Just Because You’re in Group 1 Doesn’t Mean You Board First

small planeMy flight a few weeks ago must have been packed with infrequent fliers. Remember the guy who nearly gave me a concussion grabbing the back of my seat? Well, before that even happened I could barely get to the gate through the giant crowd!

I was running a bit late, per usual these days, and had to sprint to my gate once I arrived at the airport. I was sure I was going to be one of the last ones boarding, especially when I saw the huge crowd around the stanchions. As I slowly made my way through the crowd I heard people saying things like, I saw everyone stand up so I got into line. And, Why isn’t the line moving? And finally, Excuse me, I need to get through, I’m in Group 1. But you know what I didn’t hear? The Gate Agent announcing who was boarding. Because boarding hadn’t started!!

Here’s the deal. Infrequent fliers may not realize that on several airlines there are three to four groups called ahead of Group 1. Preboarding, various status levels, family boarding, and military may all be called to board first. The best thing to do is stay in your seat until your group is called. If you are really concerned about boarding at the beginning of your group, stand up but try to stay as far away from the line as possible so you’re not blocking others’ access. Boarding actually goes much more quickly if there is room for people to get to the line once their boarding group is called.

Readers, what is your experience? Do people typically crowd around the boarding area? Is this a seasonal thing?


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  1. I am always super early to the gate area but I board at the last possible minute because I hate standing in line and sitting in a little airline seat forever as everyone is boarding. Don’t really get why everyone is in a mad rush. We’re not taking off until everyone is on! I guess if you are worried your carry-on won’t fit, then ok, rush, but otherwise, what’s the hurry?

  2. This is one of my biggest pet peeves. It drives me nuts. I understand overhead space can sometimes be at a premium, but for the most part it’s not that much of an issue. Especially when you aren’t yflying Southwest, you have an assigned seat. It will be there for you no matter whether you are first or last on the plane. The frenzy and mob mentality that can accompany boarding drives me crazy. I travel every week for work and have definitely noticed a change with summer vacations starting.

  3. I blame the airlines. Couldn’t they renumber the groups to avoid this? Preboard = group 1, top-tier = group 2, etc.

    It’s not unreasonable for someone who has a pass that says “Group 1” to think they’ll be in the first group to board.

  4. I recently boarded an Air Canada flight in Buenos Aires and the (contracted) AC gate agent announced Zone 1 boarding but allowed Zone 2 to board ahead of Zone 1. One Zone 1 passenger called attention to it and the AC gate agent said the Zone 2 was there first. She didn’t care that the Zone 1 passenger paid more money for his ticket or had Aero-plan Elite status to have premium boarding. Her response only added insult to the issue.

  5. The airlines have created this problem. People fight to board early because they are worried that there won’t be room for their (oversized, expanded) carry on bag. There’s no room for the carry on bag because a) more people are squeezed on to a plane and b) more people are doing carry on because of bag fees and c) the gate agent doesn’t enforce bag size which means that d) too many oversize bags take up extra room in the undersized overhead bins.
    Even when I board early I often find the overhead bin already full of bags jammed in every which way. For many trips I’m traveling with just an under seat bag because I never know about the bins.
    I know that the gate agents are busy but it is an intrinsic part of their job to keep the boarding under control. That includes enforcement of bags and crowd clusters.

  6. This is by far my numebr one travel pet peeve, and is particularly frustrating when the the GA calls the next zone and everyone in the crowd inches forward, even if they aren’t in the group. I hate being rude, but I often have to loudly say “Excuse me!” and practically elbow my way through the crowd to board with my group.

    In ATL a few years ago, Delta was testing out group boarding stations similar to that of Southwest. That way it was pretty easy for people who wanted to be the first to board in Zone 2 to be out of the way from the folks in Zone 1. I haven’t seen it officially used elsewhere – I’m assuming it didn’t go well.

  7. Generally here, the planes are boarded by row and that seems to be a better system to me. I don’t understand why someone who paid more for their ticket should board before the people at the back – or the windows for that matter – it might be what they think is their right, but it’s just not efficient. I don’t understand why on one flight I am in group 2 and the next, group 4.

    I only try to board as early as possible because I like the window and it makes sense for me to get in before the people in the middle and aisle. I probably contribute to the bunfight for this reason alone.

    I do recognise that elite flyers and DYKWIA types seem to need to get on the plane first, but that doesn’t mean I agree with it. Actually I also think families and special needs groups should get on last because they are the slowest. I just endured a bus tour where we all stood in the aisle and waited for the woman on crutches to get off before we did. I was insane and frustrating, since she was to be conveyed separately and whisked past us anyway on a wheelchair once out of the bus.

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