American Rolling Out New Boarding Group Process March 1

American Airlines will be rolling out a new boarding system March 1.

For the most part they’re changing how boarding is called rather than the order in which people are called. Everyone gets a group number. Agents are supposed to call boarding group numbers, rather than describing qualifications like first class, Executive Platinum, oneworld emerald, etc.

In the future, all customers will be assigned a group number (1 through 9) based on their ticket type, elite status level and priority. We will call the group number in our announcements rather than all customer types. The boarding order will be the same, with only minor exceptions. The change is in how we refer to each group on boarding passes and announcements. Our ConciergeKeySM members will be invited to board prior to general boarding.

There will be (9) boarding groups. Here are the Priority Lane boarding numbers (click to enlarge):

The parenthetical references to business class — being in group 1 or group 2 — means that on 3-cabin planes with first class and business class, first class is group 1 and business class is in group 2 but of course where business class is the top cabin customers board in group 1.

Here are the regular boarding lane numbers:

Credit: American Airlines

In fact there are (10) boarding groups because ConciergeKey members are invited to board before group 1. Group 1 doesn’t actually board first and ConciergeKey is the only exception to agents calling group numbers instead of qualifications.

Update 2/22/17: Premium Economy has moved from group 5 to group 4.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. If you are the (most likely) only Concierge Key Boarding. Do you want to actually signal yourself out to the boarding crowd by boarding before then?

  2. this is massively overdue. having “group 1” on the boarding passes without actually having that group board first contributed greatly to the infestation of gate lice. with ‘group 1’ now effectively ‘group 5’, I’m hopeful the boarding lanes will start to clear up.

  3. 9 groups through 2 lanes. I wonder who comes up with this stuff.

    I’ve been on a few delayed AA flights (awaiting aircraft) where, when the plane finally arrived, the gate agent announced with exasperation, “Now boarding all groups all rows.” Frankly even though I have priority boarding, I much prefer the free-for-all to the illusion of order.

  4. One could posit that this is poor marketing for AA, because customers won’t see F/J/elites getting explicitly called first – thus making the connection between the status/fare and the perk.

  5. This is only 20%, they have not addressed the 80%: stopping the group 9,8,7,6,5’s etc from crowding around and standing in the front of the line, blocking our way. Why won’t you address the elephant in the room AA ?

  6. This will help alleviate gate lice, but only marginally. The two biggest problems I notice with AA during boarding are:

    1) The “priority lane” at most airports only have a 5-10ft long divider, and once the line stretches beyond that; chaos.

    2) The layout at PHL gates couldn’t be worse If they tried. The boarding lanes basically begin in the hallway of the councourse. Also, the PA systems are usually too quiet to make effective announcements (I’ve seen some gate agents give up on announcements altogether).

    I understand that infrastructure for effective boarding is tough to ensure at outposts, but I only ask that the hubs have it, at a minimum.

  7. Parents with children? They fit in with their boarding group, where they belong, because you shouldn’t be entitled to push your way up front just because you spawned and have a screaming ankle biter with you. Want to board sooner? Get some status or buy a more expensive ticket.

  8. AA can come up with whatever boarding process they want but it’s all in vain unless the gate agents ENFORCE the process. Within the past week, I flew DFW-LAS and LAS-DFW. In both instances, the gate agents were not enforcing the boarding process. On the DFW end, there were literally Group 2’s boarding before me as a Platinum. Same thing on the LAS end. It is very hard to elbow your way up there with all the higher group gate lice hanging around blocking the way. Again, enforcement from the gate agents is the key to any boarding process no matter how good or bad the concept is.

  9. @Fred +1
    So what all this tells me is that nothing will change much as we randomly gather around that pole that says something about Priority or something. But I guess we’ll get to pick out who the C-Key folks are flying with us and for those of us with Lowly Gold “status” we just got knocked down a peg.
    Thanks AA

  10. ME FIRST!!! ME FIRST!!!! Ugh. I’m so tired of boarding groups the way they are. (I’m an EXP, for reference). Whenever I can afford the delay on the back end of the flight I just check my rolling bag so I can be the LAST person on the plane, regardless of where I’m sitting or how self-important I’m feeling that day.

    I wish airlines would just use the back-front boarding model so people aren’t crawling over each other in cramped airlines just because elites want to sit in a miserable metal tube for longer than everyone else.

    Here’s my solution: Get rid of the overhead bins. Add a storage locker at the back of the plane that you may use FOR A FEE if you have luggage that won’t fit under the seat in front of you that contains items which cannot be checked (e.g. camera gear. My wife is a photographer and I’d be fine with paying the fee in this scenario), and you’re not allowed to get your items until everyone else gets off the plane. Fix the absolute MESS that is checked luggage and baggage reclaim (build one bag into the ticket and charge for the rest, speed up the reclaim process substantially, especially at airports like DFW). Allow only items that will fit under the seat in front of you, and board back-front.

    90% of verbal altercations (I’ve been fortunate to never have seen a physical one myself) on planes are about overhead bags. The root cause of the gate lice problem is everyone wants a spot for their overhead bag. The reason for a huge percentage of arguments with the gate agent at the time of boarding is over bag size. Kill it. Kill all of it. If it doesn’t fit under the seat in front of you, it goes in the hold unless you want to pay a fee to put it in the locker at the back of the plane. That locker space is booked when you book your flight, and not even elites are exempted from the fee.

  11. So far, the Concierge Key boarding does not seem to be working well. Now, this is a very small sample, so it is clearly skewed. Boarding DFW-SJC on Monday, the CK call got a steady stream of people before they added “First Class” to the call. Now, DFW would certainly have the highest concentration of CK, but I’m hard-pressed to believe that like 10 people (at least) were really CK. Methinks that F and even EXP were boarding with this call.

    Maybe when it’s not so new, it will be better. But, the new order won’t fix that issue.

  12. Does this reduce the value of co-brand credit card “priority boarding” perks? Even perceptually… being group 5 out of 9 hardly sounds like AA is giving you any sort of priority.

  13. this is massively overdue. the biggest factor in gate crowding is not knowing when your group will board. it’s natural to assume that ‘group 1’ will be one of, if not the, first to board. occasional travelers don’t know about all of the special groups that go before the ‘first’ group.

    the only thing i hope they add, is to program the BP scanner so that it rejects anyone trying to board ahead of their group.

  14. @ Fred. I think it depends very much on how broadly family boarding is defined. No need to allow early boarding for parents traveling with 10 and 12 yo, but it makes a lot of sense to allow early boarding for parents with small children still potentially traveling in car seats, which have to be installed in the seat. Even if there is no car seat, (good) parents of infants/toddlers just have a lot more stuff to bring to keep the child occupied (and less annoying to other passengers), so I think it might be useful to give them a little more time to get settled. Pick a reasonable age for family boarding (parents with children aged 5 and under or whatever) and have them board with Group 4 or 5?

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