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As pretty much all working parents here are acutely aware, the United States lags behind much of the rest of the world in offering maternity (and paternity) benefits to new parents. That is changing a little bit towards a slightly more family friendly mentality in some arenas, but by and large the best you can hope for in most situations is that your job is protected by law for 3 months and you have the ability to use any paid leave you had saved up during that time to keep some income coming in your bank account. If you haven’t had a baby, you probably wonder what in the world do people do for three months at home with an infant – I mean, that sounds like a long (potentially) paid vacation.
I even have friends who in advance of having their first child came up with all these grand plans of books they will read, things they will sew, projects they will work on, etc. “while the baby is sleeping” on their maternity leave. I just sort of chuckle to myself when I hear this because unless you have one of those mythical “easy” babies, that ain’t gonna happen. Even then, it isn’t going to happen very much. Between taking care of the baby, doing never ending laundry, nursing, trying to catch a quick nap, going to appointments, taking care of other kids, doing normal life stuff that still has to get done, and recovering from birth or surgery, there isn’t really any free time or energy left in those early months. It’s all worth it, but it sure as heck isn’t a vacation. Here is a recap of life with a one month old.
Given all that, the workplace has at least acknowledged, for the most part, that mothers need a protected period of time to heal and adjust to life with a newborn before returning to work. One could very well argue fathers need a period of similar protected time, too.
So, since it is a given that new moms (and sometimes dads) will have a period of time before the baby is born where they are no longer traveling far from home, and then a period of time at least several months long after the baby is born that they are also probably sticking close to home, does it make sense to adjust airline elite status requirements accordingly for the year when a parent has a new child?
Now, before you bring out the “that’s ridiculous having a child is a choice” pitchforks, hear me out. While of course for many people having a child is a conscious choice, it is also just a normal phase of life for people. In this 2013 poll, more than 9 in 10 American adults either had children, planned to have children, or wished they had children, while only 5% said they never wished to have children. So, choice or not, having babies is still by far a normal phase that most families go through at some point, and it obviously impacts that ability to travel whether for work, pleasure, or both.
I clearly travel a good amount, but even I stopped flying for the last two months of pregnancy and didn’t fly again until my daughter was 2 months old. That means there were four months that I was “grounded”, and I could easily see that number being a bit higher for many who don’t hit the skies with their two month old. Largely as a result of this, it is highly unlikely I will re-qualify for United Premier Platinum status for next year.
The last several years I have had either top tier 1K or second tier Premier Platinum status with United by flying between 75,000 – 100,000 eligible miles in a calendar year, but it just isn’t feasible to lose at least 1/3 of the year and still make-up the difference, especially since my travel (like most), will ramp back up instead of all the sudden returning exactly to previous levels. Since I’m nursing, I can’t really even just take off and start traveling extensively without my new baby even if I wanted to (and I don’t want t0).
I have heard anecdotally of some airlines who have made exceptions for people from time to time who couldn’t travel for a specific time period by extending their elite status without them fully meeting the criteria, so I inquired mostly as an experiment to see what United’s MileagePlus Service Center response would be in my situation. To their credit they responded very quickly within the hour, but they certainly didn’t seem interested in guaranteeing any exceptions.
The only guarantee of Premier status is via the published requirements. MileagePlus may look at other factors when considering Premier status. Promotions are sometimes created to acknowledge those who did not meet the Premier qualifications and have demonstrated their support of United Airlines. Should your account be included in any such promotion, you will be notified by regular mail or email.
Their response makes it sound like you might be retroactively given some promo or assistance with maintaining an elite level you didn’t earn via the traditional model, but there is no way to solicit or guarantee that sort of exception. Fair enough, that is clearly within their rights, but I have to wonder if that is really the best decision for everyone involved.
Let’s assume that the new parent’s travel does dip of for a few months as mine did, and as a result they lose the elite status level they were used to as I likely will. Then, a few months later their travel picks back up to a more regular pace but they no longer have the elite perks they used to have with a specific airline. One has to assume that their incentive to stick with that airline when purchasing fares would then be diminished. Sure they may simply just focus on re-earning that status and remain loyal during that transition, but it might also be a great opportunity to try out another competitor, especially if they were able to leverage the elite status they used to have for a match or a challenge with another airline.
Even if they don’t do that, they may realize that travel without elite status isn’t as horrible as they feared, and they may then care less about staying loyal to one particular airline going forward. In either case, that could potentially be a negative for the airline that used to have their loyalty for years because of the hamster wheel that is elite status.
Now let’s look at it another way and assume that the airline did grant some leniency with elite status requirements for those out on “maternity leave” for several months. Let’s say that the mom never again travels at the same level that they used to, and is granted this status extension but then doesn’t really give the airline very much business the following year. In that case, the airline really isn’t out much because the perks they extended the customer weren’t heavily utilized anyway. Many of the elite perks don’t come at a large added cost to the airline anyway, but they certainly don’t carry much of a cost if they aren’t used. In that case the airline would simply not grant an additional exemption and no one would really be much worse for wear.
Since giving birth and having a young baby is a pretty time limited event, I’m not sure I see much downside for the airlines granting documented exceptions for traveling parents who can’t maintain a certain elite status level in a specific year because of a birth, adoption, etc. Of course they could tweak exactly what that looks like whether it is a flat extension of status, lowered status requirements, a minimum amount of future travel booked, or whatever, but it seems relatively logical to me that some adjustments be made in order to keep the traveler and the airline linked.
Of course, I come from a somewhat biased position being the mom who will see the comforts of elite status I am used to dwindle, but United also is in a precarious position for relative exclusivity of my family’s traveling dollars, because I may determine the elite perks weren’t worth the effort and expense, or shift business to a carrier that will match the elite status I had for this year.
Do you think it would be totally crazy for airlines to grant elite status exceptions for people who were grounded for several months because of a birth or other similar time-limited event, or do you think that is something that might actually make sense for both parties?