US Airports Are Not Kid Friendly: Why Do Families Get Priority Abroad But Not Here At Home?

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Traveling in a post-pandemic world is hard enough. Anyone who has flown recently will agree. Lines are longer, crowds feel larger, and airplane seats feel smaller. So add to it traveling with children and it is a daunting task.

I would like challenge american airports do better to support flying families because our recent experience leads me to believe that American exceptionalism does not include airports.

Yes, some US airports have wonderful play areas and exhibits designed for children. But I’m talking about the lines. Check-in counters. Customs. All the places where little humans get upset and parents get frustrated and want to throw the bib away.

My husband and I recently took our 3 month old daughter with us on a birthday trip to Italy and France for two weeks. We left the eldest two (grandparents for the win!) and traveled from Washington Dulles to Milan Italy – via Zurich. We have TSA pre-screening which means children under 12 can skip the long lines to take advantage of the fast track with a parent or guardian. If you ever plan to travel, it’s worth it. This was our only smooth experience in the US.

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A mechanical problem meant that we left Dulles nearly an hour and a half late, so our eight-hour night flight turned into a 9.5-hour chore over the Atlantic . Fortunately, the baby slept. We did not do it.

They had already booked us on the next flight from Milan, but we had hours to explore Zurich airport. There we found an entire “Family” living room that had a full kitchen, couches, games, and more. Well done, Zurich! We finally arrived in Milan and had a great week exploring Italy.

One of many helpful gate agents overseas helping us board easily with a baby.

One of many helpful gate agents overseas helping us board easily with a baby.
(Family photo)

When we left Naples, from check-in to security, each gate agent took us to a special family queue. Traveling with children in Europe makes you feel like a celebrity – albeit a celebrity wearing a nursing pillow and sporting spit stains. But stay.

At our gate it was a sea of ​​people when boarding began. However, agents have asked families with children to pre-board if they wish. Some US airlines are also doing this, but others have dropped the announcement and families need to self-identify, they need more time. There are also horror stories about airlines separating families on long flights or making parents shell out extra money just to make sure your 3-year-old isn’t around a foreign danger.

When we arrived in Paris after yet another delayed flight, it was rush hour and the queue for taxis was 30 people. Before we can even enter the waiting room, an angel of mercy says to us: “You have a baby! Here, come to the front of the line. It was the only time 30 people collectively wanted to carry a baby at the same time.

It took our family returning from Europe two and a half hours to clear customs.

It took our family returning from Europe two and a half hours to clear customs.
(AP)

Leaving from Charles de Gaulle, we were again sent to the “fast” line at airport check-in. Same for security. They have an entire line dedicated to families with children under 18. I have never seen a line dedicated to families in an American airport.

When we finally landed in Dulles eight hours later, it took us two and a half hours to clear customs. Let me repeat that. For nearly three hours, we stood in a winding line waiting our turn for an agent. When we first saw the crowd, I walked up to an employee and asked if there was a “Baby Fast Pass” line. She seemed taken aback and said no with a half-hearted air of pity.

An hour into our queue I had to find a place to breastfeed and sat in the wheelchair area. Again I asked this employee if we could use the line of empty wheelchairs with the baby. I was told no. Shortly after, another employee shouted across the room about something called “Mobile Passport Control” – telling us that if we download the app we can use a different line.

Our daughter had the same feelings as me about our customs experience.

Our daughter had the same feelings as me about our customs experience.
(Family photo)

Thinking she knew better, we followed the instructions and received a QR code which we were told could get us to the “Global Entry/Diplomat/MPC” line. Hooray! We left our seat forward – pushed the stroller and our gear to the other line across the room – only to realize that 50 of our closest friends did the same, so we basically swapped a long line with 20 agents against a shorter line with two. Insert face palm here.

I went to the first lady I asked about a fast baby pass to ask her why didn’t she tell me about the mobile passport control option when I told her First asked if there was a faster line and she seemed puzzled as if I was speaking a foreign language. No angel of mercy here. Welcome to America.

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when we traveled to Jamaica with family this spring we were also introduced to shorter family lines. A few years ago, on another trip to Italy, we passed hundreds in a passport line as the agent pushed our stroller FOR US down the dedicated family lane.

If airlines and airports want to encourage travel again, let’s start by offering families a fast pass. It seems like every other country does.

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