I fly a lot. On US Airways, that means I’m considered preferred which doesn’t get me much other than being called to board the plane before most passengers. However, there are many who have more status than me so they can board before me. There are chairman’s preferred and platinum preferred who are clearly preferred over me. Airline marshals and members of the military rightfully board early. So do the people who work on the plane.
Then there are people with legitimate disabilities and those who need assistance. They board before me too as they should. But there is an entirely new group of people who have started to board early. These are the people who claim to need assistance. Recently, I have observed more and more people standing in this line. Sometimes the line is 15 to 20 people deep. Only by my observation, most are walking and in some cases, running to get in line. No canes. No wheelchairs. No aides or helpers. No visible signs of needing assistance.
My guess is they want to get on the plane early before the overhead bins fill up and they’re forced to check baggage. I couldn’t help but wonder how all these people are able to move to the front of the line.
So I asked the gate attendant. She said all you have to do is ask for a pass. But don’t you have to be visibly impaired, I wondered. No, she said. What about proof like a doctor’s note, I asked. No to that too, she answered. And, you don’t even have to provide your email or sign up for a credit card or something? No again.
So I asked if I could have one of those passes so I can move closer to the front of the line where I’m supposed to be anyway.
She said she couldn’t give me a pass because I didn’t need assistance. But I continued, you just said all I had to do was ask. Slightly annoyed, she said if she let me pre-board she’d have to let others who didn’t need assistance pre-board too. I pointed out that was exactly what was happening. Clearly exasperated with my questions, she asked me to move aside so I did. I counted 17 people claiming to need assistance who pre-boarded the plane before me. That’s in addition to all the other select people I’ve mentioned.
By my calculations, after they all board including the other zone one people in front of me, I’m about 32nd in line. Truthfully, I don’t care if people are in front of me. We’ll all get there at the same time and because I’m in zone one; there will still be plenty of room for my bag in the overhead. It’s simply a matter of curiosity. I want to understand why it is so easy for some people to buck the rules.
So I went on the airline website and searched ‘pre boarding rules’. It says if you have a mobility disability and would like special seating or need additional time; call at least 24 hours before your scheduled departure. Easy enough. Perhaps that’s why so many people are in line.
Then I started to wonder if it was just this airline. So the next time I flew another airline, I went to the gate attendant and asked if I could board early because my back was bothering me. Without even looking at me, she handed me a board early card which I then gave to an older woman who seemed to need it more than me.
Clearly, the airlines need a better early boarding system. With threats of terrorism, baggage hassles, delays, overbooked flights and security breaches this is likely not a priority.
Though last year, United Airlines took the lead by addressing the issue when they ended pre-boarding for families traveling with young children. Parents protested. Some even said they wouldn’t fly United anymore if they couldn’t get their kids settled before everyone else elbowed their way onto the plane and into others as they try to shove their oversized bags into the shrinking overhead bins.
But the airline didn’t give in and instead said they were making an effort to simplify the process and reduce the number of boarding groups so the rules were fair to everyone. That is what strong leadership should strive for; treating people equally.
Willie Nelson was once asked what it takes to be a good leader. When I pose that question in my programs, I receive answers such as authentic, good communicator, credible, confident, integrity and fairness. All are admirable traits. The country singer has a different take. He once said “Being a good leader is just finding a bunch of people going in the same direction as you are and jumping in front of them!”
Clearly intended as a joke, while cutting in line may not seem that big of a deal in the scheme of things, it hints at a bigger problem. Not only is jumping in front of people poor behavior, but people who knowingly cut in line at airports probably do the same at the supermarket; in traffic, at restaurants, the theater, sporting events and anywhere else they feel the rules don’t apply to them.
So while Willie Nelson may have been kidding, people who game the system are quite serious. Unfortunately, their disregard for others is no joking matter.