US Airways Ditches Scientific Boarding for the Cattle Call

In last week’s internal company newsletter, US Airways noted that it was switching up its boarding US Airways New Boarding Systemprocess. They’ve gone back to basics. Instead of trying to figure out the best way to board from a time-saving perspective, they’re just gonna let people fight it out.

The new plan is similar to what Northwest does, though I’m not sure if that’s changed under the Delta regime. In short, important people board first, and then everyone else gets to board together in the back. They’ve actually made it much more complicated than that. Here’s the new hierarchy:

  • Slow Pokes (Pre-boarding) – Those who need help boarding (disabled or old) or those with kids under 5

  • Really Important – Premium cabin passengers and top tier elite members (excludes Silver)

  • Sort of Important – Silver elite members, US Airways credit card holders, and people who paid for premium coach seats (exit row, etc)

  • Not Important but Cheaper to Process – those who check-in online

  • Not Important and More Expensive to Process – everyone else

Seems like a lot of groups to me. The only major thing here that we haven’t seen before is that those who check-in online get to board ahead of those who don’t. It’s a nice little incentive that I would think might help push people to go online. That’s the goal, of course, since it’s cheaper for the airline.

But what’s significant here is that they’ve completely abandoned any sort of science in trying to board people in the quickest way. The old system was called the “Reverse Pyramid” which, besides being a move you’d probably like to see a cheerleader make, also, according to research performed by ASU, was the fastest way to board. Maybe US Airways has decided that it feels the same way about ASU as the Daily Show does.

More likely, however, is that they’d carved out so many exceptions that it didn’t actually help much anymore. See the reverse pyramid plan starts with windows in the back, then windows in the middle and middles in the back, and then windows up front, middles in the middle, and aisles in the back, etc.

In the last few years, so many exceptions popped up that allowed early boarding that the benefits of using the reverse pyramid have probably disappeared. So now they’ll just scrap the system and let the peons fight it out.

[Original Image from Mauricio Santana (Tux) via Flickr]

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24 Comments on "US Airways Ditches Scientific Boarding for the Cattle Call"

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David
Guest
Not convinced this is an entirely good idea. If an airline does not assign seats at checkin, the cattle call approach works well – it heavily incentivises people to choose a seat quickly. If however seats *are* assigned at checkin, and passengers know there will be a cattle call at boarding, passengers are thus incentivised to wait until the mob has sorted itself out… and only *then* board. While this may get the bulk of passengers in their seats a little faster, those stragglers who deliberately wait til the end of baording before going down onto an aircraft are the… Read more »
Ron
Guest
I’ve never flown US Airways. Did they really use the reverse pyramid rather than the more common boarding by rows? I see two problems with the reverse pyramid: 1. Parties of 2 or 3 sitting next to each other — were they forced to board separately? 2. Aisles always board last in their row — this is indeed efficient, but it means that aisle seats as a rule get much less access to overhead bin space. This should make aisle seats less desirable than they would be otherwise. David — if you need overhead bin space, you’d better try to… Read more »
malbarda
Member

…and in related news, did you see that Ryanair now will charge for printing your boarding pass at home? http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/ryanair-set-to-charge-1635-for-online-checkin-1684589.html

The Traveling Optimist
Guest
The Traveling Optimist

Cranky –

By cattle call do you mean they’ve completely eliminated boarding passes and assigned seats or is it just a free-for-all as far as boarding by row or zone number?

David SF eastbay
Member
To me boarding never seems quick no matter what the airline did. I didn’t like when United used front and back doors to board. At SFO if you were in the back of the plane you had to use an exit door and walk down stairs to the tarmac and walk this covered plastic tunnel to the rear of the place and then climb stairs to board. Those in the front of the plane used the jetway. That was so stupid. Granted it used to be slower when non ticketed people could go past security. Remember the old days when… Read more »
Shane
Guest
How long before this officially or unofficially evolves into a 3 step process: 1) pre-board, 2) premium cabin, FF’s w/status 3) everybody else. I assume that your zone will be printed on your boarding pass. But how will they know if you have a Dividend Miles credit card? Those programs are not run by US Air, and perhaps you purchased the ticket with another card? And if you check in online, but pick up your boarding pass at the airport, do you get bumped into Zone 4? Luckily for US, since they will still call out boarding by zones, this… Read more »
Nick Barnard
Member
Eh, I think this is a poor call on USAirways’s part.. I think they should’ve done a better job of managing the exceptions. If someone is an Elite their zone should be moved. With the bar code scanned boarding passes they should be able to gather enough data about consumer behavior to develop a system to dynamically assign people to zones the night before the plane flies to optimize boarding starting with the ideal pyramid then figuring out how to work through the exceptions. Ron – I believe the windows in the back was zone 5, and the windows in… Read more »
BLR
Guest

Cranky,

How can you say that this is the first time we’ve seen folks who check in online get to board first? We all know about the free for all that happens online once the 24 hour window opens on Southwest. So, in effect, the folks that check in early online do get preferential boarding.

Jim S
Guest

Hey Cranky,

You’re a nice young vigorous fellow who probably moves at a fast clip through the airport. In your thank-you letter for their wedding gifts, ask your grandmother, or your mother, their age group label preference. I suspect it won’t be “the old.”

Cheers!

Jeffrey
Guest

It’s a very good idea in my opinion. I’ve always hated the boarding by seat location.

Nick Barnard
Member

I’m with CF.. “old” is an appropriate descriptor. There are some words that are patently offensive in and of themselves (e.g. the “n” word)

You need to read a writer’s intent, not their explicit words. In this case Cranky’s intent, wasn’t to be cranky and snarky, just descriptive of those who take a little longer than others to get on the plane.

botamern
Member
Shane and CF, The question of whether or not a passenger has a US Airways branded credit card is easily integrated into their frequent flyer profile. As long as the ACS (check-in system) can query the FQTV database at time of check-in, it can easily determine what zone to assign the passenger. The trick to this being that someone would need to be using their DividendMiles FF number, and not a parter FF number. I do agree that the reason behind boarding delays are not the process or the manner in which groups are determined when used but the fact… Read more »
Greg
Guest

I was recently on a NW flight (I’m Gold Medallion on DL), and I was absolutly appaled at the boarding process.

1) I spend good money to be allowed to pre-board
2) You had old blue-hairs in row 13 who were holding up a long line of people while they were getting seated.

I strongly believe in F, Elite, and Y from back to front. Otherwise it’s just chaos.

Greg
Guest

Wait, I should add one addendum. NW did not prevent non-elite from boarding with elite. If you walked to the gate, they scanned you boarding pass and still let you on. I know this because I saw the boarding card of the person in front of me, it simply indicated that they were a skymiles member as opposed to listing their elite status.

Allen
Guest
I wasn’t impressed with Delworst’s approach last time I flew @ a month ago. The problem with the free for all is that the airlines for all practical purposes do not enforce their carry on policies. I don’t want to be stuck with backpack under the seat in front of me. I want that space to help keep my legs happy. If you don’t get up and stand in line in anticipation of the boarding announcement you’re probably going to have that happen especially with all those people bringing on a big ass carry on alogn with a “purse” that… Read more »
Cheri
Guest

I fly out of Charlotte, so am largely stuck with USAir… Are they not the only airline that segregates out Silver for lesser treatment? And they appear to be the only airline that offers no separate lane for Elites to board if they miss the pre-board. The leader in extra fees, the leader in poor service.

Ron
Guest

Allen — I think you’re right about carry-ons being the biggest factor in boarding speed. I remember flying in the UK in late 2006, when they instantiated the super-strict liquid and carry-on bans, and boarding was a breeze — so much that there were even calls to make the restrictions permanent. But overall I prefer the inconvenience of waiting behind people with big carry-ons over the inconvenience of having to check my luggage.

Joe Jones
Guest

The thing is, I have never seen US enforce their boarding zones before. As a Star Gold, I would always be ready to board in the first zone, only to have a crowd of Kettles in Zones 24 through 76 cut in line ahead of me and be let on board by the hapless gate agent. So US might as well abolish the fiction of zones if they aren’t going to enforce them anyway.

CJM
Guest
Yup. Used to be Silver on USAir when I lived in Raleigh. We did not board with our Gold and above brethren. I’m Silver with Delta now and it’s all at the same time. That just seems more efficient to me anyway. Why should the gate agent have to announce 3 different groups before starting general boarding? This in NO way is an endorsement of Delta. I reached Medallion status by segments instead of miles from a few international flights like I did with USAir. That much contact with any airline doesn’t leave the best taste. @ Cheri:
Kate
Guest
The US Airways “zone boarding” is the most ridiculous way to board people. Since I have almost no other choice, I have to fly US Airways almost twice a months. I refuse to pay extra for a seat of my choice or get their credit card or become their “elite” passenger all of which would have put me in boarding zone 2. I am not buying 1st class tickets either which cut me off of boarding zone 1. I prefer not in the back of the airplane which cut me off boarding zone 4. When I called their customer service… Read more »
Nicole
Guest

KATIE!!! Thank you for solving the mystery for me!!! I’m traveling in a few hours to LA and was just here bitching to a friend about my check in zone.. I always get a window seat and I’m always somewhere in the middle 12, 13,14… No matter when I check in, I’m ALWAYS in Zone 5. I do carry on always but because I’m Zone 5, I always run the risk of having to bag check at the gate by the time 1-4 get on!!! AND I HAVE THEIR DAMN CARD..but not the premier..RIDICULOUS!!!

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