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How Should Travel Change in 2013? Readers Speak Out

What would you like to see change in 2013? That's the question we asked our readers in a recent survey on controversial travel topics. The results, collected during an eight-day period, include responses from more than 1,000 SmarterTravel readers. The following is an analysis of what they had to say. Click here to see an infographic of the poll results!

Special Privileges for Passengers

Who should board planes first? Our readers spoke out, and the majority of them—77 percent—said that disabled travelers should be allowed on planes first. Nine percent said those who paid extra should board in the beginning, 7 percent said families, and 7 percent said elite flyers. As it stands, the disabled are often the first to board. The U.S. legacy airlines and most domestic carriers offer pre-boarding for passengers with disabilities. (Disabled travelers may have to put in a request with a gate agent to secure early boarding.)

Some airlines permit families to board planes before other coach travelers, but one major carrier just changed its boarding process so that passengers with children get on the plane with everyone else: United stopped offering early boarding to families last spring.

So the consensus is that disabled passengers should get on planes first. But which travelers should get through airport security first? We asked our readers if frequent flyers should enjoy access to faster, elite lanes in airport security. The answer: Probably. Forty-four percent said yes, while 47 percent said maybe. Our readers apparently sympathize with those who spend the most time trudging through security lines, tying and untying shoes: business travelers and other frequent flyers who areon the road often.

Respondents, however, were less supportive of the idea of hotel loyalty-program members getting discounts on expedited security programs offered by the U.S. government. Some backstory: Loews Hotels & Resorts recently partnered with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to offer guests discounted access to Global Entry. Global Entry is an expedited immigration program whose members are automatically qualified for TSA PreCheck. So Loews loyalty members can zoom to the front of the line in airport security at select hubs, without paying for special access.

Is this fair? Not so much, according to respondents. Sixty percent of those polled said that hotels should not offer their members discounts on expedited security programs.

Traveling with Kids

What's the worst air-travel offense? Misbehaving kids, said those polled. Forty-seven percent of respondents revealed that out-of-control children are the most offensive thing in the skies.

Given that kids were deemed the worst air-travel offense, it comes as little surprise that most travelers polled were in favor of child-free zones on planes. Fifty-eight percent of respondents said that airlines should create designated sections just for families traveling with children.

Only a few Asian airlines have child zones on planes. But given the apparent enthusiasm for family-specific seating, we expect more airlines might start adding them in the future.

The implementation of child zones could also make it easier for families traveling together to sit next to each other on planes. Airlines are increasingly setting aside choice seats for frequent flyers and those who pay special fees, making it tougher for economy travelers to find neighboring seats; naturally, this affects families in particular. Our readers, it turns out, aren't fans of these fees. Sixty-eight percent said that it's not fair for airlines to charge fees for premium seats.

When families do get split up on flights, should other passengers step in to help? More than half of our respondents answered, "Maybe; it depends on the situation." Twenty-four percent said yes, and 20 percent said no. Travelers are open to giving up their seats to help others, but they'll make no definitive promises.

Gear and Gadgets

You may remember what happened when Alec Baldwin failed to power down his device on a plane. In a nutshell, he got booted off his flight. So we can probably surmise how Baldwin would have answered this question on our reader poll: Should flyers be permitted to use electronic devices during take-off and landing?

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The FAA is rethinking its longtime ban on the use of consumer electronics during some or all phases of a flight. It's evident, though, that travelers would like to know more about the safety implications of active electronic devices on planes before any changes to standing regulations are made. Respondents' views on the subject were mixed: Forty-one percent answered, "Maybe, there needs to be more research on the subject." 37 percent said no, and 22 percent said yes.

Those who question in-flight cell phone use should steer clear of Virgin Atlantic. The airline plans to set up cell phone networks on some of its planes, allowing passengers to make calls in flight. (However, no one will be permitted to dial up within 250 miles of U.S. airspace, as this is prohibited by law in the U.S.)

We asked readers whether they think engaging in cell phone conversations in confined spaces is rude. Roughly half of respondents said yes; the other half said phone calls on planes, trains, and buses might not be all that bothersome. It seems that opinions on public use of phones and other device are slowly shifting toward a more permissive position.

What do you think about the poll results? Share your reaction to the poll in the comments.

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