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American Launches New Boarding Process – Early Boarding With No Overhead Luggage

by on May 16, 2013 · 23 comments

in American

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Airplane boarding is a battlefield, where travelers try anything they can to get on first, get to your seat, secure some overhead space and stake out their territory. Adding another skirmish into the process is American Airlines’ announcement today that it has overhauled its entire systemwide boarding process for flights within the US and Canada to allow customers who are traveling with a single personal carry-on item that fits under the seat in front of them to board before Group 2.

That means they’ll be boarding after all the elites and premium cabin flyers as well as those with Priority AAccess and Group 1 designation (including co-branded credit cardholders and those who have purchased Choice fares), but before the rest of general boarding. Here’s how the breakdown looks.

Screen shot 2013-05-16 at 9.37.30 AM

The new system was tested earlier this year at American Airlines gates at airports in Austin, Texas (AUS), Baltimore (BWI), Denver (DEN), Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (FLL), Kansas City, Mo. (MCI), Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) and Washington-Dulles (IAD) and American reports that they received very positive passenger feedback.

While in theory this sounds great for your average traveler who’s either traveling very light or has checked a bag and just has a small carry-on with them, but I wonder how the airline is going to enforce it in practice.

I suspect that the agents working the check-in kiosks will be told to keep an eye out for these travelers and verify whether their carry-on qualifies, but then during the boarding process, you’d need the gate agent surveying passengers as they attempt to board, and then on the plane itself, flight attendants will have to be on the lookout to make sure these passengers aren’t actually putting their bags in the overhead space. It sounds like an enforcement nightmare! The one thing that might ease it is that with the new boarding process, customers who wish to board early before Group 2 can gate-check their carry-on bag at no charge. So I guess those that decide at the last minute they want to take advantage of this but have a carry on can just gate check it and still board early-ish.

For those with elite status or AAdvantage credit cards, this won’t affect boarding at all – it’s really aimed at non-elites or infrequent travelers it sounds like, and those who just want to get to their seat early.

What do you think? Has anyone experienced the new boarding procedure yet? How did it go?

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Scott L

    sounds awful….if i was someone with no status, I’d take my carry-on and board with group 1, tell the agent scanning my bag that i’m gonna gate check my bag, and then go right on the plane making sure that I get that perfect over head bin space…basically this is a policy that is truly going to hurt anyone who follows the rules….and my experience is that more and more people are not because of policies like these.

  • Cory

    Especially when I don’t have anything requiring the overhead bin, I would still choose to board last. Or as close to last as possible. I don’t see any appeal of boarding early if there is no need to fight for overhead bin space. I would rather stand at the gate than sit in the seat for extra time.

  • jessica

    Frontier has this policy. No one actually pays attention to the rules and most people boarding during it have stuff they put in the overhead. I do not understand how it received “positive reviews”

  • http://twitter.com/rubiety Ben Hughes

    I never, ever use an overhead bin, and never will. What I don’t understand is, if you don’t need an overhead bin, what’s the point of boarding early to begin with? Unless I’m in first class (hence I want a departure drink), I’m always the last one on the plane. Seems counter-intuitive to have people without bags board first, if by that very fact they don’t really need to board first.

  • http://thehustleblog.com/ the hustle blog

    Exactly, why would anyone want to board the plane first if they didn’t need overhead bin space?

  • Pingback: American’s New Early Boarding: Might This Change Pre-Boarding Strategies for Families? | Trips with Tykes()

  • Curtis

    Seems like it will help with boarding when I am still downing my beer at the bar rather than getting on with Elite group :).

  • Dave

    Agree completely. Who wants to sit on those planes any longer than you have to in Y? In J or F, a different story, but in those cases you rarely compete for overhead space anyway, and it is relatively few people (unless you’re on a wide-body, in which case you’re likely turning left, so again, not an issue).

  • Leslie H (tripswithtykes)

    Will be especially interesting to me (as a parent) to see how this shakes out for families with kids. I have a four year old and we rarely need the bins since we check a bag and then just have a small backpack with toys and games as our carry-on. We still like to pre-board to have extra time to get our daughter settled, eat a snack, etc., but we’ve now lost access to family pre-boarding on American and most airlines. Wondering if this means we can essentially get it again. But I somehow imagine that we are not the demographic American had in mind when it unveiled the policy. Will be even more interesting to see whether they turn away parents who are gate-checking a stroller or car seat, but who otherwise have no overhead bin luggage.

  • jason

    Stay home !

  • Santastico

    How can they guarantee that these passengers will not place their luggage in the overhead bin? This will be a nightmare and another reason for passengers to argue and the flight attendants call security to take passengers out of the plane.

  • jtgray

    Sometimes it’s nice to just get settled in rather than be waiting or in limbo.

  • Greg

    I’m so sick of the whole Hunger Games fight-to-the-death on overhead bins.

    So our choices are:
    * go all Thunderdome trying to get a bin;
    * pay an obscene amount to have the airline put a bag in the cargo hold where it belongs;
    * go to the already-overworked gate agent and have them check the bag for free, and contribute to the flight getting out late.

    Remind me why we not only don’t charge for overhead bins, but also don’t charge more than for a checked bag?

  • davep

    They are just playing with it. If they really want to keep things out the overheads they should charge for carry ons. Spirit does that and its amazing how uncrowded the bins are. Personal item that fits under the seat is free. In the overhead and the charge is more than to check it. Incentives at work.

  • Apage

    Wait, is Gold Level now boarding with Group 1? Looks like the roped them into the same category on the chart…

  • Drew

    I think its an excellent idea!!! They should enact a separate line at security also or allow those with no luggage with wheels to move through the priority line.

  • Lon

    If you board early you have to be careful that the people boarding late do not drop something on the person sitting below them. Ever had or seen someone drop their bag as they were putting it in the overhead? I have seen it many times.

  • Tim

    Sounds great in theory, but as we all know – boarding rules are rarely enforced by airlines or followed by passengers.

  • SYK

    I just experienced this a couple days ago at DFW. It was pretty ridiculous. The boarding process took extra long because after announcing the change several times, the gate agents physically walked around checking to see who else could qualify to board early and inform them that they could board. Unsurprisingly many of the people who boarded early put their backpacks and other small bags in the empty overhead bins.

  • BobChi

    Competitive reasons. People with fly with another airline.

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  • Justin

    I think they are enticing people who have a small bag to NOT use the overhead bin when otherwise they wouldn’t think twice about it. I see people put backpacks, purses, handbags up there ALL the time. Maybe getting to your seat faster instead of standing on a jet bridge is more appealing so someone might seriously consider putting their purse under the seat in front of them. That being said, I think it’s a dumb idea :)

  • Eleanor Snickelfinger

    My husband and I are Aadvantage members and pay for travel with Aadvantage credit cards. We were pretty bugged recently when we had to pay the extra (“Main Cabin Extra”) fee just to sit next to each other. The Main Cabin Extra feature was also supposed to incude Group 1 boarding. The new boarding policy for people without luggage (apparently luggage no longer includes heavy, overpacked backpacks and other items that appeared to me to look like “luggage”) turned the boarding process into anarchy. It was just awful. Truly truly awful. It also left me wondering what the heck Main Cabin Extra got me. The legroom was definitely nice, but I will rethink the extra money in the future.

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