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2013: 330,818

A Look at How Different Airlines Board Their Planes

Boarding an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 at Burbank. Image by Colin Cook.

Boarding an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 at Burbank. Image by Colin Cook.

It used to be that most major airlines shared commonalities in the way they boarded passengers. However it seems that each airline has so their own boarding processes that it’s hard to keep up. Sure, the way an airline boards likely won’t sway a decision on which airline to fly, I wanted to put together a list of how some of the major airlines operate their boarding process.

As one would expect, the majority of airlines give priority boarding to their elite level fliers. Having personally achieved even a low level MVP with Alaska Airlines I can say that I would never want to go back to being just “one of the herd.” While I haven’t gone on a “mileage run”, there are many well documented stories of folks taking a quick trip just for the sake of achieving elite-level status.

With precious overhead space and many airlines now charging for checked luggage it’s become a race to get on board as early as possible. While some low cost carriers are now charging for carry-on bags, the major US airlines typically allow one carry-on bag (i.e. a roller bag or other bag for the overhead bin) and one personal item (laptop bag, purse, backpack, etc). Since many travelers are now bringing a large carry-on bag, boarding times have soared. An article in the New York Times suggested that boarding a plane with 140 people in the 1970’s took about 15 minutes which has more than doubled to 30-40 minutes.

Without further adieu, here is how the various airlines handle their boarding procedures (a small note: these are all the boarding requirements as found by AirlineReporter.com at the time of publishing. These change frequently, so please add any changes/ideas to the comments and listen to all gate announcements for proper boarding proceedures):

How does Air Tran board? – This airline’s boarding procedures will undoubtedly change as the integration into Southwest takes place over time. Southwest operates a 737 only fleet and is in the process of subleasing Air Tran’s Boeing 717 planes to Delta. Presently, Air Tran pre-boards unaccompanied minors, passengers traveling with an infant, and passengers needing special assistance prior to general boarding. Like many other airlines, Air Tran utilizes a zone boarding process.

How does Alaska Airlines board? – Being based in the Pacific Northwest, I fly Alaska more than any other airline. Their boarding process is pretty straightforward. They don’t mess around with zones or boarding groups and have a seemingly more streamlined approach. They begin with preboarding – those customers who are traveling with children or need some additional time to get down the jet way. After preboarding, they invite First Class, Alaska Airlines MVP and 75k elite level fliers. Next are passengers seated in row six of the main cabin (bulkhead row at the front of economy) and Alaska MVPs and partner elites. After that, they board from the rear of the plane starting with passengers seated in row 15 and higher. Finally they open to general boarding at that point. It’s a pretty well organized system and tends to work well.

STORY: Flying First Class on Alaska Airlines

Boarding an Allegiant MD-80 in Bellingham. Image from David Parker Brown / AirlineReporter.com.

Boarding an Allegiant MD-80 in Bellingham. Image from David Parker Brown / AirlineReporter.com.

How does Allegiant board? – Allegiant offers many different add-ons to their standard fare and does a nice job of providing ala carte service where you can add additional services to their basic fare. Among their options are Priority Boarding for $9.99 (allows you to board first), Premium Seat Selection $9.99 (an assigned seat near the front or exit row), Standard Seat Assignment $6.99 (assigned seat towards the back of the plane). You can certainly opt to fly without paying any of those additional fees, but be prepared to sit in a middle seat. Their boarding process allows people that paid for priority boarding to board first, followed by those who need a little extra time. Then passengers who paid for the standard seat assignment are allowed to board followed by those who do not have seat assignments but have young children. Lastly it goes to open seating and people get to fend for them self to find an open seat.

STORY: Flight review flying Allegiant Airlines

How does American Airlines board? – American is one of the airlines that actually disclose their boarding process on their website. Many airlines do not give a specific process but simply expect you to pay attention when you get to the airport. American employs a process similar to most of the other legacy carriers in that they give priority to elites and then general boarding. Their process consists of preboarding First Class, Uniformed Military, AAdvantage Executive Platinum, and oneworld Emerald. On aircraft with three class service, Business Class is boarded next. The next group consists of AAdvantage Platinum and oneworld Sapphire, followed by Priority AAccess and oneworld Ruby. From there, American is in the home stretch boarding groups 1-4. Of course this could all be changing with the airline merging with US Airways.

STORY: Taking American’s 737 Sky Interior Delivery Flight

How does Delta Air Lines board? – The world’s largest airline by passengers carried and fleet size has developed a good reputation among both business and leisure travelers. They utilize a zone boarding process similar to many of the other large airlines. They first offer preboarding to their Sky Miles Medallion elite level fliers (Diamond, Platinum, and Gold) and passengers traveling in the first class cabin. On international flights they then invite passengers traveling in BusinessElite, Sky Miles Medallion Silver frequent fliers, and partner elites to board. Delta then begins general boarding via a zone process beginning from the rear of the aircraft. Depending on the size of the plane and whether it is an international or domestic flight, Delta can have as many as nine different boarding groups.

How does Frontier Airlines board? – Denver’s hometown airline has been undergoing some big changes in recent years. Frontier uses a zone boarding style similar to many other carriers, beginning with preboarding for passengers with special needs, which include passengers who need assistance and unaccompanied minors. Similarly to Jet Blue’s Silent Boarding group, they do not announce a special boarding for this group. The one nice thing is that you don’t have to make a reservation in advance for the extra time, whereas you do on Jet Blue. Frontier then invites their Summit Members to board which is the top tier of their EarlyReturns frequent flier program. They then begin priority boarding and Zone 1 which includes Ascent members (second tier of EarlyReturns), as well as people traveling on a Classic Plus fare or seated in Stretch seating. Next, they invite families with small children and passengers requiring additional time or assistance to board. They also have a separate boarding group here for people who are not utilizing overhead bins (it pays to pack lightly). After that, they begin boarding with Zone 2, which are passengers in Select seating. Finally, they board Zone 3 which is pretty much anyone else. So while Frontier technically only has three zones, they really have seven different boarding groups.

STORY: Review flying Frontier Airlines to Denver and back

A JetBlue E-190 in Boston. Image from David Parker Brown / AirlineReporter.com.

A JetBlue E-190 in Boston. Image from David Parker Brown / AirlineReporter.com.

How does JetBlue board?– As is typically true with most things JetBlue, they try to keep their boarding process simple. They begin with pre-boarding which they call Silent Boarding. This is a service that must be requested in advance and is designed for people who have requested or appear to need additional time boarding. The interesting bit is that they do not make a gate announcement (hence the Silent Boarding name), so it is up to you to request this service and show up at the right time. After Silent Boarding they begin priority boarding for Mosaic and Even More Space customers. Mosaic is their elite level program which has many of the same benefits as competitors (priority security lane, preferred seating, 2 free checked bags, bonus points, and dedicated customer service line). Even More Space is an option that you can select when booking and just like it name suggests you get more space.

JetBlue then invites families with children under the age of 2 and other individuals who need additional time to board. It’s interesting that they have their Silent Boarding and then a separate pre-board for people who may need additional time. Finally, they board from the rear of the aircraft forward in five row increments. This begins with individuals in rows 20-25, then 15-25, 10-25, and lastly 5-25.

STORY: Flying JetBlue from the Bahamas to Boston in an E-190

How does Southwest Airlines board? – Southwest is unique since they do not actually assign seats. So it’s still important to get a good boarding group to ensure a good seat and overhead storage. Their overall process contains a boarding group (A, B, or C) and a number (1-60) and they have passengers queue up in the boarding area in a line according to the boarding group and number. Some have called this process a “cattle call,” but really it seems like less people end up standing around waiting to be called than with other methods.  Alternatively, you can buy a Business Select or EarlyBird Check-In to be among the first to board. For frequent fliers, it is a pretty simple boarding process, but it seems that people who do not fly often, easily get confused on how to board a Southwest plane.

STORY: Guide to getting a good seat on Southwest Airlines

How does Spirit Airlines board? – Spirit is the ultimate King of low cost travel and their boarding process and baggage policies reflect that. Like Allegiant, their base fares are always amongst the lowest but Spirit is betting you will purchase additional services. They not only have fees for seat selection but also other amenities such as checked baggage and soft drinks on board. Spirit employs a zone boarding process similar to many airlines with some differences. They allow unaccompanied minors and others requiring assistance first, followed by folks sitting in their Big Front Seats (first row or two depending on aircraft that are in a 2-2 layout and have better seat pitch), and then the remaining zones 2, 3, & 4. The one difference is that they board from the front to the back.

How does United Airlines board? – No sooner than I finished writing the original section on United, the airline made yet another change in their boarding process. This marks the fifth time in less than two years that the airline has changed their procedure. This is not surprising as mergers always result in some chaos, but it would seem smart for the airline to stick to one process for a while — hopefully this one will stick.

Under the new process, they begin with pre-boarding of customers with disabilities, Global Services, and uniformed military personnel. Following that, Group 1 is invited to board which included Global Services (for customers that did not pre-board), Premier 1K, Premier Platinum, and their premium cabins. Group 2 is essentially for all of the United and partner elite fliers including Premier Gold and Silver, Star Alliance Gold and Silver, MileagePlus Presidential Plus and Club cardholders, MileagePlus Explorer and Awards cardholders.

It’s interesting that United does not give greater priority to their Gold and Silver level fliers – someone who holds their credit card is given the same boarding priority. United has really been pushing their Explorer credit card so it’s no surprise they used priority boarding as a selling point. United then opens up for groups 3-5 for general boarding from the rear of the aircraft. Unlike other airlines, they no longer give priority boarding to families traveling with infants or young children. Those families must board when their group number is called.

How does US Airways board? – Much like other legacy carriers, US Airways uses a zone boarding process. They begin with preboarding of First Class / Envoy, Preferred members of their Dividend Miles program, and Star Alliance Gold members. After preboarding, zone 1 consists of the bulkhead row and exit row seats without under the seat storage. It’s interesting that they allow exit row seats without under the seat storage to board early. I realize that these folks have responsibilities since they are in the exit row, but does it really take them longer to board?

Zone 2 is made up of US Airways Premier World MasterCard holders, US Airways Visa Signature card holders, ChoiceSeats, and Exit row seats with under-the-seat storage. Much like United, they have given their credit card holders a priority boarding group. At least the elite members of their Dividend Miles program get a higher priority (United has the same boarding priority for Gold and Silver elites as they do for their credit card holders). Finally they board from the rear forward beginning with zones 3-5. It’s a fairly straightforward process which is nice.

Virgin American Airbus A320 at LAX. Image by David Parker Brown / AirlineReporter.com.

Virgin American Airbus A320 at LAX. Image by David Parker Brown / AirlineReporter.com.

How does Virgin America board? –  Virgin American starts with allowing their First Class passengers to board before allowing folks with children and disabled people who need a little more time. Then they move on to Main Cabin Select, which are in the first row of economy and the exit rows so they have more legroom. The Main Cabin Select fare also comes with complimentary food and drinks and one free checked bag.  After those two groups, they board the Main Cabin Express group. Ultimately, this is just an add-on that you can purchase to be among the first to board.

Being that I really like to be sit near the front and be able to get off the plane as soon as possible, this fare is quite appealing. Finally, they move on to a group based boarding process, starting with A and moving through the alphabet. I recall on one flight it went groups A-D, but on another it went A-F.

STORY: Flying in Virgin America’s First Class

Hopefully this article can provide some insight the next time you are traveling and are curious about how different airlines board. In the comments, be sure to talk about your boarding experiences and which processes do you like (or hate the most)?

Related links in airline boarding:

This story written by…Colin Cook, Correspondent.Colin is an avid AvGeek who works in finance and is based in the Seattle area. He has an immense passion for aviation and loves to travel as much as possible.

@CRoscoe2121

Reviewing a JetBlue Embraer E-190 Flight From The Bahamas to Boston

The Bahamas puts the "blue" into JetBlue.

The Bahamas puts the “blue” into JetBlue.

JETBLUE ECONOMY REVIEW BASICS:
Airline: JetBlue
Aircraft: Embraer E-190 N317JB, Deja Blue
Departed: Lynden Pindling International Airport (NAS)
Arrived: Boston Logan International Airport (BOS)
Stops: None
Class: Economy
Seat: 7D
Length: 3hrs

Cheers: Great little bonuses: full soda can, free TV, lots of snacks and one free checked bag.
Jeers: Wish there was some Wi-Fi — it is coming soon.
Bottom Line: JetBlue does not feel like a low-cost airline

Taxxing at NAS towards the runway.

Taxiing at NAS towards the runway. There is a Bahamasair Boeing 737-500 in the background.

FULL JETBLUE ECONOMY REVIEW:
Being based in Seattle, I do not get the opportunity to fly JetBlue very often. It has been a few years since I have experienced one of their flights and I was excited to see I was flying them home after a recent press trip to The Bahamas (note: The Bahamas Tourism paid for my ticket on JetBlue).

I have only flown the E-190 once before in a business class flight on Air Canada from Toronto to Seattle. I was impressed with the larger seats up front on my Air Canada flight, but I have been wanting to try out what it is like sitting in the back of the E-190 and this flight gave me the opportunity.

JetBlue E190s are configured with 32″ seat pitch, but if that is not enough for you, then you can upgrade to Even More Space, which gives you (wait for it…) even more space. Rows one, 12, 13 and 14 offer 6-7 inches of additional space and give priority boarding for an extra charge. The aircraft is set up in a 2-2 layout with 100 seats — this means aisle and window seats for everyone.

The E-190 provides a window or aisle seat for every passenger.

The E-190 provides a window or aisle seat for every passenger.

The flight was only about half full, so after allowing passengers with Even More Space seats and those who need additional assistance to board, everyone else was allowed to board in one group.

I normally try to take photos of the aircraft before I board, but NAS does not offer great photo angles from the airport. However, the photos after take-off more than make up for it.

The overhead bins on the E-190 are not too large, so I planned ahead and checked my larger carry-on bag. Extra bonus: JetBlue allows you to check one bag for free. Was kind of a pain to haul my camera, laptop and chargers around Boston (where I had my layover), but I managed.

No matter what seat you are sitting in, you will get free TV with 37 channels of entertainment. There are also three additional channels that play movies and for international flights (which mine was), the movies are free. If you are on a domestic flight, the premium entertainment will cost you $5.99 to watch a movie. Make sure to bring your own headphones or purchase one for $2 once you board the aircraft, because the movies start shortly after leaving the gate. I made the mistake of waiting to buy after taking off and I missed 10 minutes of Batman: The Dark Knight (luckily I had seen it previously).

I paid for the beer, but everything else was free adn nummers.

I paid for the beer, but everything else was free and good.

Jetblue offers complimentary non-alcoholic beverages and a nice selection of free snacks including, blue potato chips, chocolate chip cookies, animal crackers and more.

If you want something a bit more substantial, four different “EATUP boxes” are offered for $5.99 each. There is also a decent selection of alcoholic beverages for $6.99 each, except for Bud Light which goes for $5.99. Being a fiscally responsible travel blogger, I went for a few snack selections and the cheaper beer.

If you have money burning a hole in your pocket, you can also purchase a head pillow for $5.99 or a blanket for $4.99 that you get to keep. Make sure to bring a credit or debit cards, since JetBlue does not accept cash.

Each seat has its own TV with free entertainment.

Each seat has its own TV with free entertainment.

Right after passing 10,000 feet, one flight attendant walked down the aisle selling food and non-food products. After that, another came through to get drink orders. I was confused when I got my beer and was not charged. Turns out that the flight attendant comes through at the end of the flight to do just one charge at the end — makes sense. However, on my next leg from Boston to Seattle, the flight attendant charged me right away for my food.

It was very easy for me to work on my laptop, while watching TV, which is not something I can say on other domestic products. It also helped that the seat next to me was empty.

I had to take this photo in Boston, since NAS did not have any place to take a photo.

I had to take this photo in Boston, since NAS did not have any place to take a photo.

Since NAS offers pre-clearence for US Customs, I was able to quickly catch my connecting flight from Boston to Seattle without having to go through much hassel.

What would make the flight more enjoyable would be Wi-Fi. The airline is staying pretty quiet about their game plan, but are publicly stating that Wi-Fi should start showing up in JetBlue’s fleet starting in “early 2013.” JetBlue is planning to provide a Ka-band satelite solution through their own subsidiary, LiveTV.

I have to say that I really enjoyed the E-190/JetBlue combination and can’t wait for my next flight on either.

ADDITIONAL JETBLUE E-190 TRIP PHOTOS:

This story written by…

David Parker Brown, Editor & Founder. David started AirlineReporter.com in the summer of 2008, but has had a passion for aviation since he was a kid. Born and raised in the Seattle area (where he is currently based) has surely had an influence and he couldn’t imagine living anywhere else in the world.

@AirlineReporter | Flickr | YouTube

Music Video to Commemorate a Lost Bag

To be honest, when I received an email saying a frustrated passenger made a music video to let off some steam after an airline lost his bag, I was very close to deleting it. First off, this concept as been done and secondly — well — sometimes bags get lost and it is by no means is it a good thing, but surely not something to write a story on.

However, I am glad I took the time to click on the link and watch the video. Turns out the bag lost held quite a bit of video equipment worth good money. This meant that the passenger was out his stuff, but he still had the skills to make this classy music video.

Hopefully someday his bag will show up, but until then, enjoy the music.

Airline Love: No ID and Trying to Fly? JetBlue Goes Above and Beyond

Image by Jeremy-Dwyer Lindgren

JetBlue Airbus A320. Image by Jeremy-Dwyer Lindgren

There are many stories out there about how experiences with airlines can be negative. Luckily that is not always the case and many times people can have a positive experience. Recently reader Russell Christensen had a positive experience with JetBlue and wanted to share. Here is his story in his own words:

Back in February I was traveling to Long Beach Airport (LGB) to attend my brother’s wedding via Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) on JetBlue. I was traveling with my wife, brother, and sister and we had a really early flight at 6:00am, but seeing how SLC is typically not the busiest airport I have been to, I figured that it would be ok to show up at 5:15am to check in and be to the gate right as we needed to board.

This idea was perpetuated by the fact that I had to drive from Idaho the night before and we didn’t get into Salt Lake till about 1:00am, so I wanted to sleep a little (which didn’t happen actually; I couldn’t fall asleep for the life of me). So, my wife, sister, and I drove to the airport and parked in the long term parking, thinking all was in order. We were making perfect time and were on track to get checked in and through security.

However, on the shuttle ride from the parking lot to the main terminal, my sister discovered that she had left her I.D. at the house we had spent the night at and a return drive that would take 30 minutes. Needless to say, if we returned for the I.D., we’d miss our flight. We decided that the best thing to do was to talk to the JetBlue ticketing agent to try and get booked on the next flight out (despite it throwing off our plans pretty severely) and hoping that we wouldn’t be charged a change fee.

Upon talking to the agent, she pleasantly told us that it was no big deal, that there are many people who forget their I.D. and that she thinks we should be able to get on the flight with no issue. Recognizing that we didn’t have a lot of time to get to the gate because we still had to deal with the TSA, she also made a note on our boarding passes that we could take the Business Priority Line through security. This made my day.

She proceeded to tell us that if we did miss the flight, to go back to her and she would simply book us on the next flight, no extra charge, yet another wonderful gesture on behalf of JetBlue. Her giving us access to the priority lane turned out to be a blessing because for 5:00am in SLC, the security line was enormous. I have flown out of SLC for years and have never seen security this long, ever.

My wife and I were able to get through security without an issue because we had our I.D.s, but my sister had to go through an intense screening where some office in D.C. was called and they asked her about personal info that only she would know (which is scary to know that the TSA has access to such private and intimate information).

Needless to say that we made it just in time to get to our gate and we made our flight to LGB. Were it not for such a flexible and hardworking ticketing agent who got us through the priority security line, we never would have made it in time. This reinforced my belief that when agents do their job–help passengers–the experience turns from nightmare to a wonderful experience.

Thank you JetBlue and SLC ticket agent from Feb. 16, 2012!

$100 Bribe to Ticket Agent Allows Unknown Package to Fly on JetBlue

JetBlue ERJ-190 (N238JB) "Blue CLipper"

JetBlue ERJ-190 (N238JB) "Blue Clipper"

Although millions of dollars are spent on airline security each year in the United States, it only took $100.00 for a JetBlue ticket agent to allow a unknown package to go onto a flight, coming from an unknown person.

On November 19, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was at Charlotte Douglas Airport testing out JetBlue’s security. Their goal was to try and get an unaccompanied package onto a flight headed to Boston and unfortunately, they succeeded. An undercover TSA agent told a JetBlue ticket agent that he needed to get a package to Boston that day and would pay the agent $100.00 for helping. The agent took the $100, put it in his pocket and proceeded to follow the unknown person’s instructions. The ticket agent chose a passenger’s name at random, which just happened to be an unaccompanied minor, and the package went through the screening process with no problems. Although the package was harmless, the TSA pulled the package just before being loaded onto the aircraft.

“That’s really alarming,” Anthony Amore, a former high-ranking TSA official at Logan Airport told a local Boston CBS station. “When you have multiple layers in place you hope that they all stand in the way of a terrorist or someone who wishes us harm. In this instance, many of the layers were cast aside and we were left with this one layer of checked baggage screening.”

When the local station asked the TSA for a comment, they were told, “While we cannot comment on the specifics of an open investigation, TSA can assure travelers that, like checked baggage, every package tendered at the airline counter is screened for explosives.” JetBlue confirmed that they are “fully cooperating with the TSA’s investigation” and “the involved crew member is no longer employed at JetBlue.”

I do not share this story to cause additional security-related fear, nor do I want to “teach the terrorists” how to commit crimes against passengers. I share it, since I think it shows how spending so much money on the front door of airline security and so little attention on the back is a big mistake. Although JetBlue is partly to blame for training issues, this could have happened with almost any airline. They just happened to have a bad-seed-employee in the wrong place at the wrong time. Currently, the TSA is not talking about how often they conduct these sorts of tests and how often they get a package through.

Sadly, this story is just one of many that place many questions on back-door airport security. At the same exact airport, just a few days earlier, a teenager was able to sneak onto the airport secured area, illegally board a US Airways aircraft without being caught (unfortunately, he died en-route). There is also the story of the pilot who pointed out that airport security workers could by-pass security and caused him a lot of grief. Similar stories keep popping up and I have a feeling more will continue to do so. As passengers continue to give up their freedoms and are willing to put up with many annoyances to fly, while at the same time seeing how porous the security is behind the scenes, people will take note and demand for change.

Image: kenjet