American Airlines moves to 9 boarding groups

American Airlines has announced a new boarding process effective March 1. An effort to speed things up and deal with the complications of their new basic economy fair, it is hard for me to imagine this working in the fairly crowded boarding areas AA uses in so many airports. Here is why I am concerned.

AA will continue to use two primary lanes– a priority boarding lane and a main boarding lane. The first four groups will use the priority lane, and that isn’t that different from how things go now– they are simply called in groups (say, first class) rather than group numbers. However, one category of “preferred” boarding– Group 5– will board through the main boarding lane. I anticipate having folks sort themselves out into that many groups will uncomfortably reproduce the scene from boarding Southwest when other passengers want to see your boarding pass to make sure you are standing in the right spot.

I also think that telling people they have special access and explicitly labeling it something like Group 4 or Group 5. Particularly when placing some people boarding with preferred access in the main lane, it seems like it will decrease the perception of value American gives with the preferred boarding. It doesn’t actually change boarding order, but the perception will be interesting to monitor.

I suspect the real reason for this is the new Basic Economy fares, which now board in Group 9. Since that fare does not include access to the overhead bins, it makes it easier to police who shouldn’t be bringing larger bags on board, and means the bins are likely full by that point anyway. I next fly on American on March 14, and I will report back how this system worked in practice.

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