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Zone Four

Now boarding everyone but you.

3:45 PM, Oct 21, 2013 • By VICTORINO MATUS
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The day had finally arrived—our children were embarking on their first flight. My wife and I figured that since we wouldn't have to be changing diapers in cramped quarters (our kids are five and three), the time was right. But I also presumed that since we had toddlers with us, the airline would give us some leeway in boarding ahead of others. Instead we were one of the last people to board.

For at some point, USAirways decided that parents with small children should wait like everybody else. I can't tell you how many times I've waited for families to find their seats and take up all those overhead bins. Now that our time has arrived, they change the rules on us? As of now, only parents with children under the age of two are allowed to board—and even they have to wait. Wait for whom? Let's see: There was first class, chairman's preferred, envoy preferred, platinum preferred, gold preferred, silver preferred, and zone one. Then the babies. Then zone two, followed by zone three. Our family was zone four, otherwise referred to as "everyone else."

And what's with the two lines? If passengers board in sections and not simultaneously, why have a special welcome mat for "envoy preferred access" that the rest of us can only ogle? Does it really make the chairman's preferred passengers feel all that special? Was the extra level of plush carpeting that much softer on your feet?

How did it come to this? When I was kid, flying from Newark to Orlando, you'd get a warm meal. On our flight back from Orlando to Washington, not only was there no meal—there was no snack and not even any milk. I had to purchase food at the airport: two sandwiches, a bag of chips, grapes, and two individual cereal boxes at a cost of $30.

Admittedly our airfare was a steal (thanks to Travelocity) at $254 roundtrip per person. So I guess the airline makes up the cost in add-ons like baggage fees for domestic flights and optional fees for priority boarding and extra leg room (a whole five inches more!). But the separate carpet and changing the rules for parents with children seemed just a bit much.

I also mentioned to my son that there are televisions inside the plane. That turned out to be wrong on the Embraer 175. The good news is the flight was smooth. As we took off, my son asked aloud, "Are we going to crash?" Thankfully we didn't. The captain could not have been nicer, and once we landed, she invited my son to tour the cockpit.

Saturday Night Live recently parodied the exclusionary nature of the airlines. Much of it is exaggerated. But when the attendant allows for "parents traveling with small children," it turns out even that was being too generous.

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