strapped in for up to 45 minutes before the plane is even in the air. Be strategic based on knowing your own child.

To minimize the time a child is confined in an airplane seat, many families use this tried-and-tested trick: One parent boards early and gets the family's carry-on bags and other belongings stowed and child's car seat installed. Meanwhile, the other parent waits in the departure lounge with the child until the regular boarding time. This gives mobile babies and toddlers more time to move around before getting on the plane.

One thing families no longer have to worry about is getting seated together, thanks to the passing of the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill in July 2016, which requires airlines to seat families with children under age 13 together without forcing them to pay for premium seats.

US Airline Family Boarding Policies

Alaska Airlines: Families with children under age two can board first, before the first class and elite customers.

American Airlines: Families with young kids can board before the first class and elite members upon request only. The child's maximum age is at the discretion of the gate agent.

Delta Air Lines: Families with strollers (to gate check) and car seats (to install on the plane) can board before the first class and elite members.

Frontier Airlines: Families with children age three and under board after elite members and passengers who have paid for extra legroom, but before the rest of the passengers.

Hawaiian Airlines: Families with kids under age two can board before the first class and elite members.

JetBlue Airways: Families with children under age two board after elite members and passengers in premium seats, but before coach passengers.

Southwest Airlines: One adult and child age six and under may board during Family Boarding, which is after the "A'' group and before the "B'' group.

Spirit Airlines: Families can board after passengers who paid extra to board early and those who paid for overhead bin space for a carry-on bag.

United Airlines: Families with kids age two and under can board before the first class and elite members.

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