a sign in an airport

It could be said that the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas is the Super Bowl of tech, and how it relates to us – the consumers who *might* one day buy it. Since airlines aren’t particularly known for being cutting edge, it was fascinating to see that Delta Airlines CEO, Ed Bastian, would not only present, but deliver a keynote address. It turns out, his speech was chock full of things we the passengers may soon love, including solving boarding gate chaos…

Aside from a binge button for your in flight entertainment and futuristic signs to guide you through the airport, Delta is trying to bring revolution to the boarding gate. With any (and all) hope the new system will eliminate the frustrating swarms of humanity, which seem to ignore every instruction and make every boarding process, a unique version of hell.

a person holding a phone and a credit cardRather than the traditional airport speaker announcements, Delta will trial push notifications with a higher degree of customization, telling you specifically when it’s your time to board, not when your flight is just generally boarding. Hint: until then, if you’re not in Zone 1, there’s no need to crowd the area by the ropes that let you onboard. Sit down, relax, and avoid the fray.

Plenty of airlines already push a notification to your phone via their app when your flight is boarding, but the FlyDelta app will go a step further, sending notifications when your seat, or boarding group is ready for action. Read as: sit down and relax until it’s your time, because for 95% of the plane, your time isn’t that immediate first call.

Will this fix boarding woes forever, or just be yet another experiment gone nowhere?

people sitting in a terminalThis cunning move has one potentially detracting flaw: you need everyone to use the FlyDelta app, otherwise too many people will follow Fleetwood Mac and go their own way. To help herd traffic, Delta is attempting to turn its app into a “mobile concierge”, with help available for everything from airport rides via a Lyft partnership, to hotel bookings. If they can get more of their passengers to buy into the idea that they need the app on their phone, it just might work.

Mobile app technology is undoubtedly one of the premier frontiers for airlines to crack, as they look to serve customers at the moment, at all times, and keep them informed with up to the minute details. Any marketing efforts are made easier via push notifications, where you can let millions of people know that a “sale is on” in an instant, taking them to the offers in a single tap. If they can make the boarding gate any better than it currently is, I’ll download…

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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  1. Maybe I’m just not a forward thinker like these airline execs, but I don’t see how notification via app vs general boarding announcement will do anything to curb gate lice. If anything, less frequent travelers will see others boarding and panic not understanding when or in what order they will be called.

    Perhaps if the app was designed to sent a mild electrical shock through anyone that gets within 30 feet of the boarding area before they receive a push notification – that might help.

  2. It won’t matter. I know first hand because even though my family has all under-seat backpacks and doesn’t require space, and we hate cramped airplane seats, my wife will instictively get up and line up to get on the plane even though I’ve reminded her we don’t need to be first, I’d rather be last on the plane. It’s just human nature to want to be first, even if it doesn’t matter!

  3. Let’s be honest, the only time people really care about gate lice is when they’re flying J or F. Which like you said, is comprised of around 5% of the plane. When I fly economy, I don’t really care about getting cut in line or boarding last because I already knew that when signing up. Gate lice is here to stay. People are impatient and aren’t very good listeners at the end of the day. Checking their phone for a notification won’t change that mindset. It’s the same mindset ingrained in people to get up as soon as the plane lands to grab their bag from overhead, even though they won’t be exiting the plane for another 5+ minutes.

  4. Zone 1? I assume you mean “Main Cabin 1” on Delta which is actually 7th which is part of the problem with the Delta boarding process. Frankly they would be better off just handing out little light up pucks like they do at a restaurant. At least that would work since they will never get 100% of the passenger to use the app. In addition if they push this out they will need to do it Skyteam wide because if I’m on a codeshare AF flight on Delta metal I might be using the AF app, not Delta.

  5. The only way to stop gate lice is to reverse the general situation that late boarders will have to gate check their bags. If you make the first 50 economy passengers to board gate check their bags, and guarantee space for the others, then you’ll solve that problem. You would, of course, generate all sorts of other problems instead.

    Short of teaching people civility, next to impossible with the American public in general, there is no solution.

  6. Great, more people staring at their phones walking through the airport bumping into you. And instead of person to person interaction at the gate they expect people to be binding their phones staring at the screen. This is an idiot move.

  7. This would also require gate agents to be on top of things… and they’re not. They don’t announce the right group, they don’t update the screens, and they don’t stop people from boarding at the wrong time. I actually commented to an agent the other day, “Gee, Comfort + must be the biggest section of this plane!” because 75% of the gate area boarded. She agreed… with no understanding that it’s HER job to put a stop to that crap. I’ve had planes fully board without the app ever pushing a notification, because the agents never triggered it. I’ve had a plane fully board, announcements for each zone and all, though the screens all still read pre-board. I’ve gotten push notifications that we’re boarding well after I’m on the plane.

    Even if you got everyone to download the app, if they can’t trust the push notifications, it’s not going to matter.

  8. Another way to expedite boarding and disembarking is no longer allowing carry-on bags anymore.
    Carry-on bags are becoming bigger and heavier.

  9. First.: Larger planes with larger overhead compartments. I know, I am dreaming. Two:
    Strickly board from the back rows. There will be no people blocking the aisles in the front and middle of the plane. These suggestions make more sense…so they won’t be instituted.

  10. Delta has more important issues than boarding and free wifi…when a customer is promised a wheelchair and no wheelchairs are available upon arrival at the airport i would consider that a total failure on Deltas part.

  11. Do the employees that work on these airlines check their bags? No they take the overhead space away from the paying passenger. This always upset me to find their bags above me. Sometimes they forget who is paying to keep this airplane in the air and their salaries.

  12. The reason I get up and ready is because I often fly all carry-on. If I board too late there’s no room for my luggage. So I prefer to be the first in my group. If airlines want me to relax and stay out of the way well that’s what I want too. Make sure there’s enough room for my bags and I’ll happily board last.

    Notifications won’t do anything for me

  13. This article is a riot and true! I’ve laughed at everyone’s comments because each are so spot-on. At the airport, and perhaps everywhere else, everyone is communicating and absolutely no one is listening.

  14. They never mention the long line entering the plane. Eliminate ALL carry on luggage and problem solved..entry and exit much faster…

  15. Here’s the problem: passengers read “one carry-on and one personal item” as “two gigantic bags.” And then they put BOTH of them in an overhead bin, taking the space intended for three or more passengers. Also, passengers don’t listen to directions as to how they should stow their bags. So people want to rush onboard to make sure they have bin space for their carry-ons.

    Here’s my suggestion:
    1. (Critical!) Enforce the carry-on policy.
    2. Board Preboards.
    3. Board first class.
    4. Board the back 5-10 rows.
    5. Board the first several rows of the main cabin.
    6. Continue boarding this way, allowing two sections of the airplane to settle in at the same time.

    Shouldn’t be so difficult! 🙂

  16. Haha, like that will work. I am willing to bet my left nut that the morons will still line up and clog the boarding gates…and the dipstick in first class do it too. People are stupid.

    Look to Asia to get hints how to board airplanes. I am amazed at how much less stressful it is there.

  17. The ONLY way to put a significant dent in this gate goat-rope is to allow ONLY checked baggage and enforce size limits of the so-called personal items. Then board from the back. Forget the burgeoning array of special groups ( e.g. Platinum World Traveler Card Holders)

  18. They have monitors above the gates. Put which boarding segments are allowed to board in big bold letters so anyone can glance and see if their boarding segment has been called and the next group to be called to board is listed but not highlighted.

  19. The only thing I’ve seen come close to working is the poles with individual lines for each zone. It’s stupid and shouldn’t have to be done, but it does seem to reduce the chaos.

  20. This app idea if moronic. If you want to be civilized while boarding then the flight attendant needs to stand at each section being boarded AND monitor the overhead bins. The attendant will only let you out your bag ABOVE YOUR SEAT. And you have to leave enough space for all seats on that row. If that bag is too big it gets checked. Eventually people will understand that they cannot abuse the system. Also at the gate the bag needs to be measured BEFORE entering the plane. Too big? It immediately gets checked. And all planes need to board from back to front. Never the reverse. Deplaning from front to back. Also bring back the 2 door system. Board from both doors and deplane from both. But if your carry on is not directly above your seat then it gets automatically checked. If a bag is above your seat and not yours it gets automatically checked. No announcement, no fanfare, the attendant removes the offending bag and send it to get checked. IF YOU CARE OUT A BAG ABOVE SOMEONE ELSE’S SEAT YOU WILL BE LOOKING FOR IT ON THE CAROUSEL. Flight attendants also must check their bags no matter the size. They are NOT paying customers.

  21. Why don’t they just make it simple and just start with 1st class, and all these other special classes do away with. Just call people by seat numbers 1-10 and so forth and so on. If you walk up there and your number has not been called then you should not be allowed to board out of order. Maybe then that’ll teach people to sit their butts down until called. All this zone this and zone that just do away it keep it simple. Also the flight attendants need to monitor the overhead bins more closely, if you place your bag where you’re not sitting it should be removed and placed in the correct overhead. You shouldn’t be allowed to make it difficult for the person(s) who are actually sitting to there to find a place to put their bag. That really irritates me. Plus these carryons are simply getting out of hand a lot of these bags should be checked.

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