Delta testing a new metered boarding process in Atlanta

Feb 21, 2020

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Delta Air Lines is testing a new boarding procedure with the aim of speeding up the process and reducing congestion at the gate.

On February 20, the carrier tested a new system that meters the number of people in each boarding group on two flights departing its Atlanta (ATL) base. A reader reported the test to TPG and Delta confirmed it. The goal is to even out the number of people boarding at any given time.

“We are testing a new boarding process on select flights designed to make the experience easier and decrease crowding at the gate,” Delta spokeswoman Olivia Mayes told TPG. The Atlanta trials were “the first in a series of tests we’ll be running over the next few months and is based on customer feedback and focus group research.”

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Delta currently has at least seven boarding groups, depending on the type of aircraft:

  • Delta One, Premium Select or First Class
  • Delta Comfort+
  • Sky Priority
  • Main Cabin 1
  • Main Cabin 2
  • Main Cabin 3
  • Basic Economy

When a boarding group is called all at once, passengers tend to bunch up and slow down the process. The new test keeps those groupings but subdivides them for boarding by metering how many passengers head toward the plane at any one time. The goal is to have an equal number trying to board at any given time.

Several TPG readers mentioned the boarding group experiment in the TPG Lounge, suggesting that Delta might be splitting the boarding into as many as 30+ separate groups. Elite frequent fliers still board in Main Cabin 1 or 2 and do not appear impacted, according to one reader.

Airlines are constantly looking for more efficient ways to get people onto planes. A quicker boarding process means less ground time and more time that an aircraft is in the air — where it can earn revenue. A 2008 report from Boeing found that in the course of 2,000 trips, a saving of 10 minutes off the time it takes to turn a plane around could mean more than 300 extra hours available for revenue flights.

Related: Math proves boarding planes is actually really efficient

Delta is far from making a decision on whether to implement the new metered approach to boarding. The process will be tested on more flights departing from Atlanta, as well as from other airports, in the coming weeks after which customer feedback will be solicited and analyzed. Only at that point will the airline determine if the process does or does not work, or needs adjustment, before it decides whether or not to roll it out broadly.

Featured image by Darren Murph/The Points Guy.

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