Virgin America Tries Letting People Without Carry-Ons Board First

We’ve seen a million different boarding schemes over the years. First there was boarding by rows, then came group boarding, and now many are going to the all-at-once cattle call strategy. But Virgin America is trying something different. They want to let you board first if you don’t have a carry-on. Smart idea, but something tells me the execution is going to kill this one.

Just to be clear, this isn’t a systemwide policy yet, but rather a test. According to spokesperson Abby Lunardini:

We’ve actually advised the teams in certain airports to adopt the ‘board without carry-on first’ approach to see if it makes the boarding process more smooth. We’ve not officially adopted this as a standard practice, but we’ve begun to explore it selectively.

I like the idea. Those without carry-ons can board quickly and not get stuck while others clog up the aisle while they try to stuff their worldly belongings into the overhead bins. Theoretically, it should speed up the boarding process. I say “theoretically” because I just can’t see it working considering customer behavior. And those people with carry-ons will be pissed.

Let’s think about this. You’ve brought your standard roll-a-board carry-on along with your purse. All you’re thinking about is finding your own piece of bin space so that you don’t have to wave goodbye to your bag at the bottom of the jet bridge as it finds its way into the belly of the airplane. If Virgin America announces boarding for those without carry-ons, are you going to try to get on anyway?

Not everyone will, of course, but there will be at least a few people who will try to sneak on. Then it becomes the gate agent’s job to enforce it, and that can get ugly. Also, what if you just have your purse? Does that count as a carry-on? What if you have a shoulder bag that you want to throw under your seat. Is that a carry-on or is it like an overgrown purse?

My guess is that while it probably seems obvious what should count and what shouldn’t, people will try to push the limits. The enforcement process might end up eating up more time than it saves by boarding this way.

Still, I like the idea in theory. I’m just really curious to see how it works in practice.

[Updated 10/20 @ 949a to remove photo]

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