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American Debuts New ‘Simplified’ Boarding Process

Normally an airline updating its boarding process wouldn’t be newsworthy. But take a gander at American’s new boarding procedure, which debuted March 1, and … wow.

First off, there are nine boarding groups. Nine. This seems like a lot, but to be honest it’s in line with what American had previously. There is a new group for the airline’s recently launched basic economy service, and of course that group brings up the rear, boarding after everyone else.

Frequent fliers on American, however, will notice some significant and potentially confusing changes. In the old procedure, various frequent fliers and non-economy travelers boarded first via the priority lane, while economy travelers were assigned to numbered groups that boarded via the main boarding queue. There were four such numbered groups, meaning Group 4 boarded last.

Now, however, Group 4 truly boards fourth, via the priority lane. American also lists two Group 4s, which are presumably the same Group 4, despite being listed separately. Group 4 includes premium economy, which wasn’t accounted for in the old procedure.

Group 5 (which used to be group 1) through Group 9 boards via the main boarding lane.

If you’re sitting there thinking this all seems horribly confusing, you’re not wrong. That said, this a symptom of airlines slicing and dicing their product for profit, leading to an ever-growing number of fare classes and extra services travelers can purchase when they fly.

A la carte pricing is great for travelers who want to save a few bucks or, conversely, pay up for a better experience. But it also means accommodating these various tiers of service, which results in complicated and ultimately time-consuming procedures like this. You don’t end up with nine boarding groups if the goal is efficiency.

So as more travelers pay up for priority boarding, those that don’t plunk down the extra dollars pay as well, in the form of frustration and wasted time. Which, of course, is precisely the airlines’ idea: Maybe next time those frustrated passengers will pay for priority boarding, too, right?

But what if everyone does?

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