American Airlines Changes Boarding Times for Some 737s, Won’t Tell Customers

American Airlines often starts boarding before the time they tell customers on boarding passes. There are two things at play here.

  1. Gate agents who are under tremendous pressure to get planes out exactly on time (D0), and who start the process with the consent of flight attendants.

  2. American actually begins boarding 35 minutes prior to departure for domestic Airbus A321 and Boeing 757 flights. These planes are larger, carry more passengers, and so they give themselves 5 more minutes but boarding passes still say they board 30 minutes out.

American boards earlier than the time they put on boarding passes for a couple of different aircraft types. This is a known issue at American, and one they’ve chosen not to spend on the IT to fix. It’s one reason you may show up at the designated boarding time and find your flight halfway boarded.

The airline is taking Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft into the fleet and each new MAX has more seats than their older 737s. In addition they’re retrofitting their existing Boeing 737-800s to have more seats. They’re doing this by squeezing seats closer together and reducing space elsewhere throughout the aircraft, most famously the lavatories.

By the end of this month there will be 21 torture tube 737s flying for American. Add these to the list of planes that board earlier

American says that their Boeing 737-800s that squeeze in an additional 12 seats (after squeezing in 10 more already after the merger) will now board five minutes earlier — 35 minutes prior to departure rather than their standard 30 minutes.

That’s fine as far as it goes if and only if they choose to tell customers this on boarding passes, the mobile app, and everywhere else.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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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Comments

  1. By not mentioning the correct time, they could be setting themselves up for a later departure if a preboard counts on the stated time and arrives right before only to find that boarding started and then has to wait until the end. Has happened to me on occasion, in addition to the GA defining preboarding as just being the first down the jetway and having the boarding line stare at me going down the plane in an aisle chair.

  2. I see this being only vaguely meaningful. Unless you’re flying F or Platinum Pro and above, there’s going to be so many people ahead of you it’s already a five minute plus wait no matter when you’re there.

    So unless you’re a high level elite/F trying to get on board ASAP or miraculously timing your arrival to correspond with your unremarkable group 4 boarding it’s just not going to matter.

  3. So the first thing comes to mind for me is that if the plane is so densely configured that they need 5 extra minutes to board how much longer will it take to evacuate in an emergency.
    Second are they adjusting the tight connections they are famous for as well. You know the plane rolls up (on schedule) 30 to 45 minutes before departure yet it takes a bit turn those planes. Personally I wish they would just board everything extra early when possible. Any plane that is just sitting at the gate should be opened up once the crew arrives even if it’s an hour prior to leaving. Why not? It would be much more leisure like. Sure I know the overhead space issues in reality.

  4. The last two mainline flights on AA were already boarding Boarding Group 5 when I arrived at the gate five minutes prior to the stated boarding time on the AA app. Very frustrating since I’m usually in Boarding Group 1 and the AA flight attendants typically do not stop passengers seated in Coach from placing their luggage in the overhead bins above the First Class seats even though such bins are marked for First Class Use Only.

  5. RE: “So the first thing comes to mind for me is that if the plane is so densely configured that they need 5 extra minutes to board how much longer will it take to evacuate in an emergency.”

    Yep, exactly – except of course, five minutes is an eternity in an emergency when the increments of time that can define the difference between life and death are measured in seconds, nanoseconds, or even picoseconds.

    Alas, it won’t be until the inevitable disaster happens that the greed driven insanity that is the untested using real life contemporary situations of how we actually fly proves the folly that is this sadistic, cruel, and wholly unacceptable densification of our aircraft in this era of corporatism, elitism, selfishness, greed, callousness and arrogance all fueled by a toxic airline industry cartel, with its oligopolistic business models and the sleazy, dishonest pricing practices that this desperate lack of competition makes possible.

    Let the lawsuits begin once the inevitable greed grab finally meets its well deserved comeuppance.

    Such a shame that lives will be lost for us to get our sense of basic decency, honesty, dignity, and most of all, responsibility back.

    Such a shame…

  6. The value of D0 to AA can somewhat be roughly inferred from how they are behaving. The improvement to basic economy where passengers can now bring a bag onboard was inferred to be brought back because it interfered with D0. So D0 is worth at least that much to them. However they continue to insist on adding more seats to planes. More seats = more self-loading cargo = longer boarding process. Thus D0 must be worth less than the additional revenue would be from flying extra passengers on each flight. If D0 were worth more, you would see them stop adding seats.

    I’m sure there could be some rough math to determine how much incremental revenue they get from the extra seats is worth and then compare it to what basic economy’s restrictions were worth to get a range of values.

    Anyways, I’m sure the extra seats necessitate a longer boarding process than the scheduled time indicates, which is why the board early. I would agree that it seems AA just doesn’t want to pony up the IT expenses to fix this problem. They think it’s a better solution to instead confuse customers until they get their act together.

  7. Wow. They only take 30 minutes to board? No wonder they’re having problems with D0. UA mostly uses 45 or 35 (with a smattering of 25s for regionals IIRC).

  8. I think that this is something where American needs to take a page out of United’s playbook. United has varying boarding times like this based on aircraft which they present very boldly on their boarding passes – I now look at this on check-in and plan my arrival to the airport around it. They even boldly state when boarding closes.

    Funny enough, I am out of practice as a result of this – I flew on AA for the first time in ages last week and showed up right when my boarding pass said to board and the gate area seemed awkwardly empty. I ended up walking up to the agent and asking if the plane had started boarding (when I heard them calling standby passengers) to which she said “Yes, the door is open – that means we are boarding.” I think we all know that door being open means very little. Good riddance AA.

    Gary, you really should move over to Delta or United – out of Austin it makes zero sense to keep to AA now that their loyalty program isn’t competitive anymore. Trust me, make the switch and you will be surprised.

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