American Is Modifying Their Boarding Process (Again) As Of March 1, 2017

Filed Under: American

Just a couple of weeks ago I wrote about how American tweaked their boarding process, which seemed to partly be a result of them formalizing Concierge Key as a status level, and adding Platinum Pro as a status level.

At the time, here’s how American updated their boarding process:

  1. ConciergeKey members
  2. First Class and U.S. Military
  3. Business Class, Executive Platinum and oneworld Emerald
  4. Platinum Pro, Platinum and oneworld Sapphire
  5. Gold and oneworld Ruby
  6. AirPass and Priority
  7. Group 1
  8. Group 2
  9. Group 3
  10. Group 4

Well, I’ve just received word that American will once again be adjusting their boarding priority for travel as of March 1, 2017. Here’s how it’s described:

On March 1, 2017, American Airlines will launch a new, simplified boarding process. In the future, all customers will be assigned a group number (1 through 9) based on their ticket type, elite status level and priority. We will call the group number in our announcements rather than all customer types. The boarding order will be the same, with only minor exceptions. The change is in how we refer to each group on boarding passes and announcements. Our ConciergeKey members will be invited to board prior to general boarding.

So rather than all priority passengers simply having “priority” written on their boarding passes, they’ll now have a boarding group. Here’s a chart with the new boarding order:

American-Boarding-Process-1 American-Boarding-Process-2

On the surface I think it’s logical to put everyone (except Concierge Key members) in an actual group, rather than just having a bunch of “priority” passengers, who in reality have different priorities. It avoids confusion.

At the same time, I think it’ll take some getting used to for people, since paying for priority boarding and getting put in Group 4 sure doesn’t make you feel as special.

So these changes seem logical enough and should make things easier, even if on the surface the thought of nine groups (and the first four being priority) doesn’t seem great.

What do you make of American’s updated boarding process?

  1. Maybe they should invest in digital signs that display what group they are boarding. Nobody can hear them mumbling the groups so everyone congregates around the line.

  2. Came to make the exact comment that Chester did. People herd the gate in fear of missing out (among other things)

  3. This makes more sense than United’s chaotic boarding process. Around half the plane is group 1 on United, so even when flying paid first class, you can end up waiting in line and boarding very late, at which point economy passengers have put their bags in the first class overhead space. This is why I avoid United domestic first.

  4. In reality it would be:

    We invite group 1-4 to board at this time *all groups procede to the gate and block it*

  5. They should find a way to make boarding clearer at JFK. I was boring a flight to Seattle and as boarding groups were being called for my flight, another flight was boarding and they hard started a few minutes earlier. But because the PA system sucks and is fairly loud, we heard boarding groups for that flight being called and people on the SEA flight assumed it was for them and went for boarding. Gate agents didnt do anything about it either, so why bother?

    Furthermore, credit card holders went from being Group 1 to Group 4/5. I dont think that’s going to go well when advertising perks of the card.

  6. I have never understood why boarding in the US needs to be so complicated. It takes longer than anywhere else in the world and the energy wasted on pushing, shoving, the elbow works is unbelievable, not to mention the humongous mess in the overhead bins.

  7. Travel light and boarding order won’t really matter. Only anal retentive types who must occupy the overhead bins exactly over their heads need to worry about racing to their seats.

  8. Everywhere else in the world its priority and then everyone else. Why does it have to be so complicated?

  9. @Aaron only the $450 annual fee cardholders board in group 4 with Golds, the other credit cardholders board in group 5. I would bet that the number of Citi Executive cardholders that don’t have at least Gold status or better is a rounding error in the scheme of things.

  10. I think the worst thing about flying with American is they don’t seem to want to accommodate families flying with young children. I suppose that’s how they force people to pay for Priority Boarding, but it just feels wrong that families would need to do that. At the very least, they should allow them to board before Group 6.

    Is revenue that much more important than building a good experience for the flyer? I’d argue that the latter will build brand loyalty. I’d love to see Doug Parker on Undercover Boss.

  11. +1 to Ron. Why can Aussies and Brits and Kiwis and Danes and Singaporeans board planes courteously without being herded into pens like cattle? Maybe the U.S. focus on free upgrades, elite status, premium credit cards and avoiding checked luggage at all cost has made everything worse for everyone by chopping us all up into groups that are just too narrow.

    I flew out of Sydney last week and there were two groups: Premium pax / top elites, and everyone else. Boarding was relaxed, unhurried and finished in 7 minutes. I don’t know why that’s become so unattainable here… *sigh*

  12. I agree out of the US it always seems easier but the number of frequent flyers with status outside the US seems MUCH smaller so boarding all priority customers isn’t typically chaotic. I’ve also never had to check a bag outside of the US due to overhead bins being full….both of these issues drive a lot of the crowding and sometimes chaotic boarding in the US imo.

  13. Josh,

    I suspect a lot of it is because Americans don’t like to check bags, and most US flights are done on narrow planes with limited overhead bin space. Generally, people boarding in the last third of passengers are at risk of having to gate check the bag, which can add 15-30 minutes on the other end of the flight.

  14. @Josh

    In addition to what Anthony says, keep in mind that the US is quite large for one country with multiple population centers between the two coasts. There are a ton of business travelers that accrue status quite quickly. Furthermore, we are a very credit-rich country and banks like to make money off of consumers by offering lucrative sign-up bonuses, which is one of the pillars of this blog. Couple the perks from CCs with the people that just have a TON of butt-in-seat miles, and you end up with a lot of “elites”. So much so the airlines have to start labeling the elites. Elsewhere in the world people don’t fly nearly as much nor are other countries so credit-hungry so there’s a dearth of elites making the overall boarding process easier.

  15. @Anthony then they need to get the Jetstar luggage gestapo out to the AA boarding gates & check-in areas – they’d sort these twats out quick fast!

  16. As a Gold AA I just got demoted in the process. Sad. It wasn’t much but it was nice to board before the last priority group.

  17. I don’t think that “Group Five boarding” is going to be a big selling point for marketing the AAdvantage Card 🙂

  18. +1 Josh +1 Ron, it’s just plain crazy how plain bad boarding in the U.S. (except Southwest) has become! A full A320 in Australia/Singapore/etc. boards in 12 minutes in a quiet orderly fashion, and hardly anyone brings anything on board larger than a small satchel — but checking bags is free. An A320 with American Airlines takes 25 minutes to board, and it’s a stream of large bags, announcements about where to store the bags, announcements that there’s no more space and bags should be gate checked, bags going upstream in the aisle, etc. The difference is 100% in the fees for checking bags.

    What AA’s bean counters and CEO failed to take into consideration when they introduced the fee is that they would have to add 10 minutes to each turn and that they would only collect a mere ~$350 in incremental first and second bag fees per flight — that’s a net loss for them. Southwest shows its leadership by being financially astute and not charge for bags: this shows in quick (therefore low cost) turns, happy employees, happy customers, and high profits.

  19. Wow!!! “Only” 9 groups? By the time Group 9 is boarding people that boarded on Group 1 will already be drunk. 🙂 What a joke!!!! BTW, bad marketing to say Basic Economy won’t be allowed overhead bin space. Having them board as Group 9 already guarantees they will not have overhead bin space.

  20. I’m the guy holding a ticket for your flight too but sitting one gate over watching all you idiots standing in line for 30 minutes so that you can ensure that someone in Group 3 or whatever sure as hell isn’t going to board before you, no siree…

  21. I love it! So frustrating at small airports currently because people think group 1 means something and crowd the gate-let this Plat through-Get out the way!!!

  22. @Don sez: “This makes more sense than United’s chaotic boarding process. Around half the plane is group 1 on United, so even when flying paid first class, you can end up waiting in line and boarding very late…blah…blah…blah.”

    It is easy to beat on United but based on your statement, I do not believe you have a clue how United’s boarding process works. If you did, you would’ve realized that what AA is about to implement emulates a system (by group) that United has been using for years. The boarding lanes are clearly marked to match the group number (1-5) on printed on the BP. People with disability or traveling with kids, global services and military are pre-boarded. Then group 1, consisting only of flyers in premium cabins and 1K elites are next and so on. Anyone in group 1 can board any time after pre-boarding so that the claim that “even when flying paid first class, you can end up waiting in line and boarding very late…” is completely bogus. The group 1 lane clears very quickly so that anyone in that group, even arriving late, can just go to the lane and be boarded immediately… something I have done countless times. And, half the plane is not in group 1. I ought to know since I am always in group 1.

    You’ll need to find something else about UA to bitch about because their boarding process has worked so well, AA is about to copy it.


  23. As a deaf person, I smell a law suit. I can’t hear anything! Most gate agents are nice to me, but once a while you will find a power tripper. This list is really confusing!

  24. There is nothing more stupid than watching AA boarding process, the announcements are a blur of noise as they try and get through the 97 classes of cards/bonuses/statuses while trying to stop everyone else go, and most people have zero clue what class they are in. The “boarding lane” is a pointless pole you go left or right, and I’ve seen people be sent the other side of the pole, when there wasn’t a single other person on either side! Then guess what, you are all going to your own seat anyway so whats the point?

    There are only 2 classes needed, posh people and riff raff. “If your name is triple barreled board now, else drink your coffee and don’t worry about it, it isn’t leaving without you”

  25. @Fred: what a nasty comment.
    @DCS: thank you, exactly what I wanted to write. UA’s boarding process is fine. Sadly, sometimes there are dozens of 1ks on a UA flight, but overall the boarding system works just fine, as do many other aspects of UA, the airline people love to hate.

  26. Boggles my mind how KE can finish boarding an A380 in 20 mins but some carriers can’t even board an a320 in that much time

  27. I’ve never understood the rush to get on the plane. I’d be happy being the last one to board every time. No waiting for people in some high intensity line, longer time in the relatively fresh air of the airport, less time cramped in a seat. I travel light, so I’m not concerned about overhead space, but gate checking really isn’t that bad anyways. Getting on the plane first doesn’t make it go any faster.

  28. So 10 boarding groups altogether? Am I the only person who sees how this is not an efficient way to get bums in the seats in a timely fashion? And for what – to satisfy people’s childish need for “status?” Give your heads a shake, folks! Here’s a tip in the meantime – check your bag and then board last. You’ll be less stressed and you’ll only add about 5 or 10 minutes to your departure from the airport. And yes, you’ve got the time to wait – at the end of the day you will have accomplished all the same things regardless.

  29. The AA boarding process is extremely stressful. Worst part of flying. I always wondered why people massed around the Priority line when they were 10 mins from boarding (or more)…. then, someone mentioned those people had “Group 1” on their boarding pass. They thought that they would board first (which makes some sense). Fingers crossed on more organization and less stress.

  30. I just posted the same comment on Gary Leff’s blog – AA can come up with whatever boarding process they want but it’s all in vain unless the gate agents ENFORCE the process. Within the last week, I flew DFW-LAS and LAS-DFW. In both instances, the gate agents were not enforcing the boarding process. On the DFW end, there were literally Group 2’s boarding before me as a Platinum. Same thing on the LAS end. It is very hard to elbow your way up there with all the higher group gate lice hanging around blocking the way. Again, enforcement from the gate agents is the key to any boarding process no matter how good or bad the concept is.

  31. @Lats : my tax dollars already subsidize couples with poor family planning. why must I sacrifice even further and allow them to have priority boarding in front of EXPs ?

  32. @DCS : thank you. “Don” sounds like that major anti-UA troll SPIN88 who claims to be a former Global Services but most likely a Walmart cashier who got fired from UA previously for incompetence.

  33. I like the idea, but, as a Gold member, this is TERRIBLE. Many agents currently call Gold with the other priority levels. So now that we are automatically Group 4 and lumped in with people who buy priority access will really devalue the benefit. Not sure why Gold isn’t a separate group and Priority Access looped into the credit card group. This is one of the few devaluations that actually negatively impacts my day-to-day travel. Not happy.

  34. @henry LAX On a 737 with 16 first class seats, the latest I can board on AA or Delta is 16th. On United, first boards with everyone else in group one, which in my experience means being 50-60th to board the plane. No agenda, just basic math.

  35. @Don — Your “basic math” is fuzzy math and dead wrong because the only people that will board before first class passengers on that 737 would be people with disabilities or traveling with children and global services. First class passengers would be next. It’s clear you do not fly much with UA (I am a UA million miler), so please stop trying to make a demonstrably bogus case.

    Also, to claim that A’s proposed 9+ boarding groups would lead to a less chaotic boarding process than UA’s 5 groups is simply silly.

  36. @DCS : Totally. DON THE CON only knows how to read seat maps.

    @Don : You can’t even make 1 statement true :

    ” On a 737 with 16 first class seats, the latest I can board on AA or Delta is 16th. ”

    This is FALSE because Concierge Key is before that, and Group 1 also include Military folks. So no, you’re NOT guaranteed #16, no matter how dead your brain is.

  37. @henry LAX it’s very rare to have a concierge key member on a flight or uniformed military members, so 16th would be as bad as it could get in nearly all cases. Maybe 17th or 18th on rare cases.

    United lumps premier platinum and 1k members in group one, and this can be very many people, between 50 and 60 on the flights I used to take. With Americans, the equivalent elites board after first class.

    Overall, Uniteds boarding process is better for more passengers, just not if you’re in first class. That’s all I’m saying.

  38. One can’t help but reflect on the US airlines’ unique policy re US Military. Firstly this is clearly the policy of a waning global empire propping up national morale on myths of exceptionalism, red necked jingoism and unadmitted widespread sympathy for a much abused section of the US citizenry – abused by those in power. But then one reflects that boarding US military with the disabled is fast becoming the same thing given the effectiveness of IEDs in recent decades. Then one reflects on their proximity to families with small children, given that one might liken US Military staff to small children in respect of their ability to comprehend what is actually going on in the world and the part they often unknowingly play in it. That famous Kissinger quote comes to mind “Military Men Are Just Dumb, Stupid Animals To Be Used As Pawns In Foreign Policy”. So how about a boarding policy of dumb stupid animals first ? You could call it the Kissinger Boarding Policy 😉 Only in America – the single most ridiculous nation on the planet.

  39. When does Handicap , people with a cane or with assistance board ? They assign seats SO , I’d hang on to my boarding pass and not stuff it away…because there are sometimes people who SIT in your seat because they don’t like their seat !!

  40. Another ridulous move by American airlines. No thought other than… UH yes.. lets test this method. Why even have status? Get rid of it as they keep adding layers and devalue long standing status owners. Wake up American… Flyers are tired of you…

  41. Hi folks, Exec Plat here.

    The signs at the airport now do say Priority (groups 1-4) and Main Boarding (Groups 5-9). However, Concierge key is called first, so that is Group 0, making a total of 10 segregations.

    As a public speaker, getting people to remember more than 3 items is challenging. American making 10 boarding groups is ridiculous.

    And, in all of my domestic travels, the ONLY place that people board with politeness in the USA is: Omaha. Whether in a remote city traveling to Omaha, or in Omaha going to other places… it’s as if those folks never hear that one should surround the gate / boarding process in an impolite mob.

    Those Omaha folks… they just SIT there until their group is called ! INCONCEIVABLE !!!

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