American Modifies Their Boarding Process

Filed Under: American

American seems to have quietly tweaked their boarding process a bit for 2017, in terms of the order in which they board passengers. I’ll be curious to see how consistently this order is followed by gate agents. These changes are likely being prompted by Concierge Key being formalized as a status level, and American adding Platinum Pro as a new status level.


Per American’s website, here’s the new boarding order being used for flights:

  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

The first thing that stood out to me is that those paying for priority boarding are now the sixth group to be called. That’s not necessarily wrong or unreasonable, it’s just sort of funny that when you pay for “priority” boarding, you’re not even among the first five groups to be called. As Delta once said:


As a point of comparison, here’s what American’s boarding process was like before this change:


The two most significant changes are as follows:

  • Concierge Key members get boarded ahead of everyone else, meaning that first class passengers are no longer the first to board
  • Executive Platinum and oneworld Emerald members now get boarded ahead of Platinum members and oneworld Sapphire members, which wasn’t previously the case

Prior to this change, American last changed their boarding process in 2014, when they no longer allowed Executive Platinum members to board with first class.

Personally I don’t have any issues with these changes. My only hope is that gate agents check to see if there are any Concierge Key members booked on the flight before announcing separate boarding for them, since I assume there are plenty of flights with none onboard, so it seems like a waste to make a separate boarding call for a group that doesn’t exist.

Boarding Concierge Key even ahead of international first class seems a bit silly to me, but then again, that’s easy for me to say as a non-Concierge Key member. 😉

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

  1. This really changes nothing. On nearly every flight I am on, American already calls First Class through Platinum at the same time, so now they’ll just add CK to the top and call them when they combine everyone else. If they do currently call them separately, there is MAYBE a 30 second gap between calling first class and then calling all statuses down to Platinum, so it’s not something that anyone is really going to notice, especially since as you mentioned there aren’t likely to be an CK members on most flights.

    So, in reality, not much changes with this, American still has a disastrous boarding process.

  2. Ben,
    When do the 10-15 mostly healthy “pre-boards” board on AA.

    Only in airline-speak does Group 1 board seventh or eight.

  3. Getting to the actual gate will be a challenge due to the inevitable mass of people from all boarding groups blocking the way.

  4. No way gate agents follow this process. AA’s boarding process has always been a mess, very few gate agents follow the order. When they make boarding announcements, 90% of the time they announce Exp, PlaT and gold to board the same time causing a mad rush! It drives me crazy. I hope this works but I doubt it.

  5. Agree with TeeAyo – I almost always hear all three elite groups called at the same time, and many times with First Class. I really don’t like United, but it seems that they have the boarding system down much better than American with the different set and well-marked lanes. Gates at American become chaos the minute the agent says s/he will begin boarding in a few minutes.

  6. @ Josh — I published three trip report installments yesterday, and will publish three more today. Is that too slow for you?

  7. A few thoughts:

    1) As a platinum, I have no issue with EXP preboarding – what tends to happen with American (worse than others) is that everyone attempts to board early anyway.

    2) “Priority boarding” gained via credit card or paying is worthless. If boarding early is something you value, you can’t really rely on i getting it via credit card anymore, regardless of airline.

  8. 1. Why is boarding earlier a benefit? Surely it should be the option to board last, when everyone else is seated, and i can walk staright on to the plane, and depart.
    2. Why is being in military dress accorded the same level of status as being in first class?
    3. When do disabled passengers board? ie. one group of passengers who genuinely might need extra time to board and get seated.

  9. I flew from LHR to ORD a couple of months ago. A group of about five guys were standing by the rope way in the front and no other passengers were in vicinity – they stood in the mass area way behind. I asked the GA if they were EP elites thinking that’s were I needed to be, but he said “no, they are Key members”. And then added “Concierge Key” when he saw my puzzled look…

  10. I fly American the most and am a mere Gold. This change won’t address why American seems to have a bigger problem with boarding than other carriers. For some reason, the Group 4’s and 3’s crowd the gate at American way more than similar lower group numbers at other airlines. The separation between “Priority” and “Main” at the gate doesn’t do much to change this as the novices in the later group might think that Group 2 or Group 3 is actually pretty high in the pecking order and not actually the 8th and 9th groups respectively. United seems to do a better job because of its separate pens for the lower group numbers. That way, a Group 3 knows where to wait rather than blocking the boarding area with their spinner bag that they have absolutely no hope of getting in the overhead anyway.

  11. I was on a flight from Panama yesterday in first class, and indeed, a concierge key member and his family (who were in economy!) were marched to the front of the line and allowed to board a couple of minutes before everyone else. In fact, they boarded before they announced the boarding process over the intercom.

  12. As a non-status member with AA (was offered buy-ups to Gold for $500 if that’s relevant), I almost always get group 2 boarding and am able to put my roll-on bag in the overhead. So I appreciate that. But United’s boarding process (even if I always get group 5) is much more logical and organized compared to AA.

  13. Lucky,

    On a unrelated note, I’m looking at some last minute trip changes now, and I wonder if I can wait until the day of departure(i.e. within 24 hours) to modify or cancel my AA award ticket? If I decide to change the ticket for a last minute award space, do I pay the expedite process fee? Please help me out, thanks!

  14. Agree with other commenters that American’s process has always been a mess so I can’t see this changing anything beyond what is on paper. While there are drawbacks to United’s process, the fact that they actually show discreet boarding numbers on the overhead TV’s at the gate and moved to 5 lanes actually formalized the change to how gate agents had to manage boarding. Back before the merger when I was in First there would always be tons of non-First, non-1K, etc. in the priority boarding lane but now it’s clearly delineated and when I’m running late it’s also easy (and looks less like cutting a line) to go to the front of the empty Group 1 lane to board immediately.

  15. I read this article and got excited as if they were actually going to do something about the gate crowding. It would be much easier if instead of calling out all the status’s, give them Group 1 and then cycle down to Group 10. Or create some physical areas like Southwest.

  16. AA must address the gate crowding. The sheep simply won’t herd themselves without a proper lane/number solution. Adds way too much travel anxiety to the mix.

  17. many hate the UA boarding process but I see it as absolutely no confusion. Every group has their own lane, which really helps eliminate the gate lice situation.

    ultra minor diff is that UA groups GS with military while at AA they’re putting CKs ahead.

  18. ps : i don’t like those death stares i get when I “appear” to be cutting the line when in fact it’s my proper priority boarding group. you can’t imagine how often it is that the lice totally ignores the separation between Elite Lane and General Boarding.

  19. I think the problems with the American boarding process are:
    – The names are confusing to people who don’t travel much, and the announcements are too long. People don’t listen and just hear that the plane is boarding. Add to that the people who signed up with a credit card that promises “priority boarding”, they just assume they get to board first (instead of 6th).
    – Gate agents rarely enforce the boarding priority. You can always see people with a Group 2 boarding pass walking up to board with the EXP travelers, and they are never turned away. I’m sure it’s a combination of people not understanding the process, plus some who just don’t care and want to get on before they are supposed to.

  20. The thing I see played out constantly in my expierence of being PLT for the past three years are the droves of Credit Card people with the AA “Platinum Select” card who believe that they board with the EXP and PLT group and most of the time they get away with it. I really hate gate agents who come off as Army Drill Sergeants but what’s worse are the ones who do no policing during the process.

  21. @henry LAX. The fact that you think of people not in the “elite” lane as “lice” indicates that you probably deserve all those stares you are getting, and more

  22. @ Jon

    Pre-boarding is important for those of us who do not check In bags. Over head bin space by your seat is hard to get if you’re not boarding 1st.

    If I’m checking bags I usually board last , but most of the time I just have a carry on and want to board fast to secure over head bin space.

  23. I’m prepared to be flamed heavily, but my pet peeve is the military pre-boarding practice. I live in a very military-heavy area, have many military friends, and tell them the same thing. It’s a voluntary military now – you have a job that you applied for with incredible benefits. The vast majority of them have it much easier than your average big city cop with better compensation. Why not let them board first? OK, flame away!

  24. I’m really the only person who finds this all too complicated?

    There are two boarding lanes: “priority” and “main.” Why not call boarding all at once. Do away with groups.

  25. I’ve long argued that American needs to rename (renumber) their groups. Someone who doesn’t fly very often wrongly assumes that if their boarding pass says “Group 1,” they’ll be among the first to board. Too many times, these people clog the boarding lanes because they think they are about to board, when it fact, there are dozens of people who will board before them.

  26. They’ve been pre-pre-boarding CK members ahead of everyone else for the past few years. They usually walk them up or call them up ahead of the rest of us. Nothing new there. Maybe I just see more CKs on my routes.

  27. Exactly as joediver mentioned. They don’t call out “CK” members. Normally they either walk up to them in the AA lounge and escort them to the gate at boarding time or they call out the person by name at the gate before boarding. If you are ever at the gate and they call someone by name before boarding for “special assistance” that person is likely to be a CK unless they really need special assistance (with kids, with dog or wheel chair). I know because my dad is CK and I just traveled from MIA to LAS and back this past week with him. Also it’s completely inconsistent. From the few flights I have had with him I can see that the service can vary from great to non-existent. Also it is true that everyone does crowd around the gate and it’s always a little embarrassing to be pulled ahead of everyone else.

  28. @Druve : get your off moral high horse and save it for your church group where other similar fakes belong.

  29. Having flown both UA and AA in the past month I have to admit UA’s procedure works a lot better, tough as that is for me to say.

    But I really don’t get why everyone moved away from boarding the plane back to front. That model objectively makes the most sense as you’re never stuck waiting for people to finish putting their bags in overhead bins, etc before you can get back to your seat and people won’t be stuck with their luggage in overhead bins behind their seat, something that gums up the disembarkment process as well.

  30. So basically the credit card is useless for early boarding now? Since I tend to carry on I will probably start dumping these cards.

  31. @Bill Assuming you don’t any status with AA, having the credit card puts you in the first third of the boarding group. Without that card, you may well end up on the last quarter. That can make a huge difference if you hope to find space for a carry on.

    Plus if you redeem miles for AA award flights, the cc gets a rebate of 10% of the miles used for the award, up to 10K miles per year. You might want to rethink dumping the card.

    @henry LAX I agree that using the word “lice” for non-elites is a micro-aggression. I suggest in the future you go with “deplorables” instead. 😉

  32. @travel4b: Even though it isn’t politically correct to say, I agree with you. I’ve always scratched my head about it for the reason you cite. And that’s no disrespect to those in our military. I have great respect for what they can do, and are willing to do, and will be the first to admit that I couldn’t do their jobs. But I couldn’t be a big city cop or firefighter either, and we don’t let them board early (yet). So yes, you and I will both get flamed for this, no doubt.

    As for American and their boarding process, wasn’t it Key & Peele that did a hilarious spoof of it? So true.

  33. CK always got to board first, it was just undocumented. The gate agent just doesn’t say anything when you got escorted on or bird with F.

  34. I detested AA’s boarding process in the past, boarding all elite levels from lowly Gold all the way to ExP/CK in one huge, dysfunctional group mess. It’s LONG past time they start boarding in smaller groups, starting with ExP, then Plat Pro, then Plat, then Gold (along with equivalent OneWorld status).

    As others have mentioned, using just boarding numbers Group 1 = CK, Group 2 = ExP, etc would be far superior as well. I think either Delta or United (or both?) already do this and I was blown away by how much better and more orderly that made the boarding process when I happened to fly with them recently. Most people, even Golds and OneWorld Rubys, are clueless and don’t know when they’re supposed to board and often don’t even know the name of their status. Plus you have all the kettles that get confused. Numbers are simple. Most people know how to count to ten. (It has the added benefit of making it harder for GAs desperately try to get flights out to smoosh the boarding groups together, because they can’t claim they’re forgetting the names and orders.)

    There are a few good GAs out there that actually board properly and for those brave few, I’m very grateful.

    This is a much-needed change, but there are several more important steps to easily make it truly optimum.

  35. I am a CK that frequently wasn’t in first class, especially if I booked a flight last minute and was last in the upgrade queue behind the rest of the ExPlats that booked the flight ahead of me.

    Today was my first time traveling in 2017 and my upgrade cleared even though my flight was booked last minute. I received the CK escort at CLT so preboarded ahead of everyone and am not sure if they called CK’s or not since I had already boarded.

    I think the CK preboarding will be most beneficial in outstations where there is no CK escort.

  36. @Greg, @Travel4B: “I have great respect for what they can do, and are willing to do, and will be the first to admit that I couldn’t do their jobs. But I couldn’t be a big city cop or firefighter either, and we don’t let them board early (yet). So yes, you and I will both get flamed for this, no doubt.

    No flaming here, and your points are valid. The difference I think is that we view the military as providing a service to the country whereas cops and firefighters are employees. May be that’s splitting hairs.

  37. Seems like the absolute first boarding group has been omitted. That is of course those with small children and others ” needing” extra time. It’s funny how many people who look to be able bodied think they are in this group.

    I only wish that those folk knew they would board first and were ready when called. This applies particularly to families with small children. It often takes five minutes to round up the rug rats while everyone waits.

    I know. I’m on my high horse, but aren’t we all? Hi oh Silver.

  38. Not that this matters anyway. It’s still going to be a slightly organized free for all. People on every airline seem to board whenever they feel like it regardless of boarding group. That will never change as long as agents don’t have the stones or authority to actually deny boarding to people not in the groups that have been called.

  39. I hope they change their check in too – the other day we were a domestic flight in the US, in ‘first class’ and we are also emerald and they told us to tag our own bags and join the single bag drop off queue. Hummmmmm. No.

  40. Elites should be allowed to EXIT the plane first as well.

    Now that would be a benefit worth chasing status again for.

  41. @travel4b and Greg… As an AA EXP, I’ve got plenty of issues with their boarding procedures. However, I’ve been in the military for 23 years and believe me when I say that few of us ever ask for this early boarding privilege and nearly all but the most junior (new recruit graduates) do anything we can to not travel in uniform (counter terrorism anyone?). Many of us find it embarrassing. Any military member that thinks otherwise should ask themselves, “who serves whom.” The exception? A service member in uniform escorting a fallen SM or family. In that case, boarding first is the least we can do. No flames required for your comments whatsoever.

  42. As an AA Gold and holder of every AA credit card available I agree that United does a much better job with boarding. It’s not the order that is being called it’s the single line used. The “priority” lane doesn’t even mean anything btw.

  43. For all the “cattle call” complaints Southwest receives, they have boarding nailed down. A54, go stand there. B37, wait and then stand here.

    Now if only the queues weren’t squeezed between a window and row of chairs.

  44. Too damn complicated.

    And for reference, no pre-boarding for due to family status; aka, with children.

  45. I must say AA is one of the worst and hopeless company. Do not fly with them unless you have no other choice. If you are one of the last group(s) to board good luck with your carry on luggage. They had a sign by the gate to remind people the size of their carry on luggage but never enforce it. I see many people had their carry on way over the size limit without any warning or issues carrying them into the plane.

    Below are my last two interaction experience dealing with them:

    #1. redeemed a first class flight with them flying Etihad, somehow they made mistake so I lost my complimentary chauffeur service, but the supervisor told me to hire a local limo service and will reimburse me, they failed to honor it after I came back from my trip

    #2. economy flight over the holidays

    – cabin overhead bin full due to many oversize luggage, not fair for someone sitting in the front and boarding last, at least 10 of us had to check-in our carry on
    – no one even there to put our carry on away so many of us got stopped entering into the plane in the tunnel just before the door of the plane until we asked them they need to get someone over to put away our carry on so this caused delay of the flight.

  46. If they have a boarding order, then there’s no need for 2 boarding lanes. If you know you are priority you will try and get on board first because no one knows what status other passengers are… I flew today from Cancun to Miami and the gate agent just said priority first… I had a business class ticket but the people in front of me did not but the agent still let them board before me… I don’t really mind, I just want to be on the plane really. I think they just need to remove the queuing lanes and make the right announcements.

  47. Wah Wah Wah, unless I’m booked into F or J, I always check my bag at the ticket counter. I’m in no rush to board the plane whatsoever….I’m often group 1 or 2. Could not care less, I take care of last minute business at the Admirals Club or at the gate. I enjoy my coffee…and am usually the last one to board.. The less time I’m stuck in that metal tube, the better..

  48. Pointing out something subtle that has slowly happened at American. Immediately after the merger Gold started getting announced separate from the other elite levels. Then Concierge Key was added to the top of the levels. No one else in the string has mentioned this, but another change in this boarding process is Gold is now lumped in with credit card holders. As a Gold member I am wondering when they are just going to get rid of that level. It makes no sense now that the club is so huge post merger. The writing is on the wall.

  49. I paid $57.00 to upgrade to a premium economy seat and get preferred seating and just paid and extra $39.00 for priority boarding, thinking I would get in Group 1. I just checked in and found out I’m in the last group 4?? I’ll be cancelling the charge and going back to flying Delta and United.

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