My experience with American Airlines’ new boarding process

AA boarding signEarlier this year American Airlines announced they would be changing up their boarding process starting March 1. Traditionally they have started with First Class, Executive Platinum, and other groups before Group 1 boarded. This has led to gate crowding, confusion from infrequent fliers, and generally slower boarding.

The new process gives (almost) everyone a group number. Concierge Key is announced first, followed by Groups 1-9. I boarded in Group 3 with the Platinum Aadvantage members. General boarding starts with Group 5. The lanes haven’t changed–they’re still Priority and Main–but the group numbers are listed on the signs, rather than the names of the groups.

AA boarding

The thought process behind this seems to be twofold. First, it gives more transparency to the boarding process. Before, people in Group 1 would line up and block the way for First Class and other early boarding groups. Since everyone now has a group number, people in group 4 understand they are after Groups 1, 2, and 3. Also it seems to make it easier to police the gate area, ensuring people are boarding with their correct group.

Last week was my first time flying with American Airlines’ new boarding process. I didn’t know what to expect, as changes in  travel so often lead to chaos. Honestly, boarding did go more smoothly and there were fewer people blocking the lanes waiting to board. I saw a few people turned back to board with their own group but not as many as expected. In  general people seemed  to be fine with staying seated until it was closer to their turn. Hooray!

Readers, have you flown with the new boarding  process?  What are your thoughts?

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Comments

  1. I experienced the new boarding process this week as well. I’m AA Gold. I did think it went better than in the past however… I still think AA Gold’s got demoted in the process. They now board with AA Citi Exec card holders. In the past they would announce 1st class, then Ex Plat, then Plat, then Gold and THEN credit card holders. They now moved up the Citi AA Exec holders into the same as Gold in group 4. The chart you show is the one that AA released recently trying to say nothing changed but in reality it did. I traded a number of emails with them about this and they don’t see that it changed but in reality it did. Is it a big deal? I guess not but I’m not excited about it. It is just a small thing I know but the small things with AA are really starting to add up with me.
    Sorry to be negative as I do think the new process is an overall improvement for everyone. It also seems that there may be fewer elite flyers lately with AA. I wonder if the ranks thinned out a bit for 2017?

  2. @DaninMCI you raise a really good, broader, point. In general ever since the merger it seems like Gold has lost a lot of value for AA. Yes, the boarding change is a small thing, but added up with all of the other small things it makes for a much poorer experience for Gold.

  3. I’ve flown 10 segments, now, in March with the new boarding process. While I like that that haved tried to clarify and streamline the process, it seems (for me) to always fall back to the actions of the gate agents. I have seen some work through the boarding incredibly smoothly via good communication and small pauses between the groups, and also complete chaos where I have heard, “groups 2 through 4 may now board” and a literal stampede ensues. I’m no pro but at times I have wished I could grab the mic and handle the boarding process. Then, again, I don’t know all of the other components of a gate agent’s role and what they are dealing with. Today, I made my connecting gate 5 minutes before they were even supposed to start boarding, only to find they were already boarding Group 5…

    The new Group boarding process makes good sense to me, but its practical implementation seems to depend on who is working the gate.

  4. @DaninMCI I agree about Gold status demotion to CC level – though it’s only the Citi Executive MC. Here’s another example of the cc status take over. An Admirals club membership was $450 to renew for a Plat or a member could get a Citi card for $450 for the same membership plus allow authorized users. Why would anyone buy an AC membership anymore?

    Otherwise, my experience with new boarding process is that it’s generally better (or less worse) than previous.

  5. I agree with the comments about Gold. The only real benefit it seems is the one free checked bag. I have flown 3 times this year, and the Group 4 boards are always a large number of people, as they have now added credit card members. I also don’t believe the new process has scaled back on gate hoarding that much as you always end up having to navigate your way past the Group 7&8 travelers with their luggage standing 5 feet directly in front of the priority boarding lane.

  6. I flew AA this weekend for the first time in a while (typically a Southwest flyer) and as a non-status ticket holder, I was confused by the process. On my first flight, I expected my group, 6, to be the last group (I hadn’t heard about the new system), so I stayed in my seat thinking I might as well just wait till the line went down and get on last. The gate agent ended up calling all groups in quick succession, with less than a minute between groups. This led to the whole flight standing in line at once and out of order (isn’t this what we’re trying to avoid?). While it sounds like an improvement for status fliers, I agree with Aevintyri that the general success of the system depends on the gate agent.

  7. I flew on the first day of the changes and everyone was confused. I also think they were still working out the kinks as a lot of people got on before me and I am Platinum (group 3). The gate agents were not helpful or friendly, unfortunately. It has since gotten better. However, I don’t notice any difference in the gate crowding. I remain hopful that this will solve whatever issue they are trying to solve.

  8. I think the new process is great, and has made it a lot more transparent about when you’re going to be boarding. I think the old style was very confusing for infrequent travelers.

    I completely agree with the comments about the importance of the GAs in implementing the new process and the boarding process as a whole. The new process doesn’t work if GAs allow people in Group 6 to board with Group 1. It also doesn’t work if the GAs call Group 2…then seconds later 3, then seconds later 4. I also don’t like when the boarding starts earlier than stated, because as someone who typically boards with Group 1 or Group 2, I often miss my group, and that’s frustrating.

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