Back in March of this year, American Airlines overhauled their boarding procedure, presumably in an effort to make the boarding process less complicated and to reduce congestion and delays with boarding. Prior to the changes, the boarding order was:
- (Preboarding of Concierge Key and passengers needing extra time)
- First Class and Uniformed U.S. Military
- Executive Platinum, Platinum, oneworld Emerald, oneworld Sapphire
- Gold, oneworld Ruby
- Group 1 (those who had purchased Main Cabin Extra and AA credit card holders), AAirpass, Priority (those who had purchased Priority Access and Alaska elites)
- Group 2
- Group 3
- Group 4
The multiple groups before Group 1 who all had “Priority” printed on their boarding passes caused quite a bit of confusion, to both infrequent fliers and, surprisingly, some frequent fliers. In addition, the boarding order was only variably enforced (and more often than not it was enforced at all). Rarely did I encounter gate agents who went out of their way to strictly enforce the boarding order, but for those who did I always made to sure to take a minute to thank them and give them an AApplause certificate while boarding. Even on flights where the order was relatively well-enforced, crowding, gate lice, and not-so-infrequent line cutters were ubiquitous. As someone who appreciates rules and order (perhaps a bit too much), I’ll admit that I became a bit obsessive about the proper boarding order and often found myself trying to catch glimpses of other passengers’ boarding passes to see if they were boarding out of order.
NEW BOARDING ORDER
In its never-ending quest for “D0”, American decided to revamp the boarding order a few months ago, replacing the old process with a newer, ostensibly more simple process. Notably, every passenger (except Concierge Key members) under the new boarding order has a group number, which eliminates the confusion of an ambiguous and sizable “Priority” group that boards before Group 1. This also supposedly makes it easier for gate agents to spot those who are boarding out of order. Timed to coincide with a number of other changes AA recently made, the new boarding order also includes a Group 9 for Basic Economy ticket holders that doesn’t allow for carry-ons, as well as the actual consistent announcement of Concierge Key as a distinct boarding group, rather than occasional announcement or paging by name to the gate as was done previously:
- Concierge Key
- Group 1: first class, active US military with ID
- Group 2: Executive Platinum, oneworld Emerald
- Group 3: Platinum Pro, Platinum, oneworld Sapphire
- Group 4: Gold, oneworld Ruby, Alaska elites, AirPass, Premium Economy, Citi Executive ($495 AF) cardholders, those who purchased Priority Access
- Group 5: Other AA credit card holders, those who purchased Main Cabin Extra, certain corporate travelers whose companies have travel agreements with AA
- Group 6
- Group 7
- Group 8
- Group 9: Basic Economy, no carry-ons allowed (unless passenger has status or an AA credit card)
The new process was announced several weeks prior to its implementation, and at first it seemed promising. With every passenger having a group number rather than having a large and convoluted “Priority group” that had credit card holders waving their Citi AA “Platinum” card trying to push hrough the EXP/PLT boarding line, it seemed like maybe the boarding order would be a bit more, well, orderly.
NEW IS ALWAYS BETTER?
So now that we’re a couple months into the new boarding process, has anything changed?
In short, no. I’ll preface all of this by noting that 1) what I’ve observed is of course the subjective experience of one person, 2) I’m fortunate enough to generally be able to avoid flying during peak days and times (where, potentially, there are more elites who understand and follow the correct order), and 3) as a Platinum I board with Group 3 and have not seen the whole process from start to end more than a few times. That said, in the 20 or so AA flights I’ve taken since the new boarding process was implemented, I’d venture to say that there have not been any significant improvements to boarding from the passenger standpoint, particularly from the perspective of elites.
The gate area before boarding is still largely a zoo and, in my subjective estimation, there is no significant difference in the amount or frequency of crowding around the boarding lines with the new process. Passengers in both the priority and non-priority lines continue to line up far in advance of boarding and clog up the gate area.
Aggravatingly — the new boarding process has not alleviated my obsessiveness/nosiness and I continue to creep on other passengers’ boarding passes — people are still boarding out of order as well. I have noticed, however, that gate agents seem to be a bit better at enforcing the boarding order and I have seen a higher rate of people have to do the walk of shame after getting caught trying to board early.
There’s been plenty of discussion on how to optimize/improve boarding processes and I won’t dwell on that here. Ultimately it seems that AA’s new boarding procedure hasn’t improved much. However, one change I have noticed is that boarding seems to be a bit smoother at smaller outstations with fewer elites (compared to the old boarding process). Smaller planes of course mean fewer passengers and less chaos so that’s not really an earth-shattering observation.
While the implementation of a new, simpler boarding process is perhaps a step in the right direction, poor enforcement by gate agents (who, understandably, have more pressing concerns during boarding than enforcing the boarding order) has resulted in no significant change from the old boarding process. With passengers 1) bringing on ever-increasing amounts of carry-on luggage and 2) seemingly paying less and less attention (to announcements, their own boarding passes, people around them, etc…) at the airport, I can’t imagine that crowding around boarding gates will get better anytime soon. While this issue is of course not limited to American (though United and Delta seem to have made some headway against crowding with automated boarding gates), it is one that AA likely won’t be addressing again anytime soon.