Why Do So Many Airlines Struggle With Priority Boarding?

Filed Under: Travel

Recently I wrote about how Qantas was cracking down on overweight hand luggage, and how this was causing delays to boarding. Many elite status Qantas passengers are already frustrated about the Qantas boarding process for another reason.

There’s a long running joke in Australian frequent flyer circles about Qantas’ inability to manage priority boarding, particularly on domestic flights within Australia. While the airline does usually have priority signs up, and often will set up some lanes to differentiate the general line from the priority line, they really struggle to actually execute it.

I’ve watched this several times with amusement and bewilderment, and the difficulties seem to stem from the fact that:

  • The two lanes are not distinct enough, so they may either merge into one where the boarding passes are actually scanned, or it may not be clear which line is which
  • There may only be one person scanning boarding passes and they either do not scan passengers in the priority lanes first (and call those people forward while asking for the general queue to wait), or encourage people to form one orderly queue rather than two
  • The priority lane is not enforced, so passengers who don’t realise (or don’t care) that they are in the wrong lane are not sent to the correct (general) lane.

Virgin Australia, on the other hand, is known for executing priority boarding very well, every time. They do this by usually avoiding all three issues above, both through sufficient staff training and even better execution and consistency of applying rules.

So some airlines do it really well, while others really struggle.

I have experienced dozens of flights around the world (especially in Europe), where priority boarding has been a complete mess, regardless of airline or airport, and from what I have observed it has been because of the following issues:

1. Confusing boarding announcements

Boarding gate announcements for domestic flights in Australia are only made in one language — English. When you are abroad, flying between different countries on different airlines, boarding announcements can be made in multiple languages, sometimes three (if you were boarding an Emirates flight from say, Dubai to Paris, announcements might be made in French, English and Arabic).

If the language the boarding announcement is first given in is not one a passenger speaks, but they see a swarm of people head towards the aircraft, it is human nature to feel the urge to follow them to avoid missing out, or getting stuck at the back of the queue.

But that first announcement may only be that the flight is boarding priority passengers, and all other passengers should take a seat. It’s too late if most passengers swarm towards the doors, standing in the incorrect queue or blocking the priority queue, as they may not sit back down even once they hear the announcement in their language.

I have seen staff from some Asian airlines walk through the boarding gate area with a sign for business/first or other premium passengers to board. Some even scream ‘BUSINESS CLASS!’ as they do it. This is usually an absurdly ineffective way to communicate to hundreds of passengers spread across a large area, and also doesn’t reflect that this boarding call is also for eligible status passengers traveling in other classes.

Some airport announcements can barely be heard or understood anyway due to either poor acoustics, volume levels or speaker quality, or the accent or enunciation of the person making the announcement, adding to the confusion of who is supposed to board where, and when.

2. Poorly designed gate areas

There are certain airports that crowd all waiting passengers into narrow, cramped gate areas with the actual aerobridge doors at one end of the narrow area. London Gatwick and Bangkok Suvarnabhumi are two that come to mind.

That means that even if priority boarding is clearly announced, and clearly signed (even with a completely separate boarding door), eligible passengers have to make it past many other passengers to be able to use it.

If I have priority boarding and enter one of these gate areas shaped like this, I wait as close to the actual priority boarding door as possible (hoping to find a seat there), so that when boarding is announced I don’t need to climb over 100 other people to use it. The problem is that many non priority passengers now also do this in order to ensure they have overhead bin space for their hand luggage, so there can already be a swarm of people near the doors before boarding starts.

Add in rows of chairs just a few feet from the doors, and it’s a cramped situation to try and have hundreds of people either form two orderly queues or two groups of people to orderly board at separate times. I hate trying to push past people blocking a priority queue in order to get to it.

It always amazes me how poorly designed some relatively new-ish airports are. Take Bangkok, for example (whose airport is only 12 years old). Thai Airways is the largest tenant, and all of their mainline flights feature premium cabins, so have priority boarding. Yet the airport was built with the gates in such a way that it is very difficult to execute this boarding properly when so many people are held in such a small space.

Singapore is an example of an airport where priority boarding is much easier because of the design of the terminals (especially Terminal 3) where there are large gate areas with plenty of space around the boarding doors to allow logical queues to form.

Boarding gate for Aer Lingus at Washington-Dulles

3. Groups of people are inefficient

Where there is a swarm of people crowding the boarding area, it is difficult to have these people form two orderly lines. Some people don’t listen to the boarding instructions, many may listen but just don’t care what the airline is trying to do, and you see people doing different things at different times.

It’s like when you gather all of the wedding guests together for a group photo — there’s always someone who is off doing their own thing, and doesn’t follow the instructions the rest of the group do.

If people are in the wrong queues or otherwise standing in the wrong place, it’s very difficult to get them to move without speaking to them one by one.

I always feel incredibly uncomfortable pushing past ineligible passengers to get to a boarding door when I have priority boarding rights. Add in language and cultural differences and I will often just forego attempting to reach the priority line rather than make a scene asking people to move.

The passengers should not be made to feel this way because the airline cannot organize and execute their boarding properly.

4. Staff don’t know, or care that it isn’t working

My ‘day job’ is now primarily observing business processes that do not work, and improving them. So I guess it’s in my nature to observe processes that don’t work as I travel. I can quickly notice how and why priority boarding processes are failing, so always wonder why the gate staff who do this all day, every day don’t see the same problems, and solutions, as presumably they know a lot more about boarding a plane than I do!

I suspect it is a combination of not realising their process doesn’t work, and if they do, not really caring. I see frustrated priority passengers unable to use this publicised benefit, but they rarely say anything to the gate agents about it.

I’ve never worked for an airline but I imagine many staff would think that if the process their management had designed and instructed them to execute does not work, it is not the gate agent’s responsibility to improve it, and it’s just too much hard work with so many passengers per flight.

An example of a well set up boarding gate.

Bottom line

I’m writing this at a boarding gate in New Orleans waiting for my American flight to board (there is no Admirals Club or Priority Pass lounge at MSY). I must say American has been boarding their flights here extremely well — clearly marked and spaced lanes for the different boarding groups, and very clear announcements. It’s working like clockwork.

So it can be done.

But I’ve witnessed more terrible priority boarding processes than processes that actually work properly. Where airlines advertise this as a benefit, it is incredibly frustrating when they cannot deliver it.

Is it something fixable, or do some of the reasons above just make this an impossible task?

What airlines have you witnessed struggle to execute priority boarding?

  1. I was traveling Air France from CDG T2 (long haul). The priority lanes were so well designed and enforced. Wish more airports/airlines could learn from this

  2. #3 is big. I never understand why people are always milling around the gate and blocking you. Are they really that excited to sit in a metal tube in economy for 2-16 hours so that they have to beat other people to the seat?

  3. Its really simple lack of overhead space and airlines charging for checked bags. People carryon too many bags many of which are too big. Theres so many elites and priority boarding that it causes a mess when people sitting in the front have to go all the way to the back to find space. If airlines really cared theyd offer cheaper or no bag fees like southwest or charge more for carryon and boarding will be easy. Spirit charges for carryon and its more than checked meaning no one carrys on and boarding is done in 1/3 the time of a legacy carrier.

  4. AKL to SFO, similar experience w Air New Zealand. Flew Biz class (no first). Agent asked upgraded cabin pax to wait on sideline bc something wasn’t working w BP scanner but encouraged Econ to board. Confusing & unsettling. When I boarded, somebody had taken overhead bin space. Horrific start considering the price.

  5. KLM at schipol checks everyone trying to get into priority lane manually and works good every time.
    In Stockholm they use 5 zones and even though people try to play stupid and trying to cut zone the machine won’t let them board and they are pushed aside until their zone is called. Works very well.
    Space in the terminal though is another issue.

  6. @Andrew granted it’s been a few years since I’ve flown long-haul through AMS, but they were regularly the worst I’ve ever experienced. As you mention the actual employees are very good with priority/elite recognition and following the procedures, but the gates were always P-A-C-K-E-D with people blocking your way. I’ve had an agent reach through the crowd, grab my wrist, and pull (like really PULL) me through the people who wouldn’t make a path. I’ve also, for some reason, dealt with the most entitled, truly obnoxious American passengers on effing KLM (I’m an American, FWIW). I stick to AF these days.

  7. The problem and solution are simple. Staff at the gate are too lazy to implement their employer’s policies and their managers do not make sure they do.

  8. You have to give people a system to work with. Southwest Airlines in the US excels here because customers are given clear direction what to do to ensure fair access to space and it’s enforced. Most passengers would gladly queue in front of a gate if given the opportunity. I blame airport architects and airlines for not solving this problem. Some of the space allocated for boarding of these massive planes is wildly insufficient and honestly a safety hazard if multiple planes board at once.

  9. The biggest problem is airlines charge an arm and a leg to check bags and make carry on free for the sake of the almighty dollar.

    If they reversed that, I guarantee your problem will be solved.

    Seriously, make the first checked bag free for all pax, and charge $25 to bring a carry on.

  10. Personal experience: Airlines seem to get their first level of boarding right, but everything else is a mess. Like economy boarding groups 3-6 all in one line? You just have group 5ers hanging out at the front forcing people to shove past them or else wait, confused.

    TK does an absolutely rubbish job of loading J pax in IST, especially if by remote gate. They just don’t care at all, nor do they signal people to load by the back of the plane.

  11. Boarding an A380 is the worst. But in general priority boarding is a joke 30-40% of the time. People don’t follow instructions/care. Imo a premium cost deserves more care in premium boarding. But hey, kids and people “who need more time” board before first class. The line of those folk is typically longer than biz class in my experience on long haul flights.

  12. Its because people are stupid and combine that with the entitlement issues caused by the everyone is special/gets a trophy generation and you end up with the CF that is boarding an airplane today. The solution is simple: BP readers should just reject boarding if you’re zone isn’t called yet, I think UA started doing this. Also keep in mind that in the US the GAs are measured on meeting departure time not doing their jobs correctly so they are actually incentivized to get the pax on board as quickly as possible rather than in the right order. Lastly, did I mention people are stupid?

  13. Seems to be an increasing problem worldwide, not least as gate lice cluster and want to push forward and gate agents really just don’t care.

    But specifically in Australia I noted with amusement earlier this year just prior to my OW status expiration that allowed me to board with business that Qantas gate agents in Sydney and Brisbane just didn’t know the policy. I politely and meekly asked before boarding began in both airports. Well it was fine with them… but had I not asked I wondered whether they would have allowed it.

  14. “TK does an absolutely rubbish job of loading J pax in IST, especially if by remote gate. They just don’t care at all, nor do they signal people to load by the back of the plane.”

    Lucky you when you get to fly out of the Istanbul New Airport (ISL for now), as I did a few weeks ago to Antalya. They claim no more remote gates and no more buses. Time will tell once there are more than five daily flights….

  15. I don’t value priority boarding that much, even when it does work. The plane will take off at the same time regardless of whether I board first or last. Priority Check-In and priority luggage on the other hand can be real time savers.

    I think where priority boarding really matters is when you’re a status passenger flying in economy and bringing a large carry-on in a packed flight. But, I usually prefer to check my luggage so don’t need the overhead space, or travel in business where the overhead space is usually available.

  16. Good summary.

    I agree with Alonzo … boarding A380 is a nightmare. I have flown that aircraft a number of times on various airlines, and each time it feels like they have never handles boarding such a large plane before (that includes you, Emirates.) For me, the A380 is an aircraft to avoid, and the consistent boarding chaos is a big part of that.

    Add into the mix that at outstations, they aren’t the operating carriers’ employees. The staff work for different airlines throughout the day, and don’t perform to a standard. Take a Qatar business class flight out of Manchester, and you are treated no differently than flying an cheap charter flight to Malaga, which is probably the next flight they are working.

    Some airlines perform better than others, but even then it is hit and miss depending on the airport, the aircraft, the gate, and the staff.

  17. If you have diff lanes, it can work well, Delta most of the time is good, /they pre board passengers that need a bit more time, but then people do start to limp, then pass the miracle check in and begin to walk OK onto the plane,I agrere with families and youg kids, who need the extra time. What is annoying , is when not only have some ,got on board early, by stealth, they then place their bags in the first class,b4 walking down to economy, to sit down,which is annoying to passengers that have paid for first class, what do people think?

  18. Sorry but you forgot the main cause in my opinion: passengers play stupid and try to take advantage of the system. I am a DM with Delta and I am the first to board after passengers that need assistance while boarding, disabilities, passenger with small children and active military personnel. After all those it comes First class(domestic)/Delta One(international)/Diamond Medallions. Well guess what? Way before boarding process starts a line of passengers is already formed in front of the gate area. It looks like a zoo. Although gate agents make announcements that people have to board as their Zones are called passengers simply do not care. I see every week when Premium cabin and DM are called a bunch of passengers try to board just to have their boarding passes scanned and sent back to the back of the line since it is not their time to board. Thus, no matter how efficient the board process is the lack of politeness and arrogance of most people people that takes tries to take advantage will ruin any process.

  19. It’s just not about overhead space because for many international flights, where checked bags are free, boarding is still a mess as passengers all cluster around the gate.

    People are just stupid and impatient.

  20. Signage would help as well. Sometimes I walk up as boarding is in progress and have no idea which zone is boarding. If the video boards were well coordinated with the announcements, it would be less of an issue. It would help with the language issue too.

    I’ve always thought that airlines should implement a penalty box approach. If you try to board with the wrong group, you get sent to a penalty box and have to wait until everyone else boards first. People would learn very quickly.

  21. @Santastico: “Thus, no matter how efficient the board process is the lack of politeness and arrogance of most people people that takes tries to take advantage will ruin any process.”

    There are other ways of looking at it. I have no airline status, and this is what’s going through my head when I board a flight: Why should I kowtow to whomever the airline has decided has higher “status” than me? I certainly didn’t buy a ticket with the idea of having to wait quietly behind my betters for the privilege of boarding the flight I paid for. That “status” is in the airline’s head and your head, not mine. So, I really don’t give a flying F about the airline and its priority boarding problem, nor do I care about the people I’m supposed to defer to. Why should I? It’s not my problem, and the airline has in no way provided me with an incentive to care.

    Instead, the airline provides incentives to worry about getting space for my carry-on bag. So, not caring *at all* about the chaos, I elbow my way to the front and hang out there, and try to board as soon as I see people walking onto the plane.

    Now, if I had a reason to care about maintaining whatever the airline defines as order, I would. But I know everyone will get on the plane and we’ll leave on time no matter what I do. So my behavior reflects that.

  22. @Tom: “I’ve always thought that airlines should implement a penalty box approach. If you try to board with the wrong group, you get sent to a penalty box and have to wait until everyone else boards first. People would learn very quickly.”

    That’s certainly one way of providing an incentive to respect the boarding order. But what I would learn very quickly is to avoid flying that airline as much as possible because I don’t like to be punished. Airlines need to come up with a positive reinforcement mechanism for getting people to comply. Or, like Southwest, they need to come up with a natural system that everyone recognizes as fair. Because I don’t recognize that your “status” gives you priority over my wants and needs, I don’t feel bound to respect typical airline priority boarding schemes.

  23. A big problem is lack of consistency. Routines and procedures only work when they are consistently implemented. Some inconsistency is unavoidable due to differences in airport layout, queuing culture, etc. But in my experience airline personnel don’t implement the procedure consistently enough. Part of the problem is that airlines are constantly changing up the procedure, making it harder for their employees to implement with consistency. I can’t count how many times United has put out a press release saying they’re changing boarding procedures (sometimes just a limited trial at some airports – again, the consistency issue).

  24. AA, in good form with the rest of their practices and customer service, didn’t bother to police anything in the boarding lines. Many times I’d let the called boarding group hit the line and start boarding and then I’d just walk up. Only once (on Delta) was I told I needed to wait for my boarding group. Just act like you belong and they’ll let you on board…

  25. And another problem is the sheer number of groups that airline try to recognize as priority in the boarding process. It used to just be silver/gold/platinum or whatever. But now many airlines have extra special customers, like Global Services or Concierge Key. Then there are the holders of the airline’s credit card – that’s a huge revenue source, so it has to be recognized (and conveniently also works as advertising). Seating used to be just first and coach on domestic flights – now you could easily have four groups (first, economy with extra space, regular economy, and basic economy), even six if you add business and premium economy.

  26. @ryan: I don’t think I’m special. Perhaps you drew that conclusion because I also don’t think people the airline awards with status are special.

  27. If you dont think the rules apply to you, because you don’t like the fact that your “betters” get special treatment that you do not…well guess what: you think you’re special and entitled to things you’re not because…well again you’re special. Now take your participation trophy and comfort puppy to your safe space.

  28. @snic: We definitely see the world in a different way and I am not going to argue with you. I was raised by a family that thought me to obey rules. Yes, I don’t like all of them but I obey them if I decide to participate in that process. For example, if I don’t like the airlines rules for boarding I can ride on a bus or a train but if the airlines have made their own rules and I decide to buy a ticket from that airline I obey their rules. I don’t find myself better than anyone when I board first. I just follow the rules. I fly over 200k miles per year on Delta and give them a ton of money so if they decide that I should board first I will take that. When I fly an airline that I don’t have status I just board whenever it is my turn. In my case, I not only obey the rules but I would feel embarrassed to cut the line and present my boarding pass to the gate agent to be told in front of everyone that I have to go back to the line because it is not my turn to board.

  29. I enjoy the boarding process where the priority and general boarding lanes are clearly separated. I saw this in DEL where when boarding UA83. The priority and business class passengers boarded through a separate door on the left whereas general boarding occurred through a gate on the right. In addition, there were agents checking the boarding passes before a passenger entered a queue to prevent exactly the problems above.

  30. The biggest reason is number 3 hands down. It’s also the biggest reason why public transport is so garbage in America. Most people are inherently selfish and when big groups of people congregate (except for Japanese people) they completely lose the ability to look at the bigger picture. That’s why lines suck in America, people are rude and litter, and why flying in economy in the Western world is so garbage. Too many people who block the entire aisle trying to fit their oversized suitcase instead of checking it for that extra 10 minute inconvenience.

    I mean you board any domestic flight in Japan the boarding process for a wide body is like 10-15 minutes, compared to America where you could be waiting for 30+ minutes easily. It is absolutely not a design issue, people are just stupid.

  31. Back when I was Platinum with AA, whenever my group was called, half the plane would line up. One time I noticed a passenger being denied boarding with the Platinum group and she responded that she had the AA Platinum Credit Card and insisted she could board with the other Platinums. I then realized why there were always massive hoards of passengers with “Platinum” status every time I boarded an AA flight.

    More to the point, the unintended consequences of checked baggage fees is the inevitable gate fiasco with boarding. Maybe with the new spacesaver overhead bins things will get a bit more organized in the next few years.

  32. My point was simply that people will follow rules when it’s clear that giving some small thing up (e.g., being among the first on the plane) has an obvious larger benefit. In this case, it’s not clear what that benefit is.

    Now, to be clear, I’m not the one first in line, pushing my way past everyone and demanding to board first with Zone 5 clearly stamped on my boarding pass. Social opprobrium does influence my behavior. Rather, if it’s clear that there’s mass movement towards the gate, I’ll be somewhere in that first wave. I am not going to meekly wait until my zone is called when it’s clear that everyone is just getting on no matter their zone.

  33. Airline boarding will always be chaos as long as there are 10 different “priority” groups; none of them first class passengers, most of the plane carries crazy amounts of “stuff” onboard and GA’s are tired of being traffic cops when management sits in its ivory tower and could not care less about process or delivering on its promise.

    Just to reminisce, does anyone remember the First Class Pre-board???? It’s been a while, at least in the US, so I guess I am showing my age. How about Priority Tagged bags actually coming off the belt first????? Priority tags are not much more than luggage-candy.

    First Class or Intl. F and J are “paid -for” levels of service, not a perk, whether I buy it in cash or pay for it by giving X airline 100,000 miles a year of my dollars.

  34. IcelandAir has never once even pretended that being on business class or having priority boarding makes any difference to their tiny boarding gate areas. Getting onboard is worse than with some budget airlines.

  35. Priority boarding queue for short haul flights in AMS always had a large group of militant economy passengers right at its head. As soon as they entered the plane, they stowed their large carry-on luggage in o/h bins in business class and then with a smug look on their face proceeded to their econ. seat. I waited behind them to get to my J seat and watched the bins getting filled up, leaving no space for J passengers’ carry-ons. They truly were frequent flyers – in sense of experience though not status.
    Problems in VIE started at the check-in for long haul. A lone J passenger, I waited and waited to get rid of my suitcase as econ. passengers with strollers and children, with tx problems and whatever problems they wished to argue about with the check-in staff kept coming from the side to park themselves in front of me. Finally, when I tried to object and pushed towards the agent I was barked at by the agent to wait in the queue. No, I did not argue with the agent as the current security hysteria gives them exclusive rights of lives and fate of travellers.
    On one occasion like this, a queue supervising airport staff came to me, pointed at the the end of economy line and told me to go there. No apology from her when I showed her my J class tx.

  36. Just get rid of “priority boarding” … Charge for extra carry on, make first checked luggage free.

    Priority boarding is just a value proposition for upsells and differentiator for elite members which TBH requires far better infrastructure at the gates and WAY better discipline from gate agents to really be effective.

  37. The easiest way is just to shame those who pretends to be in zone 1 when zone 1 is called by calling them out via microphone and and tell them kindly move to zone 5 (or whichever the zone this passenger belongs to). You can be sure if every airline does that, no one (or very few) will be trying to cut in line.
    As for preventing military service people from putting their luggage in the J/F overhead, flight attendants should close those overhead bins until J/F passenger start to come on board. While I respect military protecting my country, they need to put their own carry on above their own seats.
    I always try to board as early as possibly in my zone even though most of the time I’m in business/ first class because inevitably someone will take up overhead bins above my seat if I board late. If somehow there is a technology on my ticket that will open up the overhead bin above my seat, you can be sure I’ll be the last one to board.

  38. Domestic QF priority lines frustrate me to no end. I have in the past not even bothered and gone straight to the general boarding line as everyone was in the priority one!! As an Aussie who is a QF FF, I have come to the conclusion that Qantas just don’t give a rat’s arse. Especially, as you have mentioned, that Virgin have their act together down under. To add insult to injury the general line can often start boarding before the priority, Coolangatta (Gold Coast) airport is notorious for this.

  39. Qantas are much better with priority boarding on international flights but they are hopeless on domestic flights nowhere near Virgin who execute it very well

  40. The main difference in Australia between Virgin Australia (VA) and Qantas (QF) domestic is that VA employ gate agents for boarding while Qantas maily use FA’s who will also be on the flight. VA’s gate agents do not have to travel with the PAX.

    So QF’s FA’s avoid confrontation by not enforcing the boarding priority.

  41. I’m a LH HON member and I must say that LHG really enforces proper priority boarding in 90% of all flights. Can’t say the same thing about EW, though.

  42. I agree with @Andrew about AMS. It is very well layed out and people actually know what they are doing.

    I would say that Hainan and Shenzhen Airlines do try their best to enforce the policies. China Eastern also tries to make sure there is a difference between priority and non-priority, but not with China Southern.

    It was so strange. They just had everyone board in the same line whether economy, premium economy, business, status, or those who needed extra assistance. This happened on a domestic flight, so I do hope that it is not across the board for all of their flights such as international.

  43. It’s simple. Gate agents actually look at your boarding group and anyone who attemps to board early gets their ticket revoked with no refund. Large disclaimer notification on the screen as when booking basic economy. It’s a win-win for airlines ripping people off and us savvy travelers.

  44. @snic
    I am not sure if you are the real ‘snic’ or the ‘hnic’ or the ‘hmfic’ in you own world, but it only matters to you and your imagined entitlement. I pay or use my CC (my entitlements) to board early as I do not have airline miles status. I usually travel with airlines where I have club entry. I like to board early to get a PDD, but I’m usually flying and already in a good mood before boarding. Hey, do what you want, just don’t put your carry-on in my bin. On second thought, maybe you are contributing to the deterioration of our society and order? Got a question for @debit…is ‘snic’ a Trump supporter?

  45. @ryan yet another complete imbecile wishfully trying to blame younger generations. Complete tool. Here’s a game you can play, next time you’re boarding, take a look at the age groups of those passengers who follow (read: comprehend) boarding assignments and those that push their Boomer asses to the front.

    Hint: it’s not the 20 and 30 somethings pretending to be disabled to get priority boarding every flight

  46. I’m surprised nobody is mentioning the technology angle here. They’re already dividing us into “groups”, now invest in signage that changes throughout the process. That sign dividing the two queues? Make it better. Use electronic signs, over the GA’s head, saying “GROUP n BOARD NOW” and in the Priority Lane, “GROUP 1 ONLY”. Announcements over speakers are useless.

    I think it would help manage expectations if there were messages, signage, thanking “our most frequent loyal customers, we’re pleased to say Thank You with Priority Boarding” so non-elites can appreciate that there’s substance behind elite benefits. If they know there’s a reason for the special treatment, some will respect it.

    Finally I agree with those above who blame indifferent staff. Fine to blame “systems” but at the end of the day staff have to do the job and care to do it. Elite Benefits are part of the reality of the industry. They’re there for a reason: they drive consumer choice. Staff should understand that the DM in the economy seat is travelling Delta that day because he’s getting benefits, not cuz Delta was the cheapest fare. Staff had better deliver.

  47. I flew delta international recently and noticed about 90% of the plane boarded before me even though i had priority boarding with credit card. Didn’t feel like any sort of benefit at all

  48. My last flight there were literally eight groups of people with someone in a wheelchair. I have never seen soo many wheel chairs on a plane. Maybe it just has to do with timing of my flight but it felt like a high number for a medium sized plane. And they all had like 3 to 4 people with them and then there were people with babies. It was like 50 people boarding before they actually started official boarding.

  49. My strategy – board last. Bring a small carry-on with essentials and let the FAs deal with the larger carry-on while I take a seat and enjoy pre-departure drinks. This way I get to circumvent the chaos and don’t have to worry about dealing with my luggage since FAs are more than happy to help. I can go from sipping champagne at the lounge to sipping champagne on board. Works quite well for me and the FAs even fetch my luggage as soon as we arrive at the gate.

  50. In the past before the “freebie and entitled crowd” emerged! F, J and real “elites” – such a awful term, would just wait in the lounge and board after Economy. Saunter on to the plane like popstars haha. F and J boarding first is a consideration, BUT true premium flyers know to board last, exit first!

    That’s all 😉

  51. I fly Delta a lot within the U.S. and witness most of these issues. With Delta specifically, the first group called to board is “Premium” which means first class and Diamond Medallion. I’ve heard people say many times “Oh, I’m premium” when in fact they are just a Silver Medallion or something else, but confuse the term “premium” with the actual boarding group of premium. Some gate agents try to make it clear by saying “only those with a P-R-E-M on the boarding pass may board now” but most don’t offer that bit of clarity.

    Next in the Delta boarding order comes Sky Priority and then the 3rd group to be called is Zone 1. I also see many people mistakenly go forward during either Premium or Sky when they are Zone 1, simply because many people just think “1” means go first.

    The other contributing issue is that most airlines can’t easily enforce boarding groups or they simply don’t want to bother. With most people using their smart phones for the boarding pass, many of the scanners require the passenger to place the phone face down to scan the bar code, therefore the gate agent does not see the boarding group number so anyone could effectively go with whatever group they want and just scan the pass from their phone without anyone noticing.

    Bottom line, there will always be some amount of issues due to the behavior of crowds, but airlines can make it easier… the way Delta classifies their boarding groups only adds to the problem and lack of enforcement doesn’t help. Sadly it is those of us who fly most often who are most likely to notice and get frustrated.

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