Are Airlines Family Friendly?

Last week, I found out that United Airlines is no longer allowing families with babies to pre-board, which I think is ridiculous.


It’s really not that fun to watch a parent with an exhausted, irritable baby advance at glacial speed down a crowded aisle while over-sized hand luggage almost hits their heads on the way up to the overhead bins that are too full to hold the extra bag you had to bring for the baby stuff.


As you can tell, I am seriously annoyed at United- but it goes further than that.


To make matters worse, airlines are now charging extra for window and aisle seats, making it so that families who want to sit together have to pay a fee for that privilege, even if the other seats are empty.  This must be because everyone knows that a separated child is a quiet, and happy child who you want to be sitting next to.



Last week I rolled my eyes and gasped through a Senate hearing where airlines and their allies actually had the nerve to repeatedly claim that the European climate law was a ‘job killing,’ ‘crushingly expensive’ law.  They ommitted the fact that the European law only applies when planes are taking off and landing in Europe and the law is so flexible that many US airlines will actually MAKE money off of it in the first few years. (Basically, they have to buy allowances to cover their pollution, and they get most of those allowances for free.  If the airline has already reduced their pollution, they will get more allowances than they need, and then can sell those for a profit).


Airlines Family Friendly


The truth is that even for the airlines who will have to take action to reduce their pollution, it will cost very little for the airlines to comply with Europe’s climate law.  The airlines actually seem to concede this.  The fee that airlines added to a transatlantic flight in order to comply with the climate law was around $3 a ticket, or about half the cost of a beer on that same flight.  Not only is the EU Law a pretty cheap way to price carbon pollution, it could even create jobs since it will incentivize building modern, more efficient aircraft.  For some reason this modest cost seems completely unacceptable to them, while charging you $100 to check your personal bags so that you can carry on the diaper bag is A-OKAY.


If the airlines are looking for reasons for why they’re not  making enough money, I think they really need to look no further than their own policies.  I for one, am avoiding flying when possible until the airlines come to their senses.


This weekend I’m taking a road trip with our family and my parents to Knoxville, TN for a graduation.  We’ll be taking Amtrak to my sister-in-law’s wedding next week.  The train ride takes much longer, but we’ll have plenty of space, be able to walk around the train, and I can arrive at the train station ten minutes before the train arrives.  I like that no one will make me wake up my sleeping baby to take him out of the carrier for take-off.  And the best part is that I won’t have to read the in-flight magazine where the CEO of United tries to justify their anti-environment, anti-family policies.


Parents should be able to pre board and sit with their kids at no extra cost.  Airlines should be willing to pay for the cost of their pollution, and should not spend millions of dollars trying to avoid environmental laws.   If the airlines are so broke, they should consider getting rid of their lobbyists and focusing on family friendly policies.


The problem of climate change is solvable.  We just need to convince people to stop fighting the policies that put a price on pollution.  The problem is NOT that families need mobility.  I repeat, the problem is not the moms just trying to get around.  Yes, we can all reduce pollution a bit by flying less, but the real problem is the companies and politicians that fight any law that would put a price on climate pollution and get us on the road to solving this problem.


A few weeks ago I wrote about how putting a price on plastic bags dramatically changed the level of bag pollution in DC. Pricing also solved the acid rain problem.  And now pricing airplane greenhouse gas pollution can solve the climate problem from this sector too, if the airlines would stop fighting Europe and instead focus on designing a good global policy to price pollution.  The bottom line is that the airlines need to put families first and stop fighting the people who are fighting climate change.


Seriously, it’s bad enough that the moment you step on a plane with a baby everyone looks at you with this assumption that you will ruin their otherwise relaxing four hours of being packed like a sardine.   Now the airlines want us to accept that the whole experience will also pay for their lobbyists to try to take down Europe’s climate laws? Are they trying to make parents dread flying even more?


Fed up?  Here’s a link to a petition asking the Senate to not bail the airlines out of other countries’ climate laws.



About Keya Chatterjee

Keya Chatterjee is a Climate Change and Environment expert, and Director for International Climate Policy at World Wildlife Fund. Her work focuses on the environmental crisis facing the planet, and what policies and measures should be taken to ameliorate the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. Keya’s commentary on climate change policy and sustainability issues has been quoted in dozens of media outlets including USA Today, CNN, and NBC Nightly News. Keya resides in Washington, DC with her husband Andrew and her son Siddharth. She enjoys practicing yoga, biking, and spending time with her friends and family. She is working on a book about how to have a baby without raising your carbon footprint to be published in 2013 by Ig Publishing. Keep up with Keya’s writing on the nexus of climate change activism and motherhood at


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