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]


33 Responses to Virgin America Tries Letting People Without Carry-Ons Board First

  1. oldiesfan6479 says:

    You realize you’re going to have Al Not-So-Sharpton and thee, uh, Revahrund, uh, Jesse, uh JACK-son all over your a** for the “editorial photo.”

    Maybe you should have used Balloon Boy instead!

  2. David SFeastbay says:

    How many people travel with out something to take on board? Some women’s purses are like small carry-ons so who will judge. To me no carry on means your hands are free and there is nothing slug over your shoulder or attached to your body that is not part of your clothing. Are canes, crutches, and babies a carry on?

    You will have people thinking a carry on is some form of baggage with clothes. They will not think their purse, brief case, camera bag, diaper bag, bag of mazagines they just bought, they bag of food they just bought or the little backpack on their 4 years back.

    You will have those having to wait get very vocal if they see people with large purses or anything else with them boarding.

    I can’t see this working just from the fact that very few people don’t have some form of carry on.

  3. notanoldiesfan says:

    Wow, what a racist response.

    Didn’t realize there were still people living in the dark ages reading your site–but apparently there are.

  4. NotaFanNow says:

    I’m no Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson, but I think your photo and caption are in poor taste. Will be tweeting about it!

  5. Sadly this idea won’t fly, and it makes me wonder about VA’s operational competence. But it’s nice to see VA experimenting.

    Cranky, I also think your photo is a bit too far on the edge. It’ll fly for some people but not for others. I can see this hurting in a couple of ways.

  6. frank says:

    @ David SFeastbay:

    Canes, crutches, reading material, Babies are NOT considered carry-on.

  7. JayB says:

    Theoretically, fine. Please define carry-on.

    As to boarding schemes, it really comes down to what the airline wants to do, and what it thinks its best customers want and will make them happy. [Novel idea, I know!] WN will be WN, and UA, won’t!

    From my perspective, at least relative to an airline using seat/row numbers for the boarding process, the biggest problems are that too many passengers don’t know their seat numbers, or at least they can’t find it on their boarding passes, and too often they can’t find seat/row numbers for the seats in the cabin. Perhaps boarding passes ought to show the aircraft diagram on it and “BOLD” a person’s seat number and location. Of course, assuming the airline knows the configuation of the plane that will be used. And seat numbers inside the cabin? Come on! Are they trying to hide them?

  8. @ JayB:

    I’m looking at a collection of boarding passes/stubs from various airlines on my bulletin board, and the word SEAT is in bold, with 29B, 30A, 9E, etc in triple size font than the rest of the pass. (what status I have huh)

    If one can’t find their seat number on a pass, or their row inside a plane – unfortunately that speaks to the intelligence of the travelers.

    If people seriously can’t find these details on an airplane ticket/cabin in makes me wonder how they find their seat at a stadium, or their car at Target. Or maybe they just revert to being dumb knowing someone will help them (as they plane has to take off,) whereas no one will delay the first inning because they’re standing in the aisle.

  9. Sandra Arnoult says:

    I like the idea. Some people board with a roll aboard suitcase, garment bag and computer bag – maybe even a huge purse. Bin hogs. Let those with smallish-hand luggage (not a steamer trunk or a huge garment bag) have a little more leeway in boarding. Encourage people to do the right thing. Discourage bin hogs.

  10. jordan says:

    Oldie – I think your comment is more racist, compared to cranky using the Rosa Parks picture!! – Nonetheless. The picture is totally inappropriate, and would only come from a white person! It shows your (cranky) lack of respect for black people to even go there! This is not the Onion!

    Anyway!

    Americans have issues when it comes to boarding flights. Due to the fact that very few Americans use critical thinking in the first place. Most fail to realise that arranging the process in the boarding area, or on the jetbridge while waiting to get onboard would actually speed things up!

    Having taken 100s of flights. As I walk down the jetbridge, whether I am in first, business or coach. My coat is off, or coming off. I get onboard. From the moment I hit my row. My bag goes overhead or under the seat, and I sit right down! Its a 15 second process!

    Im not standing there in the aisle..taking my coat off, looking through my bag for items I will need during the flight NOOOO! Im ready with what I need! Period!

    So i think Virgin has the right idea. But “most” American passengers are idiots! Thoughtless, rude…and SELFISH!!!!!!!!!! let me not forget (while on this path) very very intrusive! they never shut up “nooooo, I do not want to talk to you” when Im trying to sleep, read or work! jeeeezz. This is exactly why BA angled their first class seats away from others back in 1995!

    We need those pushers from Japan. Who push the people onto the trians in Tokyo!

    I also notice that alot of you trash Virgin. Yet this is currently the best airline in the US, and many companies fail to turn good yields/numbers/profit when they first start up! Things can look bad one minute, and change ever so quickly the next!

    One of the greatest issues in this country. Is lack of trying!! Dare someone try a new novel idea. It gets shot down, instead of encouragement!

  11. CF says:

    In its contract of carriage, Virgin America doesn’t really define carry-on baggage except by maximum size. It does, however, make it clear that a personal item (briefcase, purse, etc) is not a carry-on bag. So, that helps clarify a little, I suppose. I imagine that if this were to become policy, Virgin America would make it much more clear. I still like the idea – just not sure it’ll work in practice, but it’s certainly worth a shot.

    Also, if someone would like to explain to me why this picture if racist, please do. Inappropriate? Eh, possibly, but then again, most of my pictures are.

  12. Nicholas says:

    I think Allegiant already does this. I was on an Allegiant flight from Des Moines to St. Pete and they let those without carryons to board first.

  13. JustCrankyNow says:

    I don’t think the picture is racist. I think it’s insensitive – it trivializes a very serious (and painful) time in American history for African-American people.

    Although, I’m too young to have experienced segregation, I remember my grandmother’s stories about the extreme humiliation she experienced during many decades of segregation. So, it’s difficult to laugh or see any humor in your photo and caption. Instead, it just offends me and makes me slightly cranky:)

    I do appreciate your (and my) right to post the picture, which is what I tweeted to my followers.

  14. David SFeastbay says:

    With all the different ways airlines have tried to board people faster, has it ever been proven that any of those ways were faster? I don’t mean the airline saying it was, but some independent company checking it out.

    While I said it wouldn’t work, who knows after awhile maybe it would. But would you then see people checking bags so they could board first? Meaning a checked bag fee and maybe loosing their carry on bag or what’s inside just so their butt can be in a seat first?

    What ever we all say about it, it is still better then when UA made people in the back of the plane go out a door, walk down steps, walk along a plastic tunnel, climb up the rear mobile steps just to wait while people ahead of them took just as long to get seated. The only difference was you now had people standing outside on the steps rain or shine and had to have employees standing there watching that no passenger decided to take off and walk around the airport grounds which is a security no-no. It’s been ages since I fly UA, they don’t still do that do they?

    I still say get rid of the overhead bins and only use the underseat space. That would save weigh, boarding would be faster, airlines would get more checked bag fees and you wouldn’t hit your head on the bin when standing up. Well get rid of the overhead bins except when I fly. Then they would have a special gold plated one just for me to use. :-) I’m so special you know……lol

  15. Neil S says:

    The picture is funny. When did this country lose its ability to take a joke?

    Oh, and the Virgin policy is dumb.

  16. CF says:

    JustCrankyNow wrote:

    I don’t think the picture is racist. I think it’s insensitive – it trivializes a very serious (and painful) time in American history for African-American people.

    Well, I hope you know that the intent wasn’t to be insensitive. I’m sorry you find it to be that way, but this certainly wasn’t meant to trivialize what she accomplished.

    David SFeastbay wrote:

    With all the different ways airlines have tried to board people faster, has it ever been proven that any of those ways were faster? I don’t mean the airline saying it was, but some independent company checking it out.

    When America West went to the reverse pyramid system, it was at the suggestion of an ASU study that decided it was the fastest way to do it. I believe it did prove to work well until they realized all the preboarding and exceptions that gummed everything up.

  17. Seth says:

    NW was doing this for a while last winter. I didn’t experience it long enough to judge how big of an impact it had on the process, as I attained elite status shortly after they started and therefore started boarding at the beginning. As a weekly commuter who always has a roll-aboard and a laptop bag for under the seat, it sure was frustrating to have to wait until the end even though I was a regular. On the other hand, I saw the fairness in this approach. On an airline that has assigned seating, it doesn’t really matter for the people with roll-aboards, because they know that the people going ahead of them aren’t taking their bin space. Furthermore, why wouldn’t the airlines want to reward people for bringing less on board?

  18. NM says:

    @ Neil S:

    Agreed.

  19. Ron says:

    I thought using multiple doors was supposed to speed things up. Easyjet and Allegiant do it where they’re not required to use jet bridges. I wonder how difficult it is to design a jet bridge that gets to the aft of the plane — it seems like the wing would get in the way.

  20. Ron wrote:

    I wonder how difficult it is to design a jet bridge that gets to the aft of the plane — it seems like the wing would get in the way.

    Its actually already been done. See Double Docker. Although I remember some inkling of these having a higher rate of airplane strikes which can make them expensive.

  21. gsutiger2 says:

    The picture is in poor taste. Comparing airplane boarding to civil rights where people actually lost their lives. Oh, by the way . . . I DO have a sense of humor.

    On another note, I do get ticked off with people who wait to find their seats and then prepare their “area” for sit down (i.e. slowly taking off coat, finding spots for all the carry ons, finding the PERFECT spot for the coats, putting the food down, finding magazine etc . . . ).

  22. David SFeastbay says:

    No matter the size of a plane in an emergency it must be evacuated in 90 seconds. Maybe airlines should start doing the reverse and give an incentive to board a plane within 3 minutes with everyone seated and overhead bins closed.

    Since it would mean faster turn arounds, the incentive could be a refund of X percent of your fare for everyone.

    Now all that was said in jest, but the airline seem to do what they can to get more money from passengers then the price of the ticket, so maybe an incentive to get your butt in the seat faster could help their turn around times.

    The best and fastest boarding would not be to some people liking, but would get the job done. Just herd people in the plane with a set (short) time to do it. The first people in move to the back of the plane and start filling up the rows back to front, that’s how the army would do it. Have 5 minutes to board and when the time is up shut the door and anyone not on doesn’t go. That would keep people from hanging around for the end of the line to get the front rows.

    If we can do this on commuter trains/subways then people can do it for airplane. People rush onto the train so they can get a seat so they don’t have to stand. Well people can rush into the plane so they don’t get left behind.

    Since we are dealing with humans and not robots, there will never be a sure thing way to board faster. A 20 year old will always be faster then a 70 year old, a single traveler will always be faster then a couple with small children. I think instead of passengers having to board faster because of the airlines, the airlines will need to change things to allow for longer boarding times due the passengers.

  23. I ALWAYS check my roller bag, even carry-on size, for three reasons – I’m a girl and I like other people dealing with my bags; I HATE dealing with the bin-rush sprint; and I love getting on the plane dead last. Why do people want to sit on airplanes before take-off? They’re going to be crammed in the thing for two, four, eight, whatever hours; why get on one minute earlier?

    When the baggage fees were first announced, I reconsidered my checked-bag philosophy but then experienced the implications – more people carrying on bags, an even tenser bin-rush sprint and a longer board time so all those extra bag-carriers can take extra time to find room for their bags. Every US flight I’ve taken since the baggage fees were implemented has resulted in forced on-board baggage checking by the attendants, with sometimes very angry passengers as a result.

    The upside for me – my checked bags come out even faster at the destination airport because there are fewer bags to handle!

  24. CF says:

    Nicholas Barnard wrote:

    Its actually already been done. See Double Docker. Although I remember some inkling of these having a higher rate of airplane strikes which can make them expensive.

    Yep. United tried this in Denver for Ted when I was working there, and I seem to remember it actually fell down on the wing at one point. I know Southwest was doing it in Albany as well.

    On another note, I’ve spoken with a couple of friends of mine who are black and generally can’t be offended by anything. When they said that the picture went too far, I decided it was time to pull it down.

  25. JayB says:

    David SFeastbay wrote:

    Since we are dealing with humans and not robots, there will never be a sure thing way to board faster. A 20 year old will always be faster then a 70 year old, a single traveler will always be faster then a couple with small children. I think instead of passengers having to board faster because of the airlines, the airlines will need to change things to allow for longer boarding times due the passengers.

    Very well said!

    Of course, we could hire “jammers!” Maybe a FedEx-like package sorter, and something to throw us into our seats. But can’t we just accept a few problems in our daily lives?

    Unless every person getting on the plane is a clone of each other, problems, at least what we feel are problems, will develop. Can you ever expect everything to work just perfectly when you’re dealing, at one place, elite seasoned travelers, first-time travelers, old people, young people, kids, handicapped folks, families who may or may not be scheming for their own TV reality shows, people whose cultures seem to dictate a survival of the fittest mentality. The real world.

    We just want avoidable difficulties/hazards to be cleared away before we get on the plane and hope that our fellow travelers are at least a little cognizant of the needs of someone other than themselves. Well, maybe that is asking for too much!

  26. David SFeastbay says:

    JayB …., families who may or may not be scheming for their own TV reality shows,

    That’s a good one. Word to the wise, if you see Balloon Boy Daddy getting on your plane….leave! lol

  27. Davester says:

    where did the picture go? I thought it was funny. It reminded me of those black and white (no pun intended) Mac commercials with famous people that obviously didn’t have a Mac – I think Hemmingway, Mohammed Ali, maybe James Dean (or was that GAP?). I think the picture was very smartly done, and is a tribute to Ms Parks in a certain way. That it is, it places her brave act in a humorous contemporary setting. It’s not a like it was a picture of someone being beat up that was then used for this purpose. Lighten up, and I don’t mean that in the Michael Jackson sort of way.

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  32. sunil says:

    interesting idea – when i was flying from puerto rico to dallas tx, american airlines tried boarding backrow to front, window first and then middle and aisle. worked wonders and i wonder why not more airlines do this!

  33. Rak says:

    Am flying on one of the test routes for this policy right now. I think it worked great. There didn’t appear to be anyone breaking the rules and it allows for non-bin folks to get settled and not have to wait for people struggling with luggage. They make it very clear that people who don’t have anything to store in the overhead bins qualify.

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