Cranky on the Web: Why Boarding Sucks, Taking Out Loans to Travel

Boarding an airplane is such a pain in the neck. Can the process be fixed?Los Angeles Times
Catharine Hamm at the LA Times tackled a reader question about why boarding sucks. The problem, in my eyes, is all the carve-outs for people with status, credit cards, priority, etc. Go back to the way Northwest used to do it. “Attention passengers. Get on or we’re leaving you here.” The random scrum seems to work best. But those carve-outs will never go away, so it’s not going to happen.

Fly Now, Pay Later: Are Travel Loans a Good Deal?Associated Press/NerdWallet
A trend that’s long been normal elsewhere is becoming more popular in the US: taking loans out to fund travel. I am always skeptical about loans for things like this unless there’s a very specific reason. For example, let’s see you have a good friend getting married somewhere far away and you know your tax refund will cover it. You just don’t have it yet. Ok, fine. Do what you need to do to be there. But for regular vacations? It’s risky.

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31 Responses to Cranky on the Web: Why Boarding Sucks, Taking Out Loans to Travel

  1. Tim Dunn says:

    As long as there is a fight for overhead space, people will want to get on as soon as they can. US carriers have the most generous carry-on requirements and the most complicated boarding process based on pecking order. Americans wants to be able to take as much as they can onboard and airlines aren’t going to change that.

    • David M says:

      There was a period after the TSA virtually banned liquids, forcing everyone to check their bags, that there wasn’t a fight for overhead bin space. Then the airlines went and ruined it by charging for checked bags, and everyone went back to trying to carry everything on again.

  2. tekman says:

    Last time I flew AreoMexico the coach boarded from the rear forward, makes a lot of sense but the overhead could be full before the front seats are boarded..

  3. Oliver says:

    The Southwest boarding process seems to me the most effective. Everyone should know exactly when it is their turn.

    • Jim says:

      Of course it’s the most effective, but it makes it harder for them to monetize. Other airlines would rather make more money than give passengers a good experience.

      • Anthony says:

        I fly mostly SWA, for several reasons (e.g. no change fees) but their boarding process is the SWA feature I like least. I’d rather select a seat ahead of time, so I can be sure of getting a window.

  4. jxshannon2 says:

    I’m sure I read about a controlled test of various boarding theories, and random scrum won every time.

  5. If I’m traveling with a small bag that I will put underneath the seat in front of me and I’m flying coach, I like boarding last since that means less time stuck in an uncomfy coach seat.

    Boarding has become a thing about status and “importance” to the airline. Delta even has set it’s general boarding zones (Zones 2-4) based solely on fare class.

  6. Rich says:

    The problem is simply carry ons. Too many in the cabin of legacies. Means very slow boarding and the inevitable delay to gate check. Fly an ULCC who charge for a carry on so consequently there aren’t many and boarding is far faster and painless. And faster off at the other end. I would strongly agree with a move to the model of all tickets come with a personal item and then every bag, whether carry on or full sized check is $25

    • Spirit boarding is incredible. A bunch of people plowing on efficiently with backpacks. They can quickly toss them in the overhead bin, which is void of larger carry-ons.

      • Bill from DC says:

        But then you have to sit in their seat. Between the hardness and the 28 inch seat pitch, I’ve never been as uncomfortable.

        You are right about boarding though. No carve outs and very few big bags makes it very efficient.

        • Jim says:

          It’s fine for short flights. I wouldn’t want to be in one of their seats for longer than a few hours, however.

    • Tim Dunn says:

      OTOH, the “lost” 20 minutes (max) or so per flight from slower boarding and deplaning is factored into the schedules of the legacy carriers. And the legacy carriers don’t have much higher minimum turn times for comparable aircraft (seat size) that WN which does all it can to encourage passengers to check bags. Until the legacy carriers and WN charge for carry-ons (which tye likely won’t), there will just be very heavy carry-on loads on most US flights. And that is what most customers prefer compared to having to pay for checked bags and/or carry-ons.

  7. Dave at GSP says:

    I like the system Delta is using at ATL now to decrease the preflight mobbing of the gate. Every boarding group has its own line. I saw it being used at DCA last time I was there, too. Some of the T concourse gates at ATL are also using self-scanning contraptions that apparently won’t let you board before your group is boarding.

  8. Anthony says:

    Boarding via the rear door would probably be faster, since most of the mucky-mucks (first class, gold status, affinity credit card, etc.) will be headed for the front of the plane. While they’re getting settled up front, the aisle would be clear for the other pax to board (yes, I know it’s not going to happen).

    • Ron says:

      Jet bridges that can reach the rear of an aircraft are a rarity (most airports don’t have them); the wings get in the way…

      • Adrian in NZ says:

        However, it’s very common in my part of the world for people to board domestic flights from front and rear doors, where the rear door travellers walk across the tarmac and use stairs to the plane. For people who can’t manage stairs, there is a jet bridge to the front door, usually. Cabin baggage for many airlines is up to 7kg per person. I bet most of those roll-aboards full are more than that.

  9. Ron says:

    While loans specifically for travel might be new in the U.S., the converse (layaway) has been around with tour operators for a very long time: when you book a tour you’re typically provided with a schedule of payments, and if you don’t make the minimums then your total trip cost goes up. Of course, the entire balance is collected well before the tour.

    I was wondering why tour operators have this elaborate schedule, rather than just charge a nonrefundable deposit followed by the full balance closer to the time of the tour. Is it because their costs go up as the date of the tour gets closer, or is it because the population of tour-bookers needs this extra structure for saving up for a tour?

  10. Bjorn says:

    Loans-for-travel reminds me too eerily much of 2006-07 behavior.

  11. ChuckMO says:

    Well here’s my take on efficient boarding:

    First Class then Biz then Premium Economy then Back-To-Front with Families/Special Needs going between Premium Economy and the Economy folks.

    • Agree, this would ease the hassle if followed accordingly

      • Bill from DC says:

        It’ll never work because airlines have to respect the credit card holders paying for the privilege, they want to sell the privilege to other folks and they certainly have to respect the status level flyers who will otherwise feel disenfranchised and lose loyalty.

  12. A says:

    I get a kick out of families boarding where the kids are pulling roll-aboards that are as big as the kid is. Clearly they’re trying to skirt around a bag fee. Then of course that same family is jockeying for first on the plane.

    Have a good friend with three boys. I love how he travels with them. They wait literally until last minute before boarding. Then he sits them in the seat and gives a stern lecture that they are to sit forward and stay quiet for the entire flight and not to bother anyone. Since a stranger is usually seated next to one of them he tells that pax to feel free dishing out physical punishment for any bad behavior.

    And nothing beats an L2 door for boarding. 757 boards faster than an A321. 767 boards faster than a 757 since it has two aisles. It’s all about circulation space on the plan and getting people to where they need.

  13. MLM1979 says:

    Isn’t buying an airline ticket with a credit card ‘buy now pay later’?

    • CF says:

      MLM1979 – It is, but if you pay off your card every month then there’s no cost to it.

      • MLM1979 says:

        Very true, part of me was being a smarty pants! I personally use a credit card for every purchase (security and love those miles!), pay off my balance every month, and cannot fathom paying up to 36% interest for a trip. I guess I get it for emergency trips, but I have a feeling it’s going to be used more for ‘trip of a lifetime’ than emergency travel, the American way!

        Part of me wants to try out one of these just to see how prominently the actual interest rate is disclosed. May have to mention this to my paycheck to paycheck coworker who is always jaunting off to a different tropical location. I’m also curious to see what the default rate is. If someone has difficulty getting a credit card to buy a ticket and is willing to pay up to 36% interest for a flight, will they care about the ding on their credit for defaulting?

        Curious to see the default rate, either they’re expecting it to be high or they’ll be printing money and I want to invest in this concept. It’d be fascinating for you to do a follow-up on this phenomenon in a year or so.

  14. I took a TAP flight from Lisbon to LHR last year. No announcement, no kids, Gold 1, Silver 2, medallions, zones, elites, whatever, instead a guy just showed up at the desk two minutes before boarding time, and waved at us. Everyone got up and boarded. Everyone went on the plane and shoved their stuff wherever. Took maybe five minutes to load a full 737. It was very refreshing.

    • Anthony says:

      were there assigned seats, or was it SWA-style?

      • Bob Hallett says:

        Assigned seats, business class, the whole schmozzle. The gate agent just didn’t care. I have no idea if that is the norm for TAP flights out of Lisbon, but I swear the whole plane was boarded in no time. I have been on Dash-8s that took way longer. Plus there was a drink and boxed lunch for everyone on the plane. It was like flying in 1983. I didn’t even hear an announcement.

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