British Airways Is Introducing Zoned Boarding

Filed Under: British Airways

Increasingly we’re seeing airlines introduce zoned boarding concepts. Rather than calling out passengers by the cabin or row they’re traveling in, airlines are instead assigning passengers zones, and then calling those zones for boarding. Arguably this is an easier system as it can be consistent across aircraft types, and is also easier for passengers to comprehend.

It looks like British Airways will be the latest airline to switch to a zoned boarding concept. According to this FlyerTalk thread, an internal communication at British Airways has outlined the new boarding process, which will be implemented as of December 12, 2017.

Here’s what British Airways says about the new boarding process:

British Airways will be changing the way it boards aircraft with the introduction of group boarding in December. This method has been used all around the world by many airlines and aligns BA with partners American Airlines and Iberia. Group boarding simplifies the process, making it easier for customers to understand the boarding sequence at the gate.

At the check-in stage, the customer will be put into a group number dependent on their cabin of travel and frequent-flyer status. This number will then be displayed prominently on the boarding pass, printed or mobile. Customers who are entitled will continue to be offered priority boarding for both long-haul and short-haul domestic.

British Airways’ new boarding system will be different based on whether you’re on a short-haul or longhaul flight.

On short-haul flights, the boarding order will be as follows:

  • Group 1 — Executive Club Gold, oneworld Emerald, and business class
  • Group 2 — Executive Club Silver and oneworld Sapphire
  • Group 3 — Executive Club Bronze and oneworld Ruby
  • Group 4 — economy
  • Group 5 — hand baggage only fares

On longhaul flights, the boarding order will be as follows:

  • Group 1 — Executive Club Gold, oneworld Emerald, and first class
  • Group 2 — Executive Club Silver, oneworld Sapphire, and business class
  • Group 3 — Executive Club Bronze, oneworld Ruby, and premium economy
  • Groups 4 & 5 — economy

Ultimately the success of such a system largely comes down to the clarity of announcements and the enforcement of the boarding area. The way I see it this would definitely simplify things, so I’d welcome it.

One thing that would make British Airways’ zoned boarding unique is that they only have one to two zones for economy, so they’re not doing a whole lot to optimize the process there in terms of boarding back to front, etc.

What do you make of British Airways switching to a zoned boarding process?

  1. Does not sound much different to the current process, the problem being that gate boarding staff often let people through, also some customers are unaware of the process recently flying club Europe from Manchester BA gold a man next to me said do they not have to wait to which I replied I’m sorry are you Priority ho ahead he said no just thought I was pushing in

  2. I just flew to Italy in Delta economy, with connecting flights on Air France and KLM. The general boarding zone of “economy” was a cluster on my Air France and KLM flights…100+ people lined up past more than 2 gates and it took ages to get everyone on board and carry on bags in the bins.

  3. Ben, your point about enforcement is the key. Currently BA staff either can’t be bothered or seem somehow scared to enforce the existing boarding hierarchy, so the new zoned concept won’t make any difference unless staff on the gate are actually prepared to enforce it.
    I said enforce a lot there didn’t I?

  4. @sheena, this is a result of the never ending low cost, low cost, low cost battle.

    The luggage only fares led in the behaviour of passengers to squeeze all their stuff into the carry on bags and then they are in panic to get these oversized hand carry bags not into the bins.

    Last time I had flown with KLM from Catania to AMS. The plame had not even arrived at CTA, but more than over an hour before scheduled departure, there was a cluster, same as you have experienced, with a 100 of people queue, waiting to get boarded on the 737…..Just because of their worry with their bags.

  5. Erm, this is almost exactly how they do boarding presently, with the exception of making the hand baggage only people wait till the end on short haul routes

  6. Does anyone remember Lufthansa colour coding boarding circa 1996 where they tried to get all window seats in first, then middle seats then aisle seats. Lasted about 2 months before it was abandoned

  7. I appreciate Oneworld Ruby being included. On Star most of the time Star Alliance Silver gets you absolutely nothing

  8. A lot of their gate areas in LHR terminal 5 are a nightmare, waaaaaay too small to handle the boarding process for a 747 or A380, hopefully this will decongest that. If they enforce it strictly, then it’s welcome.

    Given T5 was only finished in 2008, it constantly amazes me that they didn’t design departure gates big enough to handle jumbos…

  9. With automatic boarding gates being implemented, this is even less likely to work, as no visual check by gate agents… The group code needs to be integrated into the boarding card bar code and system then determines whether it is allowed through on an automatic time release. It is possible, just more expense the airlines are not prepared to pay for… So a half attempt at sorting out the problem.. This is the beginning of the end for gate staff though..

  10. +Lumma
    BA has been really good with priority boarding for donkey’s years by now. And indeed following the “new” structure. Revenue First front of the queue. But that would be a novelty for US bloggers. Or luxury travel gurus. What can you expect while getting bored in your contact centers?

  11. Iberia has been doing group boarding for years, although that seems not the part to have the biggest impact in their on-time performance success.
    BA undertaking this is probably linked to common practices in IAG.

  12. I think it’s a good move.

    The thing with BA flights, longhaul or shorthaul, is that you’ll often find that 70% of the plane fall into one of the ‘priority’ boarding groups. There are so many BA and OneWorld frequent flyers holding Ruby status and up that the current ‘priority boarding’ lane can be a bit of a joke and sometimes longer than the regular lane.

    At least this system breaks down the priority boarding so they will board the frequent fliers in order of tier instead of a free for all where you can be a First Class passenger or a OW Emerald behind 100 passengers with Ruby status.

  13. So…on an A380 with a ton of Y seats they are going to have 2 groups….lol that would be fun to watch if I wasn’t already sitting on the plane having some champagne by then

  14. Ryan

    On BA’s a380 economy is on both decks, so currently with one final boarding group is completely fine. It’s the battle for the overhead bins on their short haul routes that’s the problem

  15. I don’t think there needs to be that many more groups for Y class.

    Firstly – BA’s longhaul aircraft tend to be premium heavy. The A380’s only have 303 Y seats yet 97 J seats. Most of the 747’s only have 145 Y seats.

    Secondly – a decent percentage of punters in Y will also have ruby/sapphire/emerald status so will fall into one of the other priority groups anyway.

  16. On a random note, am I the only person that doesn’t really care about getting on the plane quickly? I’d rather stay in the lounge until the last minute, then waltz up and pretty much head straight on. I mean, if I didn’t have a seat assigned, sure… but I do, so it’s still going to be there when I get there.

  17. @Richard G – Virtually all of my BA short-haul flights from LHR I get the text/email saying “This flight is full, please check your hand luggage in free of charge”. I’m pretty happy to do this as it allows me to avoid the liquids restrictions on HBO fares, then I can just board at the last minute and not have to worry about space in the overhead. I may be less likely to do this now that I’ve just reached BA Silver/OneWorld Sapphire and can board earlier.

    Interestingly, Easyjet have just started offering a similar deal, where you pay £4 to check your hand luggage and they’ll give you priority boarding as well. I can’t understand why you’d want to get on early if you’re not needing to store anything.

  18. “…partners American Airlines and Iberia.”

    My first and hopefully last experience with Iberia’s “zoned” boarding was lining up all of the zones and then releasing them all at the same time mad Max style to fight to get on the plane. SVQ to MAD.

  19. Zonal boarding works fine . Done it several times on AC for example. Often get zone 3 even with cheapest tkt no status . You get used to it. Now at least families with young kids still can pre-board. As some people have said the gate staff need to enforce it for it to flow properly.

  20. I’m BA Gold and experience crazy fluctuations in how current boarding (which as many have commented, aligns quite similarly with the ‘new’ system) is actually implemented. Some days they skip Gold and just board Sapphire/Biz/First. Other times Gold is called first, and then it’s a free for all after that.

  21. @ Brian

    I’m not sure that’s true. A BA flight London-Montreal last month I was the only Gold on board. I don’t know what the average loading of Golds is.

  22. The problem is that some humans don’t have the ability to listen. They’ll call for business class boarding and some economy passengers will try to board only to be turned away. Or the gate lice will congregate some the boarding area meaning others have to push past them when their time comes to board.

  23. @ the nice paul – I guess the number of Golds on board will vary from route to route. I regularly fly LHR-JFK and was chatting to the CSD on my last flight. She was talking about how the times have changed and as her working position is so involved in delivering the inflight service now she doesn’t get time to do the ‘CSD welcome’ on JFK’s to GCH’s. I asked her how many GCH’s there were on that same flight – 39, plus a Prem card holder. She said she’d only have time to dip out of the service to give the welcome spiel to the passengers in F as well as Gold Guest List.

  24. tom riley said:
    Zonal boarding works fine . Done it several times on AC for example. Often get zone 3 even with cheapest tkt no status . You get used to it. Now at least families with young kids still can pre-board. As some people have said the gate staff need to enforce it for it to flow properly.

    it is a fundamental diff, AC builds the groups based on the row number, so it first fills the back of the plane a.s.o. except those with priority boarding (1st/Bus class, gold, etc). it is a logical system.

  25. @Fasttraxxx

    I expect that the boarding pass already has the relevant information.
    In fact, rolling this out is probably deliberately aligned with rolling out of automatic boarding gates (admittedly only at LHR T5)
    The gate will have much less compunction in enforcing the rules than do humans who worry about whether to cause a fuss.
    This works pretty well with Easyjet at LGW.
    The challenge will be ensuring that all of one group have got through before the next group form in the queue.

  26. Cool, so if I know I have real cheap tickets, I will sit at the bar longer instead of hurrying to the gate.

  27. This whole process slows down the boarding. I understand business class boarding first. But then after that, it is hectic with passengers pushing past others trying to put up their cases. What was wrong with the system of the back of the plane boarding first. Makes sense. We waited unnecessarily until the desk person decided that there was no one else coming. Nearly 1/2 an hour boarding and why would the first people on board want to wait on a hot plane until finished anyway. What is the advantage? Group five who are supposedly cabin baggage only and who have cleverly got a cheap deal are treated like second-class citizens irrespective of how many times a year they use British Airways.

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