American Airlines Is Overhauling Its Boarding Groups on March 1

Jan 19, 2017

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Update 2/22/17: American Airlines has slightly altered its boarding process to include premium economy passengers in Group 4 instead of Group 5. Here is the updated boarding chart that’ll go into effect on March 1:


If you’ve flown American Airlines recently, you may have noticed that the carrier seems to have a never-ending list of passenger classifications when it comes to boarding. Gate agents can sometimes sound like auctioneers trying to get through the entire list of groups, particularly on regional flights where there might not be any passengers in a particular boarding group.

Or, maybe you’ve experienced the frustration of holding a “Group 1” boarding pass — thanks to your Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard — and realized a significant number of passengers have already been invited to board before the gate agent has even reached Group 1.

Well, that’s going to change soon. AA has announced an overhaul of its boarding groups for flights starting on March 1, 2017. Thankfully, the change will make the boarding groups more transparent. Rather than having a slew of unnumbered priority boarding groups plus four numbered boarding groups, there will soon be nine boarding groups:

  • Group 1: First class and US military, business class on a 2-class international aircraft
  • Group 2: AAdvantage Executive Platinum and Oneworld Emerald, business class on a 3-class international aircraft
  • Group 3: AAdvantage Platinum Pro, AAdvantage Platinum and Oneworld Sapphire
  • Group 4: AAdvantage Gold and Oneworld Ruby, Alaska Airlines MVP members, AirPass, Citi/AAdvantage Executive cardmembers and passengers who purchased priority boarding. UPDATE: Now includes premium economy
  • Group 5: Premium economy, Main Cabin Extra and eligible AAdvantage credit cardmembers
  • Group 6: [General economy boarding. Former Group 2]
  • Group 7: [General economy boarding. Former Group 3]
  • Group 8: [General economy boarding. Former Group 4]
  • Group 9: Basic Economy (when launched)

While nine groups seemingly would be enough to cover all passengers, there’s actually a 10th boarding group as well: “ConciergeKey members will be invited to board prior to general boarding.”

American Airlines’ current and new boarding groups.

There will be no change to the boarding lanes that passenger groups use. Groups 1-4 — the currently unnumbered priority boarding passengers — will still use the Priority boarding lane. Groups 5-9 will use the main boarding lane. This means that Priority passengers still have the chance to skip to the front of the line by using the Priority boarding lane, even if you happen to arrive at the gate after boarding has begun.

Benefits

While having nine boarding groups (plus Concierge Key) sounds absurd at first blush, we actually applaud this move. AA is effectively keeping the current order, but making the process more transparent. Under the current system, passengers who paid for “priority boarding” end up boarding fifth and the deceptive-sounding “Group 1” boarding group is actually the sixth group to board. Under the new system, it’ll be clear exactly where you fall in the pecking order.

Assuming the boarding group number is prominently displayed on the boarding pass, gate agents will have a much easier time policing the boarding process. Currently, the “Priority” designation on the boarding pass could mean one of five different sub-groups. After the change, gate agents will be able to see at a glance whether a passenger is boarding before his or her group has been called.

Also, hopefully this change will give gate agents’ voices a break. Rather than having to announce “Now boarding AAdvantage Gold, Oneworld Ruby, Alaska Airlines MVP members, AirPass, Citi/AAdvantage Executive cardmembers and passengers who purchased priority boarding,” the gate agent can simply say “Now boarding Group 4.”

Bottom Line

In less than six weeks, American Airlines will be renumbering its boarding groups. While the boarding order is effectively going to be the same, the change should hopefully make the boarding process more straightforward and transparent. However, you might be shocked at the high boarding group number on your boarding pass.

Featured image courtesy of American Airlines.

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