NEW BOARDING PROCESS: Delta Considers ‘Poles With Signs on Them’ to Be an Enhancement

American rolled out its new boarding process yesterday. They’ve taken a lot of criticism for 9 boarding groups, but they aren’t really increasing the number of groups (other than adding a ‘Scarlet B’ group 9 for Basic Economy customers who can’t bring on a full-sized carry on). Instead they’re giving some groups numbers instead of names.

The idea is to reduce confusion, reduce crowding, and speed up boarding. Previously ‘group 1’ was the fourth or fifth group to board, behind a whole bunch of named groups. So everyone in group 1 would think it was time for them to board. They have a lower number now even though they board around the same time.

Of course American really has ten groups because Concierge Key gets its own group, boarding first, but doesn’t have a number. (So the new group 1 is really group 2.)

Today Delta has announced a revamp of its boarding process, too.

Five gates in Atlanta’s B concourse now have,

branded pillars to create four parallel lanes, keeping customers out of the walkway and providing a separate queuing area for Premium customers and those needing special assistance

Credit: Delta

This is a test that they call “the latest in string of innovations to enhance customer experience.”

Joe Brancatelli tweets,

In the monkey see, monkey do US airline industry Delta rolls out a new boarding system the day after American’s went into affect. And the new system looks a lot like United’s.

United Airlines Gate 22, Austin

Oddly usually it’s American and United copying Delta, who says that if “customer feedback continues to be positive” they’ll roll this out to other airports.

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. Delta may have announced this today but they have been testing it in Atlanta since at least feb 8. I was in and out of Atlanta that weekend headed to NOLA and they were using this new boarding process. It was actually very nice as it keeps the gate lice at bay and keeps the very busy atl walkway from getting jammed up.

  2. Hasn’t Southwest been using the poles for years? WSJ had an article yesterday where AA even said that they spent time studying Southwest.

  3. Considering some of the Enhancements we’ve been through over the last few years, this seems almost benign.

  4. @Basil: LOL!!

    Seems like a decent thing to try out. People seem to be unable to line up in an orderly fashion half the time so maybe this will help.

  5. This good. Currently the priority line usually co-mingles SKY and Zone 1, so it is a bit hard to figure out where to stand.

  6. This is an enhancement. That everyone doesn’t have this pretty much everywhere (a la Southwest) is laughable.

    It’s such an easy fix to the chaos of the gate. That United figured this out (apparently) is also praiseworthy. But Delta needs this too, and I’m very glad it’s coming.

    The word “enhancement” doesn’t mean “everyone gets free first class”. It means things will be improved to make them better. And this will do that.

  7. Gary, I’ve been an elite with Delta for years and their boarding process is typically one of the worse out there. This change is most likely an enhancement over current status. Welcome news.

  8. Thank goodness… DAL’s gate control has been horrendous on some of my past flights with them. If you’ve shelled out the money for a first class ticket, you shouldn’t have to board in the 3rd group because you’re not interested in pushing your way thru everyone that is hovering around the gate.

  9. Nothing that Delta does seems to please Gary. He always seems to find the “negative” spin when he writes about them. Oh, excuse me, your review of the DL flight from AUS to JFK must have been very painful to write because you couldn’t trash them on everything. So, SkyMiles sucks. But give the 80,000 people of Delta and the management team some credit for embracing innovation and running a stellar operation. Keep up the good work Gary. It’s always nice to observe your objectivity. With 1.5 million miles with Delta, they’ve earned by loyalty – and passion to defend them.

  10. @DesertJoe_PS actually I consistently argue they run the best US airline operation, and though I don’t how many seats they squeeze into some domestic aircraft I think they provide the best domestic soft product as well. My two beefs are I find SkyMiles dishonest and their government relations unamerican, in that the policies they advocate would use the government to benefit their own bottom line at the expense of American taxpayers and customers.

  11. As someone whose home airport is ATL, I welcome this change. I’m always SkyPriority or Premium boarding group and it never fails that half a dozen zone 1-3 people always come to SkyPriority lane and board before me. I realize… first world problems and all but I’ve earned my status from Delta and it annoys me to no end that clueless people are let on board before me.

  12. Personally, I love this. It reduces confusion and gets rid of the gate lice. Hopefully it also gets the gate agents to be more diligent about checking BPs.

  13. This has been in place in ATL since early November. Too much like Southwest’s old way where people stood in line for hours.

  14. Gary. I appreciate your reply. As I agree, SkyMiles sucks. As for DL’s stance on some opens skies issues, I agree with them sometimes and not at other times. Anybody who has observed the growth of the 3 ME carriers has to be suspect; recent case – running a year-round daily EWR-ATH at what has been projected to lose $25mm/year. All I ask is that your coverage of DL be balanced. You admit, their soft product and performance are the best. So, with a little more balance in your reviews, you might find I actually will agree – in writing – with some of the more critical views you take on government issues. As always, I find your blog interesting and it’s a daily read.

  15. Crowd mentality is dumb. They don’t engage in critical thinking. This won’t unclog the human mass that blocks the gate.

  16. @Basil – first thing I thought of when I saw the title! Polloks with signs? What?


  17. In Dublin, they had a G.A. walk around with a paddle sign while another announced which group was to board. Folks were very orderly. At our stop at JFK, it was a complete mob scene, with the usual “gate lice” and grandmothers trying to get through for pre-boarding. So, DL has to do something. Dunno if this is the best option, but it’s worth a shot.

  18. Why can’t it just be group 1, group 2, group 3, etc.? I’m a delta elite but I don’t have to be called that just to board an airplane. Quite frankly, I try to be one of the last to board just so I don’t have to sit on the plane for 20 minutes while everybody else fights to get on board. And, since I’m an elite, my checked bags are usually some of the first to come out at baggage claim. Why did it all have to get so complicated?

  19. Disagree with John totally. Narita has been a mess for years. Lots of languages not understanding either Japanese or English and unbelievable crowding which looks like a scene where people think that if they do line up and push forward they will get left off the flight. Until a year ago the boarding attendants rarely left the desk to help organize the groups and my last flight through Narita a group of us laughed heartily as an attendant carrying TWO different paddles kept trying to organize one group behind her. Lots of good comments above, I have to agree with the ones that imply It’s About Time domestically or internationally.

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