American’s New Boarding Policy and Does Early Boarding Matter to You?

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As you have likely already read, American Airlines has just enacted a new policy where if you are traveling without overhead luggage, you can now board before Group 2 boarding. The point behind this is to try to get the planes loaded faster. To avoid checked bag fees, and the risk of your checked bags being delayed or lost, more and more of us are trying to carry on everything we possibly can. This means the planes are loading slower which is bad for the airline, for passengers, for costs, etc. American’s thought is to get those without large carry-ons into their seats. It (in theory) I guess it makes the customer happier, and speeds up the process.

I have no clue whether that will really help or not, but I do think about the boarding process frequently, and I wonder if early boarding matters to you? If so, I’m curious as to the reasons it matters. Here are my thoughts in a few different situations:

Early boarding with small children + car seats or similar contraptions:

Yes, I want to board the very first second I can if I have to lug and install a car seat on the plane. It is large, it is bulky, and my child cannot be seated in her assigned seat while I am installing it. This means I will absolutely temporarily leak into someone else’s seat while this process is happening. As a result, I would prefer for everyone’s sake that others not yet be around us. I will also temporarily be stalled in the aisle while I put the other bags in the overhead compartments, and get the car seat into our assigned row. I will go as quickly as possible down the (hopefully empty) jet-bridge and onto the plane to get ahead and minimize others being impacted by this cumbersome process.

We are absolutely “gate lice” who line up before boarding starts simply so that we won’t hold up a long line while we go down the aisle with the car seat and get it into position. In that case early boarding matters a whole heck of a lot to us, in an effort to be considerate to others (and avoid as many dirty looks as possible).

We are able to do this due to elite status that allows us to board with the first group, but if we didn’t have that status we would be SOL on most airlines as they no longer allow families with small children to board first. In the case of the car seat or other seat contraption, being one of the first really matters to me.


Early boarding with small children with no seat contraptions:

If I am not installing a car seat, there isn’t a whole bunch of incentive to board early with my kiddo unless I need spaces for overhead bags. In fact, the ideal situation is when my husband boards first to get all the “stuff” situated, and the kiddo and myself hang back until later in the boarding process. The earlier I get her on the plane, the longer I have to keep her entertained while remaining seated. Of course this only works if he can carry the car seat and any bags that would need overhead space. He is a good “donkey”, but even he has his limits on how much stuff he can carry at one time.

Early boarding with a roller bag:

I don’t need to be the first one on the plane if I am traveling alone with a roller bag. I do need to be in the first half of boarding to ensure an over-head bin, but I don’t need to be one of the very first on-board. So, for me if I am traveling with a roller bag that needs an over-head bin then early boarding does matter, but it doesn’t matter in the same way as if I had a car seat.

Early boarding without a roller bag:

If I am traveling only with a purse or similar that will fit under the seat in front of me, then according to the new American Airlines policy I now get to board earlier than I otherwise would if I had something like a roller bag that needed to go in the overhead bins. However, if I don’t have any luggage for the over-head bins, and I don’t have a car seat or similar to install, then what is my incentive to get on the plane earlier? On most airlines I have an assigned seat, so it isn’t like my seat is going to be taken out from under me just because I am the 100th person to board the plane instead of the 22nd person to board.

I guess if I am in first class I might be missing out on my “pre-departure beverage” if I wait too long to board, but that doesn’t really seem like a real problem. I just don’t quite get why someone would want to spend more time sitting on the plane if they didn’t have a specific need for getting on early.

I don’t have any issues with the new American policy, and I hope it does work for them. However, as a passenger I just wonder whether early boarding really matters when you aren’t concerned with bags, small children, or car seats?

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  1. Early boarding will matter to some without kids or need for overhead bin space, but it shouldn’t. There is a lot of irrational behavior that revolves around the boarding of a plane. Gate lice, cattle call, cat herding…whatever way you want to describe it, when the boarding call is first made a large number of passengers take leave of whatever rational thought and behavior they have.

  2. yes keeping the kiddo entertained is a process, this spring break we were coming from Madrid, the Iberia ticket agent was nice, she assigned us the first row seat in economy(it was AA award ticket unassigned seat on partner)families with kids were boarded early… and on the process of keeping my 1.5 yr old son busy he, unscrewed his bottle cup and spilled water on the seat, the next 8 hr I had to sit on a plastic i used from the pillow cover to cover the seat.

  3. Cory, ha ha sad but kinda true. The way folks behave on a plane is sometimes quite interesting!
    adnan, fun times. πŸ˜‰

  4. I think families and people who need help (disabled etc) should go first because they DO take the longest to get sorted out. πŸ˜‰
    I don’t have to be first but I do always have a bag to store up above me and there have been times when boarding “almost” last..I have had to store my bag half way (or more) down the plane so getting in atleast half way there is my goal heh.
    WHat I DON’T like are some of these “elite” folks acting like they are so much better than everyone else. Yes, yes, some of have elite status but we are all human and just because you may have elite stautus doesn’t mean you have the right to treat people like dirt.

  5. I hate to be cynical, but I have heard through my AA friends in Dallas, that they incorporated this so that a) more people would check bags and thus raise revenues; b) less people would be checking bags at the gate (a downer for all involved, except those saving the bag fee) and c) it would increase the speed of turnarounds at the gate (not as much as you would think with all the elites and military boarding first)…

  6. Who makes decisions on what’s an ‘overhead’ bag, and what’s stopping my from putting my shoulder bag/laptop bag/tote bag in the overhead bin (clutteirn up the aisle) once I’m onboard?

  7. I just hope it works out for AA, but I will admit, it seems like it will confuse MANY passengers. Speaking of confused (raising my hand now!) I will be flying AA for the first time since holding an AA cc, what about that for earlier boarding? Do I just show it to someone? Does it need to be documented somewhere prior to boarding? Thanks for clarifying.

  8. “I guess if I am in first class I might be missing out on my β€œpre-departure beverage” if I wait too long to board”
    FC is the very first boarding group anyway.

    If I’m not in FC, looking forward to my PD drink, and maybe checking out the meal menu, the later I board the better. I don’t really enjoy airline seats, nor the long lines down the ramp and aisle. So I want to spend as little time on the plane as possible. Assuming I have an assigned seat, the only reasons I would ever want to board anything other than at the last minute would be if I was in FC, or needed room for a carry on.

    Want to really get my attention? Let those with no carry-ons be the first to get off the plane, so I don’t stand in the aisle for 10 minutes as those seated ahead of me try to get down their bags without dropping them on my head in the process. The way to really speed things up is use this deplaning order: 1) those with no bags, children or disabilities 2} those with small children 3} those with disabilities 4} those needing wheelchairs. That would save most folks in economy without carryons about 10 minutes of frustrated jostling.

    And if they really want people to check their bags, drop the fees, screen baggage handlers for criminal records, put in casino type security cameras in all baggage handling areas, and seriously investigate every act of theft from baggage. Then people will be far more willing to check their bags. They don’t want to do it now, since the whole system is so untrustworthy.

  9. MP,

    What type of headphones is Little C wearing? I’m looking or a reasonably priced set of noise canceling head phones for my pre-teens. If you have any good recommendations, I would appreciate it.

  10. “And if they really want people to check their bags, drop the fees, screen baggage handlers for criminal records, put in casino type security cameras in all baggage handling areas, and seriously investigate every act of theft from baggage. Then people will be far more willing to check their bags. They don’t want to do it now, since the whole system is so untrustworthy.”

    Well said Robert! If only…if only…

  11. “I don’t need to be the first one on the plane if I am traveling alone with a roller bag. I do need to be in the first half of boarding to ensure an over-head bin…”

    I think the target market is passengers who do have a roller bag but who are not holding a boarding pass in the first half to board. If they are offered free gate check with early boarding that may be enough to motivate some to take the offer. Otherwise they take the risk of no bin space and may end up getting their bag checked anyway. So I predict that the ones who take the offer are the ones holding boarding passes for the late boarding groups.

    Boarding in an early group will also have some appeal to people who never get to do that. Just because.

    So overall I think it will help shorten boarding time a bit.

  12. Soon nearly everyone will be in the first boarding group. Already FC and J passengers, member elites, and holders of co-branded credit cards pre-board. Along with those with small children, handicapped, and wheelchair users. And now folks with no carryons. Soon a plane with 180 passengers will have 80 pre-boarders, 90 in the “first boarding group”, and 10 first-time-flyers in group two. πŸ˜€

  13. Seems to me if you want to incentivize and speed up the process offer free checked baggage and charge $50+ for carryons. Current process is backwards.

  14. Brent, now you are starting to think more like Spirit!
    Robert, now you are onto something. πŸ˜‰
    Carrie, it should be linked with your account already, but have the card as a back-up.
    Maya, they were some cheapies for kids from Target. I actually get that question a lot though, so I’ll give a better answer in the next week or so via a post. πŸ˜‰

  15. I actually view boarding the airplane first as a negative. Typically I wait til almost everyone is on the plane before lining up. This way the aisles are clear of people and its easy to just walk to your seat and sit down. Sure sometimes I have to gate check my carry on bag but it still saves me from having to pay to check a bag

  16. Traveled on Delta last month and both times were offered pre-boarding along with others needing ‘extra time or assistance.’ Was very nice to have a few extra minutes to board and get the car seat strapped in. Southwest offers ‘family boarding’ after the A groups which means 60 people plus whoever is already on the plane will be ahead of you though we can usually get two rows together about halfway back. Plus then you don’t have to worry about checking in at exactly T-24 hours to get a low numbered boarding sequence. United I had read eliminated pre-boarding for families… :).

  17. I have no problem with folks who line up early, as long they are the first group that will be called. What annoys me are the folks who line up or clog the que when it is not their turn.

    But i am at the point now where I pretty much just hang out in the lounge and board last. If I am in coach, i will just check my bag since it is free anyway.

  18. In this day and age of easy access to elite status and fee based one-time service upgrades, it is counter-intuitive business-wise to allow a family to board early, gratis.

    I’m not anti-child (have two who are are tweens), just someone who strive to minimize further diminishing of perks for those who properly earn them, or are will to pay extra for them.

  19. I have to just pick up on what Robert was saying, because this is one of my huge pet peeves… when deplaning, the people with carryon in hand or no carryon should be able to get off the plane first. When someone in aisle 3 is standing there getting their carryon out of the bin blocking the whole aisle of people ready to get off. Sheesh, doesn’t it make more sense for those that are ready, to get off first?
    apropos of nothing, really, but sometimes I can’t resist a good opportunity to try to win people over to my way of thinking πŸ™‚

  20. There’s just nothing quite like publicly calling your husband a “donkey” to illustrate his being (ab)used as a mule. If I was your husband, you’d be schlepping some bags by yourself for a trip or two….

    I have a couple of young kids with whom we travel frequently, so I know exactly what it is like to carry all the junk everyone is too lazy or “tired” to carry themselves. The least we men can expect for this is some respect.

    • Aaexplat, he calls himself that and we do also carry some bags. However he gets primary bag duty and I get primary kid duty. Thanks for your concern though. πŸ˜‰

  21. mommypoints, I think in the race towards equality, i often gets forgotten how much we men contribute to family life these days (as much as women contribute to the bottom line). That sounds like a good deal you guys have worked out amongst yourselves…how do I get me one of those? πŸ˜‰

    • Aaexplat, I could talk for a long time about equality in the family. I think it is great, but I also think you have a good point that now we have everyone contributing toward everything and that may or may not always be best or easiest. My husband def gets off the easiest during travel since I am in charge of C 99.9% of the time in the airport, on the flight, etc, but that is easier when there is just one kid. When you have more than one it is much harder to divide it up that way. I hope your family gets you a good Father’s Day present. πŸ˜‰

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