Alaska Airlines Is Introducing A New Boarding Process

Airlines spend a lot of effort trying to optimize their boarding process, and at times I question their logic. Airlines all do a ton of research and trials, yet somehow they all arrive at different conclusions as to what kind of a concept is best. While there’s certain science to this, I don’t necessarily buy into the Mythbusters logic of there being a “best” boarding order, since these experiments don’t account for many of the real life challenges airlines face with boarding.

What makes a good airline boarding process, in my opinion?

  • One that’s as simple as possible, given the distractions and noise in terminals, and that people often choose to ignore instructions anyway (in other words, I don’t love when there are eight boarding groups)
  • One that’s likely to automatically lead to passengers seated next to one another being able to board at the same time (some airlines think it makes sense to board windows, then middles, then aisles, but this doesn’t account for the fact that those traveling with someone usually sit next to one another, and will end up in different zones)

On that note, Alaska Airlines has announced some updates to their boarding process as of July 18, 2018, and I really like these changes. Alaska’s new boarding process is one of the more straightforward ones out there.

For reference, currently Alaska Airlines boards in the following order:

  • First class, pre-boarding for those who need extra time, and active duty military
  • Million Milers, Alaska Mileage Plan MVP Gold 75Ks, and MVP Golds
  • Alaska Mileage Plan MVPs and Premium Class passengers
  • Those seated in the back half of the plane
  • Those seated in the front half of the plane

Alaska Airlines is mostly maintaining that order, but instead they’re adding group boarding, where main cabin passengers will be in groups, A, B, C, or D. This makes perfect sense, since often it’s hard for people to hear announcements.

Alaska Airlines will be boarding in the following order:

  • First class, pre-boarding for those who need extra time, and active duty military
  • Group A: Million Milers, Alaska Mileage Plan MVP Gold 75Ks, and MVP Golds
  • Group B: Alaska Mileage Plan MVPs and Premium Class passengers
  • Group C: Those seated in the back half of the plane
  • Group D: Those seated in the front half of the plane

The only change being made here is how they’re identifying the boarding order.

Here’s a comparison of the new and old boarding passes:

As you can see, previously boarding passes didn’t at all reference what boarding group someone was in, but rather passengers had to listen for their row numbers to be called. Under the new system, the boarding pass clearly indicates what group someone is in, as does the monitor (though oddly the above monitor doesn’t show first class boarding, which I find strange).

I like Alaska’s new boarding system. It’s straightforward, and adding boarding groups makes sense, since it makes it easier to identify what part of the boarding process they’re in.

All that being said, my biggest gripe with Alaska boarding is that I find they consistently start the process way too early. I’ve arrived at the gate over 30 minutes before departure, only to find that they were on the final boarding call. Alaska says that with this boarding system an announcement will be made 30-35 minutes out explaining the boarding process, and then the boarding process will begin, with groups being called in roughly five minute intervals. That sure doesn’t sound like the Alaska Airlines I know!

What do you make of Alaska Airlines’ new boarding process?

Comments

  1. I have always found that many of the American airlines boarding process is way too complicated. Why have 5 different boarding groups on domestic flights? It’s absurd. Every time I’ve flown with Southwest for example, boarding takes FOREVER.

    Compared to the European airlines, where boarding can go as fast as 10-15 minutes with only 2 boarding groups and it works every time. Why all the unnecessary boardin groups? Just get’s annoying imho.

  2. Seems like a good idea. Some airlines (I think AA is the worst) has so many boarding groups, it’s just ridiculous!

    Of course, by charging for bags, airlines created this mess of wanting to be first on the plane to get overhead bin space.

  3. “One that’s likely to automatically lead to passengers seated next to one another being able to board at the same time?”

    No, that makes it a liner boarding process. One row gets boarded while everyone waits. That would be especially problematic if that row is in the front or if the aisle person goes in first. You want as much actions happening as possible while there is enough space between people to maneuver.

  4. Honestly, in other countries, they just board everybody at once after making a call for first/business class pax and it’s fine. I cant tell you the amount of times I’ve flown KE or NH to the US on a fully loaded 777-300, where boarding is scheduled to start 30 minutes prior to departure, and they manage to get everybody on board and push early. Whereas in the States you need 40 minutes to board a 737 and then it takes a delay because they cant even accomplish that. It’s insane. This sunday I was leaving Madrid on Lufthansa and there was an American who was in a tizzy because she couldnt figure out which boarding group she was in. She kept saying that she has status on United and in the States she got such and such a boarding group. The LH agents in MAD had no idea what she was talking about and when I told her that they dont board flights in Europe the way we do in the States because it’s faster, she couldnt believe me. But they did. Honestly, I dont even know if this new system is faster. TBD, but they should try something. It’s infuriating coming back to the States and experiencing this.

  5. Only problem I see with this is that as they fill the overhead bins in the rear of the plane the people in the front will get screwed out of bin space. Logistically this makes much more sense to board in this manner.

  6. It’s ridiculous to have so many boarding groups and it really is just to make Elites feel more special. American has TEN boarding groups.

    What is wrong with boarding by cabin like many of the foreign airlines do?

  7. “since often it’s hard for people to hear announcements.”
    It always amazes me that regardless of how much money is spent in the construction of an airport, it seems that they then install the cheapest speakers possible so that announcements are garbled and difficult to hear/understand.

  8. Right now the order is technically pre-boarding, military, first class. I hope they keep military separate. It’s an excellent way to recognize them.

  9. Indeed, only 2 boarding groups is the best imho.
    Business/Elites/Priority and general boarding.
    Maybe just an exception for First Class is needed.

    Ryanair and Wizzair do it this way, and they have turnaround times of 25-30 minutes for 737/A320.

  10. First Class should board LAST
    In the old days, we always tried to walk on at the last minute ….
    I hate sitting in First Class and watching the sorry faces of the riff-raff walk by.
    There will be that lady that grumbles to her husband, “next time you get me up here !”
    And her husband sheepishly saying, “but, we got the exit row”

    I would much rather board to my First Class seat right before they close the doors.

    (actually, I guess I could…. There does always seem to be overhead empty)

  11. @Bruno +1
    Northwest used to do that. And it really sped up the boarding process. It also helped to make sure people were at the gate and ready to board.

  12. Don’t they already know the best boarding method? But they don’t want to offend FFs or high dollar ticket buyers so they try to use overly complicated systems.

    The military thing I find strange. Its as if they are trying to “buy” some goodwill. I work with a lot of military folks and many don’t want special recognition for doing their job and will eschew special perks.

  13. The biggest problem is that people bring shit loads of carryons… If airlines stop charing for checked luggage and start charging for each carryons then boarding would be SUPER easy. This is also why in Europe and Asia boarding is faster cuz people don’t bring shit loads of stuff in the cabin. I see parents with kids with (no kidding) 7 bags of various sizes. Only the states man.

  14. I like it other than groups C and D – domestically, I’d expect people from the back of the plane fill the overhead bins up front because they’re worried about not having space in back.

    I see it happen everytime I don’t get an upgrade. First available open overhead? Guy in row 30 is tossing his bag above rows 7-10.

  15. A couple great points have been made here:

    1) if seated in AS’s “first class” why would I want to board early for the perks of a four oz. bottle of Dasani and getting grazed by 130 economy passengers? No thanks. I’ll board at the end.

    2) I don’t get the early military boarding, either. There’s been no conscription in 40 years. Every active duty military member joined on his own volition. They’re compensated for the risks their job assumes – just as everyone is in dangerous private sector jobs.

    If we’re going to honor the military during a boarding process, find a way to give it to combat veterans only and not every paper pusher in Pensacola.

  16. This is mostly a correct plan for Alaska.

    Southwest boards faster and better than everyone — EVEN THOUGH there methodology ensures stupid things like front/aisles being taken first.

    Why does it work? First, it’s their great FAs. But second, it’s the sheer logic of the lineup.

    They basically board four groups on most Southwest flights, each segregated into two parts.

    This is the way it should be done. Clear signage. No BS from people trying to cross board. Etc.

  17. Agree with the military thing – while I’m thankful for their service, why do they get to board first? That happens in no other countries anywhere, except for maybe where there’s a military dictatorship. How does them boarding first allow the planes to leave faster and make for a more efficient boarding process?

  18. @mark: Wizzair also utilizes boarding from both ends of the plane (when there is no jetway). Last year I was on the DEB-BVA flight which they boarded within 15 min (was a full flight).

  19. What I’d really love is to see some experiments and research into why Americans can barely manage to get themselves on a 737 in 45 minutes when Asians can board a packed 747 in 15 minutes. I think part of it does have to do with the fact that on foreign carriers there are two boarding groups: premium cabins and everyone else.

    @Erica I respectfully disagree. Why should a uniformed service member be “recognized” differently than an un-uniformed service member or, for that matter, the many support staff that are civilians but are equally essential to the defense of the country? I absolutely understand the desire to show appreciation for members of the armed forces, but singling out the ones you see in uniform is, at best, a very inconsistent method.

  20. You have status so you like the idea but this really comes across as rich people, business men etc board first and ordinary families last. I know a lot of airlines do it but I question in the 21st century whether the PR hit of making ordinary families feel like second class citizens is really worthwhile. Time, maybe, to drop priority boarding for frequent flyers?

  21. The ones in uniform are typically on orders, AKA reporting to training or before shipping out abroad. This differentiates ones who are flying to go on vacation with their families. Most are humble and refuse to board in this manner, even when given the opportunity to do so.

  22. So its just the same boarding order but adding a letter that is so small everyone will ignore anyways.

  23. You say “the one real change they’re making is that elite members will no longer board with first class, but rather will board in a dedicated group after first class.”

    That’s not true in practice. They’ve been boarding First Class before elite members for as long as I can recall (at least the last few years). While it may be the same “group” at the gate, they’ve been calling First Class first and then the elites, essentially in two subgroups, for quite a while now. I’ve flown a couple dozen flights with AS so far this year, and they have all boarded this way.

  24. Best boarding is to use the front and back doors + free bags. Recent flight in Peru they filled a 737-800 in like 9 minutes.

  25. +1 Charlie

    There’s *no* change here other than adding the letters.

    Million Milers, 75K and Gold ALWAYS get called up only AFTER first class has boarded.

    Has been that way as long as I’ve been flying AS.

  26. It’s good to see Alaska going back to boarding coach starting with the back of the plane. They did this long ago and was way better to avoid logjams. As far as First Class boarding, it doesn’t matter when you board (first or last). It’s just an option for those who want to get on early and fire up theor laptop or novel. Otherwise just board last. My biggest complaint is Lucky’s…. final boarding announcements can be 25-30 minutes before departure. Or not. It’s totally erratic. They need a consistent policy on this. If they want to do the final call say 15 or 20 minutes early, for example, that’s fine with me but state it in writing and follow it consistently. Nothing is worse than being there 25 minutes early and hearing them threaten to release my seat. And then on the next flight they don’t even *start* the boarding boarding process until 30 minutes prior.

  27. +2 Charlie and Brian. They call First, then all MVPs and that is a royal mess! On flights SEA-DFW there are about 50-60 MVPs all fighting to board. Looks like a little change to separate Gold from MVP. I wish they would put 75Ks with first class.

  28. Remove the overhead bins so any unchecked baggage must go under the seat and problem solved. No scrambling for overhead space above other people’s seats. No blocking the corridor for minutes arranging your belongings. Just get in your seat and put your much smaller carry on, under the seat in front.

  29. The simple visual “Now Boarding” representation shown above is something all airlines should adopt. It’s clear and concise and can be understood from a distance. Eliminates the confusion in the boarding area when someone walks up during boarding and starts asking “anyone know which group they’re boarding now?”

  30. I fly domestic regularly in Australia and QF, JQ & VA consistently board 737 & a330 aircraft in 10-15 minutes. Premium are free to board at their leisure while the back half and front half of the aircraft board in turn, usually through front and back doors in SYD & MEL. It seems reverence for the military is an American phenomenon that I find truely bizarre.

  31. @bailsfromoz im glad people like you are NOT in charge! thats the most ridiculous thing ive ever read

  32. Go back to one checked bag free and watch the number of wheelies drop, freeing up overhead space so people don’t have to rush on board to get the limited space. My last three flights UA and AS had to check 20-30 wheelies at the gate, so they got no revenue. Also enforce size limits on the carryons. Not sure if it is still done, but in Denver there was a cutout at the X-ray machine. If your bag couldn’t get through, it didn’t get on the flight. TSA probably ditched that but worth trying. TSA could be the bad guys, not the airline ramp crews.

  33. the difference between the boarding frenzy within the US and outside is because american passengers carry so much cabin baggage. in most other places there’s no problem getting overhead bin space – in fact, in SE asia the bins are half empty. even when a fare includes free check-in baggage and folks are going on a month-long trip, americans like to keep their stuff with them … haven’t really figured that one out

  34. I’m also a fan of the systems elsewhere in the world where they just board the plane.

    All the American systems, rules and signs don’t really speed anything up and make the airport more annoying and loud. I appreciate the assertive service culture many places outside of the U.S.

    I know it doesn’t fly in this part of the world, but witnessing zero tolerance of whining and otherwise rude behavior is so beautiful.

  35. Boarding the military first originally started because airlines wanted to look patriotic. However, they are also supporting militarism and adventurism. The danger of boarding the military first is then they may start to board Medicaid first (how can you be against poor people?) or teachers first or nurses first.

    No, the military gets free baggage. That is enough.

    The best order is to board the elites and high paying economy passengers first (so that they get overhead space), most passengers second, and First Class passengers anytime they want and/or at the very end. First class passengers should be able to wait in the lounge and drink. Then at the last moment, they scurry aboard the plane.

  36. My daughters and I were at CDG yesterday, boarding an Air Canada flight to Montreal, and right next to us was an American flight boarding as well. The AA folks started about 15 minutes before our flight did, with non-stop announcements about how this “new and improved” process was going to work, and calling out this group, that group and the other group in seemingly random order 😀 I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re still there trying to get everyone on the plane 😀 What a mess!

    Oddly enough, we flew TO Europe on an AA flight (from JFK), and I don’t remember any of this nonsense — we all got in line (Business in one line, everyone else in another), and got on … mission accomplished! No one had to make speeches to explain the whole thing.

  37. The boarding order for AS indicated here is not entirely accurate. I’m a gold mvp out of PDX and this is the way boarding goes 99% of time so there are more groups – 8 to be exact that are separately called up. Will be interesting to see if this changes or not with the new process.
    1st group: people needing extra assistance
    2nd: Active duty military
    3rd: 1st class
    4th: 75K + gold (and at least before VX absorption and elimination of AA/DL partnerships, similar status on partner airlines)
    5th: MVP, premium class
    6th: In PDX only, those wearing branded Portland Timbers clothing (not sure if they do this in other hubs where they sponsor sports teams eg SEA (Seahawks) and SFO (Giants)
    7th: Rows 20 + higher (on 737s)
    8th: All other rows

  38. The one thing US and Russia have in common? Excruciatingly slow and chaotic boarding. Different reasons, though. On Aeroflot, the chaos was passenger-generated, while US carriers actively contribute by this overcomplicated system.
    Why is it that Lufthansa can board a full A320 in 10-15 minutes with little to no friction?
    I also kinda love Norwegian’s system, wherein they board rows 1-15 through a jet bridge and rows 16-30 via stairs. Pax seated in the rear are directed to exit the jet bridge via stairs and then board through the aft door. Works like a charm.
    I’ve also experienced the window/middle/aisle system with Peach on NRT-KIX and seemed to work well enough. They even allow travel companions to board together, though I guess that kind of honest discipline only works in Japan.

  39. On flight 646 Sea to phx today there were empty premium seats- I asked the attendant if they would be asking mvps to move up and she said no. I’ve been mvp for over 18 years and it really doesn’t have many benefits- may as well fly southwest get bags free and pay the fee to board early. Alaska fares are higher & has a very small presence in phx – goodbye alaska air

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