Today, Delta announced its newest boarding order. Now imagine for a moment, if you will, that you are new to all of this and try to see where you should board. Good luck…

  • Delta One or Diamond Medallion
  • Delta Premium Select Or First Class
  • Delta Comfort +
  • Delta Sky Priority
  • Main Cabin 1
  • Main Cabin 2
  • Main Cabin 3 
  • Basic Economy.

You see, to most travelers there’s simply: first class, premium economy and economy. Many fail to realize that there is a difference between First Class and Business Class let alone four sections of the economy cabin alone. It’s absolutely fine, it’s not their job to know. Delta’s new boarding order is *in theory* designed to simplify and clear up the boarding process, but even as an elite traveler my head is spinning.

I believe the only way to alleviate the frustrations of frequent travelers who despise misplaced novices in the wrong boarding zones, and also make novices feel like the boarding game isn’t some giant scheme designed to confuse them is to simply stick with the number system – and make every single airline use it.

Every passenger on every airline should get a boarding pass with a BIG GIANT NUMBER on it. Everyone can count to ten, but very few people know the difference between premium select, comfort plus and main cabin.

Now the initial pushback is, “well every airline has a different number of loyalty program tiers and things like that”. I’d rebuke this by saying that each airline can stick their tiers into the number of their choice.

British Airways actually does this already, and I find the boarding process works extremely well in most cases. Zone 1 is for First Class and Gold Members, Zone 2 is business class and Silver Members. If they wanted to, they could stick another group into either of those numbers or the subsequent digits that follow, but from the customer perspective you’re always a 1,2,3,4 or 5. First time travelers can count to five no problem, but they may not know if they’re in World Traveller Plus, or World Traveler and the point is that via numbers, it doesn’t matter.

If every airline settled on a numerical system it would make all travelers happy. Those who travel infrequently would know the drill, regardless of whether they try a  new airline. U.S. travelers would feel comfortable in Europe, European travelers in Asia and so forth. Frequent travelers would also rejoice, knowing the gate area will become less crowded with those who can’t keep up with all the names, or know where to stand.

The best boarding I’ve ever been a part of took place in Tokyo and passengers were placed into five roped off lines. They opened the ropes one by one, in numerical boarding order and there wasn’t a singular confused passenger in sight.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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3 Comments

  1. Ah there’s the rub; “passengers were placed into five roped off lines (and) they opened the ropes one by one”, Part of fixing the confusion, chaos and mess is to properly organize the passengers, and enforce an orderly boarding process. Southwest seems to do this perfectly, It doesn’t matter if you use names, numbers, letters or symbols but any system is designed to fail when people either don’t know where to stand or have the opportunity to “game” the system. Obfuscation doesn’t help but lack of efficient design and execution is really the Achilles heal.

  2. UA has been using the 5 lane approach until very recently (sans the rope in front). Meanwhile, Southwest has just about the worst boarding process ever because unlike nearly any other airline, if you fail to board exactly as told, you’ll get a trashy middle seat.

    Thanks but no thanks. Losers might enjoy it, but i prefer airlines that actually have assigned seats so I can board at my leisure, not as self loading cargo.

  3. @henry lax: I respectfully disagree with you. If anything, Southwest has the BEST boarding system of any US airline. Your boarding position is on your boarding pass and you line up accordingly. There are 3 groups (A, B, C) and only people from the boarding group are allowed to be in the boarding area. If you’re B7, you go between B6 and B8. Easy as can be. Meanwhile, UA, AA, DL and others have this absurd system where everyone lines up and stands there (in the way), while airline FF royalty board, then group 1, then 2, etc. Except that there are people from groups 3-8 hanging around the same area – confused (or just trying to sneak in). Southwest has none of that.

    As for the title of the article, my answer is NO. All airlines should NOT be forced (by whom?) to use a universal boarding order. Each airline has the freedom to board in their own way and as long as it doesn’t endanger anyone or otherwise break the law, it should be up to them. And it’s up to us as to whether we like a certain airline’s boarding method – or hate it (great example is henryLAX versus myself). That’s freedom.

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