How do we board a plane again?! Back many years ago, boarding a plane was pretty straight forward. First up would be first class. Next up would be business class. Finally economy, usually in seat row order starting from the back.
Then things got complicated. With more emphasis being placed on frequent flyer perks, they were shoehorned into the equation too. Your top tier frequent flyers wanted recognition. But then so did the people who paid top money for first class too. But what about business class flyers? They paid more than the gold card holder on a cheap economy ticket.
We need a solution
The solution in most cases was to have a priority line and an everyone else line. In some areas, this is still the case. In others, it ended up being ridiculous. I’ve read many tales over the years of the priority line in Glasgow/Edinburgh for the British Airways flight being 100 deep. Where as the everyone else line only having a handful of people in there.
Once again, something needed to change. In the case of British Airways, the boarding procedure changed to first class/business class/gold card/silver card holders. Then Bronze card holders. Then the rest. This turned out to be a little complicated though. Couple that with ground crew who more often than not devised their own system and were reluctant to send anyone back who was in the wrong place, and more often than not, it was a total mess.
We need another solution
At the beginning of 2018, the airline changed their boarding procedure once again. This time to a much simpler group system that is in place today.
I use the term simpler loosely though. You still see the odd group 4 aimlessly wandering down the group 1 lane, then getting confused as to why they’re sent to the back of the long queue to the side.
The airport staff still tend to make up their own rules from time to time too, such as inviting groups 1,2 and 3 to board all at once – or on a more recent flight that I was on, board group 5 first.
Virgin Atlantic has gotten a little more complicated since I flew with them on a regular basis. Before it was Upper Class, Premium Economy and then by row starting from the rear. These days, their website states it as:
We’ll call Upper Class passengers, families with small children and passengers who require disability or mobility assistance to board the aircraft first, followed by Premium and Economy Delight passengers shortly afterwards.
Then Economy Classic and Economy Light passengers will be called by rows, starting from the back.
There are signs at the gate, so if you’re not sure follow those or ask a member of our ground staff dressed in red.
What about the low cost carriers?
With regards to low cost carriers, the process still more or less follows the old way. Without business class or frequent flyer programs to worry about, priority boarding is a paid for add on. As such, ground staff are far more inclined to follow the correct procedures.
What about elsewhere?
Over in the US, things are even more complicated. American Airlines have a massive TEN boarding groups. TEN!!!
Things don’t get much simpler over at Delta either. They also feature up to ten boarding groups:
Things are a little less complicated over at United, who match British Airways’ five boarding groups:
What’s considered to be the original low cost carrier, Southwest has probably one of the most complicated boarding procedures I’ve come across. Although having not flown with them, I’m sure it’s a far more simple process in real life as opposed to on paper. From southwest.com:
Boarding the Plane
How does the boarding process work?
You will be assigned a boarding group (A, B, or C) and position (1-60+) upon check in. Your unique group and position combination (for example: A35) will be displayed on your boarding pass and represents a reserved spot in the boarding group at the gate. Numbered posts in each of our gate areas indicate where to line up. When your boarding group is called, find your designated place in line and board the aircraft in numerical order with your boarding group.
What about Asia?
Things in Asia are more orderly. Upon waiting for a Japan Airlines flight back in 2013 I recall the ground staff being very proactive in sorting out the boarding groups. And it worked perfectly,
Over at Cathay Pacific, I recall them sticking to the older first class, business class and economy class procedure. And again, this was reasonably well checked and enforced. Whether this is still the same procedure as when I last flew the airline in 2016, I don’t know. There’s no info on their website.
Of course, nothing beats the boarding procedure I experienced over at Thai Airways when I flew first class. I had a personal escort from the lounge. Which was followed by being taken down on to the tarmac and driven to the side of the plane. Upon boarding, the door was closed behind me. Perfect!
I would comment on both the Qantas and Virgin Australia boarding procedures. I have flown with both airlines, however I can’t remember their specific procedures.
And once you’re on board…
Once you’ve figured everything out and made it down the jet way, don’t be the person that brings the whole boarding process to a halt! If you want to grab things from your bag, don’t stand in the aisle blocking everyone else. slide into your row, put your bag on the seats and sort it out there. That way everyone can still get past to their rows!