Delta’s New Boarding Process Makes It Seem Like The Airline Has Nothing Better To Do


Sometimes it just feels like Delta has run out of important things to spend time working on. Last week’s announcement of a change in the way boarding will be done starting January 23 seems like something that really didn’t need to happen. To hear Delta talk about it, you’d think this was a world-changing innovation.

Zone boarding, an aviation standard for decades, will soon be a thing of the past for Delta customers as the airline makes a global shift to boarding by branded fare purchased.

Let me translate that for you:

We still haven’t found anything better than zone boarding, but if we change the name from zone number to branded fare type, then we can pretend we’ve done away with zone boarding AND make you feel bad for buying a cheap fare.

Nobody has ever been able to solve the boarding problem, because nobody has been willing to eliminate all the carve-outs to allow early boarding for people in the premium cabin, active-duty military, left-handed girls, credit card holders, people with a last name starting with “Z,” elite members of the frequent flier program, men with heterochromia, and those who have paid for priority boarding. I’ve said it before, and I still think Northwest had it right when it just swung open the door and told everyone to get on and shut up. But thanks to all these carve-outs, those days are long gone.

Many airlines have settled on this idea of zones, and Delta is no exception. Instead of calling by rows, Delta just groups people into zones depending upon whatever its algorithm decides that day. You board when your zone is called. The nice thing about this is that airlines can then change their boarding order without changing the process. They can just shuffle which seats fall into which zone. I personally find it works pretty well from that perspective.

The perceived problem with numbered-zone boarding, I suppose, is that people start to feel like second-class citizens when they’re down at the bottom. For example, American recently renamed its zones, and it now has 10 of them. The first is just for fancy Concierge Key members and has no number, but then it’s groups 1 through 9 from there with group 9 being those who are either traveling in Basic Economy or those who have ever published a negative social media comment about American.*

(*Probably not true. Probably.)

There’s something very impersonal about being told you’re in group 3 or 7 or whatever, but American still thought it was better to give everyone a group number instead of having a bunch of non-numbered groups with numbers starting halfway through, as United does. (I tend to agree.) United may only have 5 groups, but that’s because a ton of groups get to board before they start the numbers.

But is there really an issue here with how the numbering works? Maybe Delta has done some deep research work to find out that yes, people hate this and want a different way. Either that or someone just got the grand idea that it was time for a shift regardless of any hard data showing that it would be better. (I’d put money on the latter.)

Here’s what’s happening:

Branded Boarding

Delta has now expanded from having 6 zones to having 8 of them. Premium has been split up so that Delta One (business class) now boards separately from Premium Select (premium economy). Also, Comfort+ has been split out from Sky Priority. So, uh, how is this eliminating boarding zones?

It’s not. It’s just eliminating the numbers (mostly). Every separate branded fare product has its own boarding group (coach has three and those are numbered). To make things even more thrilling, each cabin will have its own “color accent” to distinguish between the different offerings.

The differences in colors are relatively subtle, and I really don’t think their inclusion is going to help the boarding process at all. To me, this just seems like a branding exercise that has nothing to do with efficiency. I understand brand is important, but it’s not clear to me that this will really help enhance the brands in any way. It’s not like someone will board and say “man, now that I see the colors, I wish I would have bought Delta One.”

Instead, what we’ll see is that those in the premium cabin will still board at the same time and not care about if there are numbers or not. And those in the back will now board at the same time, but they will be publicly shamed for having bought the cheap fare. Before, Group 4 may have been a less overt way of saying “Hey cheap-ass, you only care about price and nothing else so you bought Basic Economy.” Now it’s just “Basic Economy” front and center.

I suppose we’ll be able to judge the success of this by how long it takes for the boarding process to be tweaked again. It never stays the same for too long, and Delta seems interested in changing more frequently than most. I guess that’s what happens when things are going well and you run out of more productive ways to spend your time.

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87 comments on “Delta’s New Boarding Process Makes It Seem Like The Airline Has Nothing Better To Do

    1. Boarding passes will still be black and white, you will still have agents making announcements, and the colors are dark with white lettering. I cant guarentee they will be fine but there are other ways to know when to board.

    2. J – It’s funny – the original title of the post was “Delta Angers the Colorblind…” But the colors are just a small part of the whole thing.
      People will still be able to find out how to board.

      As for colors being more distinguishable, Delta is trying to build a brand. They aren’t going to put up a kaleidoscope of colors. It would be easier but then it would be off-brand.

  1. It still doesn’t solve the problem of managing the Ketles. It just makes things more confusing.

  2. I am just glad they seperated Sky Priority and Comfort Plus. My big issue is that C+ customers would see Sky on their boarding pass and think they had access to all the other features that Sky Priority has including tags and the SP lines. The next problem will be Amex holders still thinking they can board first because they have “Priority” boarding.

    1. But C+ ticket holders do have access to all those perks unless something is branded for medallion (gold, platinum, inobtanium, etc) members only. The Amex thing is a joke because the reality is that giving anyone with gold and higher “sky priority” boarding means bins are often full midway through zone 1 boarding.

      1. C+ ticket holders do not have access to Sky Priority lanes for check in nor do they receive Sky Priority tags.

        1. It may depend on the gate agents but I have several colleagues that have got the yellow priority tags on their baggage when flying on C+ tickets. The sky priority lanes are not strictly enforced either. IF they cared about it being truly for the elite it would be limited to PREM ticket holders only.

          1. Were those paid C+ tickets, or were they Gold Medallion or higher who had been upgraded? Gold and higher gives all Sky Priority features, but C+ by itself only provides Sky Priority boarding.

  3. Do. Not. Like. In addition to the crassly-classist way of explicitly pointing out who bought the Cheap Seats, the expansion of zones (and long names for them) increases the noise and hustle in the gate area, and makes for extra work for the gate agent, especially at stations that don’t have automated zone announcements.

    If airlines truly cared about efficient boarding, they’d bring back at least a single free checked bag (or charge more passengers to bring them… but I can’t say I’m a big fan of “act as much like an ULCC as possible” approach. Kind of $hits on the brand.) Nothing slows down boarding like people trying to cram too-large carry-ons into too-full bins. One reason I think Southwest generally turns so quickly is that people with large bags or lots of stuff just check. Until they fix the carry-on problem, it doesn’t really matter how you arrange boarding order.

    1. I really don’t think the checked bag has as much of an effect as people think it does.

      People remember when there was a free bag and how much easier boarding was…but in 2002 US carriers had a ~71% load factor, with some months in the mid 60’s.
      Where today the YTD average is ~83% with July being at 87% load factors.

      So there are probably 20% more people per flight and the increase in load factor has happened at the same general time as bag fees started and have gone up.

      Combine increased load factors with the increase in seats on planes and you’ve got WAY more people on board than in the past.

      It would also be interesting to see some type of study that shows the percentage of people who aren’t checking their bag only because of the cost. I bet it’s actually not all that many bags that would be saved, otherwise there would be a tsunami of people running to the Gate Agent when they ask if anyone wants to check their bag at the gate for free.

    2. I strongly agree, but airlines are so used to the extra money that they get from nickel and diming their customers so forget it event though it makes sense. Another thing they could do to make things flow smoother is to get rid of same-day change fees so things go smoother when flights cxl.

      1. Same day change fees and getting rebooked when flights cancel have nothing to do with each other. Not even Spirit charges you to change your flight when the flight your on cancels.

        Free same day changes would likely cause way more confusion and chaos with the boarding process. People getting on and off of flights at will is not going to help the boarding process one bit.

        1. Usually, if someone gets to the airport and can take an earlier flight, it has no effect on anything. It just creates goodwill with the airline, something they don’t care about any more.

          But if the later flight cancels, not having to accommodate the person who switched to the earlier flight makes the airline’s (and staff’s) job that much easier.

          1. Especially if you have shuttle type operations, it would seem to make a lot of sense from an overall efficiency perspective to let people from later flight stand by on earlier flights for no or very low cost. Get them on their way, have a sea on a later flight that might be useful for a misconnecting high value flyer, or as you say may be one less problem in case of a later cancel. The empty seat on the earlier flight doesn’t seem to do the airline any good.

    3. Charging more for a carryon is much better at that goal then giving a free checked bag. Hell anyone who flies more than twice a year can justify one of the many ways to get a free bag.

  4. Of course, none of this refusal to apply Occam’s Razor takes into account the fact that many, many of the passengers waiting to board simply don’t listen to any announcement. Further, the ability for gate staff to announce any sort of boarding order coherently usually displays many failed attendees of the Columbia School of Broadcasting. I for one work diligently to maintain some sort of priority in order to at least be among the early boarding cohort but am always amused, and angered at times, by the behavior of many of my flight companions as they seek to jump the queue in numerous creative ways.

    I am not a Delta frequent flyer, but find this “system” really creative in the worst possible way.

    When I have boarded and am sitting in my front cabin aisle seat (on domestic flights) and those following me are standing by my seat waiting to move toward the back…if the individual standing by my seat is a young person of perhaps pre-teen years…I often lean over to them and smile and tell them that if they work really hard and do all of their homework then some day they too will be able to sit up front…just like me…almost always the accompanying adult will be amused and offer a smile while the young person doesn’t know quite what to do. Though I know they are wondering just who these folks are sitting already while they are standing among all of the stationary legs and clunky carry-on bags.

    Gary & Karen Lowe

    In our time, must we not face the possibility that the human mind as a social fact might be deteriorating in quality and cultural level, and yet not many would notice it because of the overwhelming accumulation of technological gadgets?

    > Cranky Flier | Delta’s New Boarding Process Makes It Seem Like The Airline Has Nothing Better Do

  5. I always get a good chuckle when they call 10 zones for a regional jet and there are multiple zones with nobody – or 1 person – in them. Looks like I have plenty more chuckles ahead of me.

    On a cranky note, I think the only seriously bad PR to be had in boarding is having uber-elites board before active duty military. Seems like that’s getting more and more common. All the good citizenship points go away, and then some, if before every flight you’re essentially saying “we honor our service members… BUT still not as much as our top dollar customers!”

    If you’re gonna do the service member priority, they gotta come first. Drives me crazy every time I hear it.

    1. Even better when the small props were more common. Yes, I’ve seen zone boarding on a Brasilia — the plane has fewer seats than passengers in a single zone on a 737.

  6. Since Delta says they now get less than half of their revenue from coach passengers, this is simply about acknowledging the actual classes and cabins for half of the boarding process instead of reducing them to boarding zones.

    Slicing the premium boarding process more finely is what you would expect a company to do that continues to grow its premium revenues.

  7. Thanks for calling out Delta and highlighting that these new boarding group names are just corporate crap.

  8. Wait. People will spend hours and days, going to the ends of the earth looking for a cheap fare with the same gusto as looking to buy a house. Then prattle on endlessly about the ‘score’ they got. Then they feel bad about it? Something does not compute. There has to be more to this.

    On a separate note, I couldn’t care less anyway. When I do have to fly (which is thankfully-rare), I sit off to the side…at a lounge if there’s one nearby while keeping an eye on both the clock and the process. I don’t need or want to be part of that boarding circus anyway. It’s utter chaos the entire time and as long as I make it before they close the door, everyone will get their seat anyway. Why does everyone want to trample themselves to spend an extra five minutes on the sardine can anyway? Again, something does not compute. Not unless “being first” is mental gratification in and of itself.

    1. Many passengers are worried about being forced to check their bag if the flight is full and they’re towards the back of the line.

      1. Delta’s reworking of its boarding process involves the premium classes/cabins so doesn’t change whether someone at the back of the boarding process will have to check a bag or not.
        And, just to be clear, Delta has always allowed a carryon plus a personal item so if your carryon (almost always a rollerboard) has to be checked, there is no charge. American just went to this same model for all economy classes so everyone really does get one free checked bag.

        And let’s also not pretend that Southwest doesn’t have to check bags at the gate. They do.

        1. I was responding to the second part of his comment, about the chaos and why people try so hard to be on the plane quicker. It’s also worth noting that this system also clearly separates the comfort+ passengers (who do have “reserved” bin space) from gold/platinum/paid sky priority passengers who are seated in main cabin and are worried about bin space.
          As for your point about Southwest, in my travels I have mostly been on Southwest and Delta, flying from a Southwest focus city. In the Southwest gate areas you see far fewer roller bags, and I have only seen them ask for volunteers to check once in 5 years.

  9. I’m surprised Delta didn’t give themselves an award and then promote their new policy as “award-winning.” Personally, I’d rather see them find some way to keep the people in the back of the bus out of the #$%^&* way when other people are trying to board. If only I could carry a death-ray gun to use on the dips who still won’t get out of the way after saying “excuse me” five times.

  10. I don’t see why it is such a pain; why not

    1. Preboard elderly/disabled/people with small kids
    2. Preboard Military because social honor and stuff
    3. Board the fancy pants crowd (1st class) and any people that buy expedited boarding to ensure they get overhead bins
    4. Board us plebs, but do it from the back of the plane to the front in whatever groups
    a. Boarding is quicker because the groups should not clash
    b. If “your” overhead bin is full it is better to snipe one in front so you are not flowing counter to stream on deplaning.

    5. If basic economy includes carryons make them board last, and get last pick of overhead bins, if not board them last so they are out of the way while everyone else stuffs things into overhead bins.

    Boom done, pay me.

    1. My next DL flight will be on a 717 in Basic Economy, because $340 for a 3-hour nonstop booked well in advance is plenty enough to be forking over to Delta…not worth throwing another $60 at ’em as it’s not like I’m going to get status with them either way. Fingers crossed that I keep my “haven’t had to gate check” streak going; when I land I want to be out of the airport ASAP rather than waiting at the baggage carousel.

      Of course, being in BE means the boarding process effectively hasn’t changed for me. I’ll take the name-and-shame in return for a ~20% lower fare (though if they took the carry-on away it’d be a harder sell, hence my not even considering BE on United).

      1. Good luck, I seem to get about one gate check per round trip, Delta, United or American; all in normal economy (work trips).

        I don’t mean to cast an shade at BE, I’d probably buy the cheapest tix myself, but it only makes sense that it is the fare class that gets shafted the most LOL

    2. Boarding back to front means that you have a plug of people with seats in the same general area for each group. The best order in theory is to assign everyone a boarding number to allow enough space for them to do what they need to do to get settled and then put the next group on. Since, this requires a precise order, it’s completely unrealistic. The next best thing is random and the chances are good that people will be in different areas of the cabin so they aren’t in each other’s way.

      1. “Since, this requires a precise order, it’s completely unrealistic.”

        I think Southwest has proved this to be false. If you’ve ever been in the queue for an SWA flight you have surely witnessed the self-sorting process of the masses when they are assigned an individual number. “Excuse me, I have A38, what’s your number?”

        1. Pretty much, get into your groups, and then in the groups sort yourself into row/wilma orders; rather than aimlessly milling about in the gate area might as well try to get some of that organization done there

          1. The reason why WN can go by a sequence number and not a legacy is that they don’t have assigned seats. If you happen to be out of sequence, it just means you might not get the seat you want and have to sit somewhere else. It doesn’t work like that on a legacy carrier. So, people who show up late would have to ask others to move so they can get to their seats and have to hunt around for overhead bin space.

            1. Ok, you missed your group?

              You don’t get to board until the current group is done, and then you go before the next group. (Since you are further down the airplane) or you wait until last in a penalty box of shame area.

  11. (*Probably not true. Probably

    I cant remember where I read it, but one of the Asian airlines Asiana? was giving upgrades to those who they classified as “social media stars. So your comment maybe closer to the truth.

    As for boarding – it’s time to just let people board & cut out the pretense of importance beyond those who need assistance or those with children.

    1. I mostly agree with this, but first class is an exception. On every US legacy, the first class product includes a pre-flight drink service, and there wouldn’t’ be any time for it if they don’t board first. So as long as that service is a part of the product, it makes some sense for them to board first.

  12. Boarding on AA has got considerably worse since they went to their new system, and most every flight I travel on is backed up on the jetbridge to a greater extent than in the past.
    We are going back to classes of travel like they used to have on trains many years ago – 1st class, 2nd class and 3rd class, etc! Just like group 1, group 2, group 3, etc!

    1. that could be partly a function of how fast flights are given to board. You can’t board a 150 seat aircraft in 20 minutes. Not even Southwest tries that anymore. Americans want to take their bags on board when they can and it has nothing to do with cost and everything to do with Americans’ sense of independence and a do it yourself mindset. Airlines benefit by having passengers carry their own luggage with fewer ground workers and fewer mishandled bags. The ten minutes extra ground time per flight doesn’t really cost the ability to offer more flights because all airlines are starting their schedule earlier in the day and ending it later in the evening – and that trend will continue because of gate constraints at many of the nation’s busiest airports.

      Let’s also not forget that there are many places in American life where people are segregated based on what they spend – stadiums, parking lots etc. Americans love to act as if they want an egalitarian society but are willing to pay more to get privileges over other people.

      1. just because US-based carriers aren’t capable of it doesn’t mean it can’t exist. ANA routinely boards 500-pax domestic 777-300 (non-ER) in like 20-25 minutes.

        1. yes, I have been on those ANA flights.
          Again, Americans WANT to carry more stuff on board and widebody aircraft have more overhead room per passenger than narrowbodies.

          US carriers give US customers what they want which is the ability to carry more stuff on board than airlines in most of the rest of the world. There are still limits and every airline has different strategies to deal with the excess number of bags above what the overhead bins can hold.

          As for Southwest (above), they also do not have the percentage of business passengers that the legacy carriers have. Yes I know they have business passengers and serve a lot of short haul routes where one day meetings minimize the need for overnights but they simply do not have the number of business passengers as American, Delta, and United. I live in a Southwest focus city (that is also not a legacy carrier hub) and can easily tell the difference between the customer base on a Southwest vs. a big 3 flight. Leisure customers are much more likely to carry bags larger than what will fit in the overhead bin and also put less priority on getting out of the airport as fast as business people

          1. Amen! You nailed it. When people travel for work, flying is part of the routine and you think efficiency instead of one-off. I don’t think it has anything to do with being American, it is just that if you can shave 30 mins off from each flight, at the end of the year, you are looking at almost a couple of days saved, most people just wouldn’t understand that (though I am sure other people have their own reason why they don’t want to check bags). For instance, after a week long biz trip overseas landing at ATL. With global entry, one can get out of the airport building from deplaning in 20 mins without checking bag. That’s extra hour of sleep to recover from jetlag.

            1. When you’re coming off an international, even with global entry, your bag will beat you to the carousel. Not sure where you’re getting an extra hour from.

            2. To Andy below, no way. I can vouch that at least for ATL and PHL, I beat my bags with Global Entry, consistently, and by a lot.

  13. I agree the old NW free-for-all was bar none the most efficient and painless boarding process I’ve experienced in the USA. Personally I like WN’s cattle call. Everyone gets an individual # and line up in order. Prob more work for an airline like Delta to assign the order based on all the status levels and fare types but it works.

    Or, as a society we could do what I experienced in Europe. People just got in a line like a civilized society and there was no fighting to get on first. Asia was similar. Personally I’ve been checking bags more often just to stay out of the bin space fight. I get sky priority on my bags so it usually beats me to the carousel anyway but everyone is guaranteed 20min so it’s really not a big deal.

  14. ……Better Do??? Shouldn’t that title be ……Better -To- Do?

    When did boarding by row numbers back to front for the economy cabin become so evil?

    And that board all windows first, then middles, then aisle seats always seemed screwy to me.

    The major airlines have just made it worse for everyone including themselves on making so many groups to board. The ivory tower folks who make those groups/rules should have to spend one day at a major hub airport boarding passengers to see how bad their plans can be.

    And you just have to laugh on a narrowbody when one door is used to board and all those first class upgrade people rush to board just so they can sit in first class looking special while all that coach butt is in their face for aisle passengers.

  15. It has always puzzled me why the rush to board? Most airlines issue a ticket with assigned seating so you know your seat is going to wait for you. I’m going to be stuck in my seat for x hours, so thanks, I think I’d rather stand a little longer and board near the end in any case. Beyond the opportunity to take more of the overhead luggage space than you should, what’s the upside of early boarding? The chance to get jostled by everyone else boarding after you? Is it the stuffy air since the air vents don’t move much air until the plane is taxiing to the runway? Or is it the opportunity to get back out of your seat into the crowded aisle to let someone else who boarded after you into the window seat? (Exception here: if you have a window seat, you should board as early as you can as a courtesy.)

    I watch the passengers rush to get on board as early as possible and it just feels like unbridled competition to get ahead of others with only a delusion of advantage. Ah well, people-watching can be a fun pastime…


        1. I wouldn’t. I carry a regular 21-22″ rollerbag and it fits in every mainline aircraft wheels out or on its side. Saves me 15-30 minutes of waiting when I get to a destination (that time adds up), avoids the risk of getting lost/damaged, and makes it easier to change re-route should my flight get delayed or canceled (and don’t have to track down which city my stuff is in.) Which my regular airline (United) I’m always group 2 at the worst, and when I fly other airlines I use the credit card to pay for the flights which gives some sort of reasonable boarding extra perk.

          I agree though, the times I fly which one backpack I can stow under the seat makes me less worried.

          Also I’m not in a Delta city but used some points to fly from the midwest to Denver. Both flights the gate agents were super aggressive in getting people to gate check, over exaggerating that lack of bin space. – offering early boarding to those to tagged it and left it on the jetway. I could estimate by how many boarded how much space was left ands sure enough there was plenty of room. Also how many people do this and rip off the tag in the jetway?

          1. When I fly Delta, I really don’t have to wait for more than a few minutes for my baggage anymore. Basically, once I leave the plane, use the bathroom, and walk to baggage claim, my bag is either spinning on the belt or it’s about ready to come out.

            1. +1, at least with Delta the waiting for your luggage at baggage claim isn’t a concern. They are really fast. Other airlines not so much. I do understand carry-on if you might change your flight but they always offer gate check. It’s just easier to check.

  16. On a recent flight on TAP Portugal in Lisbon, they had first class and elites board first. Next group was those whom had a personal bag that went under the seat, next was coach with all the overhead bags. Worked pretty nice!

  17. Well there’s always this:

    Apparently Open Seating is the way to go according to another link I can’t find at the moment and they compared:

    1) Back to front
    2) Window to middle to aisle
    3) Zone boarding
    4) Open seating a la the Southwest model

    Option 4 won based on time required.

    However you can’t compare WN to airlines with actual class of service differences so I’ll wait and see. I’m scheduled to fly STL-ATL-NAS return on DL in March when supposedly the new system will be in effect. Booked in regular Y so I’ll see how it goes.

  18. Surely the easiest boarding is First first, then status holders, then those who need more time?

    I’ve seen totally able bodied 20somethings board before me and are never challenged, and while I’m not a Do You Know Who I Am, for some reason it niggles.

  19. I think that for publicly shaming passengers for buying basic economy fares, a product offered by the very Delta, basic economy passengers should be sure to complete the feedback survey that Delta usually sends after each flight and rate each aspect of their service at the lowest. I bet this would get someone to tweat something sooner rather than later.

    1. can you tell me what US airlines allow you to buy basic economy and NOT board last?

      Other than zone 4 becoming zone 8, what has changed?

      As for Alaska, since they don’t offer a lie flat premium cabin, they couldn’t copy what Delta is doing if they wanted to.

      1. I think with some airlines if you purchase basic economy with their credit card it removes some of the scarlet letters, but I may be wrong.

    2. I don’t get why it’s considered shaming for calling the ticket class what it is. Basic economy = lesser product for lesser money. But everyone on the plane is getting to the same place. Whether I buy a cheaper ticket because I’m thrifty or because I just can’t afford to spend more, there’s nothing shameful about it. This country has a serious problem with associating money spent with people’s worth.

    1. Actually, Alaska’s boarding system is a simplification of Delta’s.

      Straight from their website

      “We’ll be boarding 4 groups – after pre-boarding (guests who need special services or additional time to board, and families with children under 2), active duty military, and First Class:?

      A: Million Milers, Alaska Mileage Plan MVP Gold 75K and MVP Gold status elites

      B: Alaska Mileage Plan MVPs, Premium Class

      C: Remaining guests seated in the back half of the aircraft

      D: Remaining guests seated in the front half of the aircraft”

      It’s 5 instead of 8 groups. But, I’m pretty sure that they’ll create group E for basic economy tickets soon enough.

  20. Or maybe DL is just looking for a LOT of free press, publicity (even if it’s negative) or attention. Just another silly airline policy.

  21. If people could be guaranteed overhead bin space, I don’t see any incentive to board early/first, unless they have physical challenges or are in a class that offers a preflight drink.

    It seems like many of the newer jets are offering significantly greater overhead bin space per seat, so I’m cautiously hopeful that in the longer run (given the ~30 year lifespan for airliners, and shorter times between interior overhauls), that will help a little. Sure, there won’t be overhead bin space for EVERY pax, but with ~30″ seat pitch, 3/3 narrowbody seating, and the newer overhead bins that fit rollerboards on their sides, you can get pretty close to overhead space for one bag per pax. The newer Delta narrowbody interiors are NICE in this regard.

    I’d love to see an analysis of how the available overhead bin space per seat (and also per linear foot of aisle, to eliminate the seat pitch variable) has changed over time or across different “standard” interiors, especially after subtracting the space required for first aid kits etc.

    1. There is no doubt that the latest generation of overhead bins offer far more space per passenger than anything before them, esp. on narrowbody aircraft.

      How about redirecting some of the angst in this discussion from those who have to board in zone 8 in the future instead of zone 4 now with an economy basic fare instead focus on those people who can’t read or comply with the placards on the new generation overhead bins that specifically state that rollerboards should be loaded into the bin on their side? I have never seen an aircraft with the new overhead bins run out of space IF people comply with the placards. There are far too many people that throw their bag up there regardless of any sense of leaving space for anyone else despite the fact that airlines are investing a lot of money in trying to create more space. Add in putting coats and other bags in places where rollerboards could fit, and it is fellow passengers that create more difficulty for passengers that come behind with bags than anything the airlines do with the order of boarding. People shouldn’t be afraid to ask someone to rearrange their belongings (or do it for them) if they use overhead bin space inefficiently and to the detriment of those coming behind. Getting on before someone else doesn’t give anyone a license to waste space.

      1. Exactly. I will gladly rearrange the bins if it looks like doing so will create space for my bag. I don’t mind people who find spaces for their coats on top of bags, but if all they have in an overhead bin is a small purse and a coat… Well, I wish I could find a socially acceptable way to remove those items from the bin.

        I know FAs have enough to do around policing boarding, and I know they make announcements, but I really wish they would do a better job of bin management, and politely dump small items in bins into the laps of the appropriate pax.

      2. I beg to differ. Naturally, you’re looking at it from YOUR perspective. Here is mine:

        I’m 6″3, and in most of the economic seats I’m happy if I somehow squeeze my feet in in a way that I can finish the flight without pain in my legs. I always just take a computer bag up, check in the rest. If you ask me to put my computer bag – which is fairly big – under the seat in front of me, give me enough space to do that. Hence I do feel putting my computer bag in the overhead is totally justified – especially since I probably paid as much as the next bloke did with the rollerboards. So why should HE put his rollerboard there and sit in the seat much more comfortably and me sitting trying to figure out where to put my feet?

        I don’t mind if they move my computer bag – but within the limits of keeping it safe as there is a COMPUTER in it.

  22. Does United really have that many named zones before the numbered zones? Delta was always the worst offender in that regard IMO, with “Zone 1” actually being the 6th or so to be called, after special assistance, families, military, premium cabin, and Sky Priority. Which always seemed to be the biggest flaw in Delta’s system as the gate area would get crowded with people who say “I’m Zone 1 so I must be boarding soon” or “I’m Sky Priority so I know I’m boarding first”. The new system doesn’t appear to do anything to fix that.

  23. As a flight attendant for Delta this new boarding process will be a nightmare. Delta upgraded Diamonds and Platinums to the C+ in the past but now they have to use more miles to sit in C+. You’re still going to see the Medallions try to board after First Class and they going to be told to get back in line. Some of the main problems is pre-boarding. Some of the wheelchairs and families take 10-15 minutes to board and stow their luggage. They stand in the aisles and are oblivious to passengers who need to get by. Then you have Medallions putting 3 bags in the overhead bins plus their coat and then passengers wonder why that last 20-30 bags need to be checked. If passengers would just take off their headphones and listen to our announcements and put that smaller bag under their seat and hold on to their coat until the end of boarding the process would be so much easier. Everyone thinks they are ENTITLED!

    1. This sounds crazy indeed… Diamonds, Platinum, Medallions, and various other classes (and don’t forget the elites from partner-airline programs) — why do all of these statuses have to be made part of the boarding process??
      Logic says: board the aftmost rows first (especially the window seats).
      If the airlines haven’t got the cojones to do that, then board by class of seating — first, then business, then coach.

    2. They won’t be “told” jack squat. I fly twice a week and can count on one hand the number of times a line breaker was told to go to the back of the line. It’s too chaotic at the gate and the agents simply can’t deal with that. It’s not the hill they want to die on, so they let the a-holes board whether or not they are entitled to do so. THAT is the reality of the situation.

    3. Dear flight attendant – it’s up to YOU to police those bins and make the dumasses who cram 4 bags into the overheads USE THEIR FOOT SPACE FOR THEIR LAPTOP BAG. If your union, or job description, or whatever else does not allow you to do that – then we all have a problem. Some airlines manage to get it done. JetBlue does a good job policing the overheads (for example). But when you have people boarding with more than two bags, and then cramming it all into the first bin they come across (above row 5 when they’re sitting back in 25) … then yeah, we’re going to have to check the last 20-30 bags. But there is nobody on the plane other than the flight attendants who can stop that bad behaviour. So SPEAK UP. You don’t have any problem telling me my 1.5lb laptop can’t go in the seat pocket, but my 2lb tablet can… so grow some balls and start policing the overheads! PLEASE !!

      1. Delta does not give me the tools to question Medallions about the number of bags or coats they have and we are not protected by a Union. If I tell a Diamond to take one of his bags out of the overhead bin he has the tools to file a complaint against me immediately and then I have to answer to a Field Service Manager and then I’m put on probation because I DISRESPECTED a high value customer. It’s happened to me and I lost the battle. Delta’s number one goal is making their Medallions happy. The gate agents can make announcements in the terminal until they are blue in the face but when customers are so plugged in to their headphones and earbuds they don’t hear them and they don’t care to hear the announcements. I would love to tell some of the Medallions that they need to follow the rules but I want to keep my job. Delta does not care about their employees, they just want to protect the major income providers to Delta. HVCs make up almost 60% of the ticket revenue to DAL. The only reason we make the laptop announcement is because lithium batteries can get get hot enough to melt the leatherette seatbacks and could cause a fire. I agree with you 100% but I need a job. What’s funny is if you have a computer with a detachable keyboard it’s not considered a laptop no matter how big the screen is. It can still generate the same heat as a laptop. Thanks for your input! Happy holidays.

        1. spare us.
          There is no rule requiring anyone to put anything under the seat in front of them instead of the overhead bin.
          It is a matter of courtesy about how customers use the overhead bins including placing bags on their side in the overhead bins where the bins are designed to do so.
          Delta and other airlines do give you a microphone to encourage people to use the overhead bins efficiently – hold onto jackets until the end of the boarding process, use the 3 side on MD80/90/717 aircraft for rollerboards, and place bags on their sides instead of backs on new generation overhead bins. That is all you or any other flight attendant is asked to do.
          If you are picking fights w/ Medallions or any other passenger about rules that you make up, then it isn’t surprised you will lose. Laptop storage in seatback pockets and in overhead bins are two entirely different things.

          1. Here is Delta’s policy right from our manual:

            Carry-on Baggage Program
            Each passenger is allowed one piece of carry-on baggage plus one personal
            item. Personal items include:
            • Purse (male/female)
            • Briefcase
            • Laptop
            • Camera case
            • Diaper bag
            • Item of similar size or smaller to those listed above
            • Guitars and smaller musical instruments which can be accommodated in the FAA approved storage locations

            Flight Attendants and agents are responsible to ensure each passenger carries on board only one piece of baggage and one personal item of a size and weight to fit in an FAA approved stowage area. Accommodations of fragile, odd shaped items, which exceed size requirements, should be determined based on availability of approved stowage space. When assisting at gate, if baggage size appears questionable, use size-check signage to estimate correct size and shape.
            NOTE: Passengers may consolidate baggage into two pieces. Baggage which cannot be consolidated must be checked.
            THE ONLY PROBLEM WITH THESE POLICIES IS THAT DELTA DOES NOT ENFORCE THEM! In 10 years I have never seen a gate agent use the box to determine if a bag is too large, they are a waist! The gate agents don’t want complaints filed against them and the FAs don’t want complaints filed against them. If you are a senior flight attendant Delta would be more than happy to terminate you and replace you with a new hire making less than half of the salary.

            1. Reread your post above and my response. You said above that you have tried to tell Medallions not to put their items in the overhead bin. The very text you quoted says absolutely nothing about where any passenger can put their bags on the plane. Delta has no rule regarding where passengers can store their items as long as they conform with the sizes allowed. And I most certainly have seen gate agents tell passengers to check bags that are too large as well as at the request of flight attendants who say that overhead bin space is full.
              If you are getting flack, it is because you are trying to make up your own rules including telling people where they can store their bags.

              As a passenger, I WANT you to ask people to use overhead bin space efficiently and to not slam the bins closed and then tell us not to reopen them unless you have gone to the effort to make sure that items have been stored as efficiently as possible.

              I have been on flights where flight attendants made announcements during boarding to maximize space in overhead bins and have rearranged items to create more space – sometimes asking passengers and sometimes just doing it – and I have been on flights where FAs simply slam the overhead bins full and force the remainder of passengers to check rollerboards or put anything else under the seat in front of them.

              Delta and most other airlines don’t want you to get into confrontations with passengers. They do want you to do create a positive passenger experience which includes getting as many bags in the overhead bins as possible. Delta and other airlines are investing lots of money in larger overhead bins to ensure that last minute passengers – including those in economy basic – can accommodate their bags.

              Don’t fight with passengers and don’t tell us that the airline isn’t doing its job. Do yours based on the rules and the company’s guidance and no one will complain. There may well be people who put more in the overhead bin than you or I think they should. You and I can ask that they be more efficient but there will be people that don’t care about anyone except themselves – which is no different than the people who cut across 3 lanes of traffic to make a turn that they didn’t see coming because their face was buried in a cell phone or in conversation w/ multiple people in their car.

              Boarding order doesn’t have to mean some people are consistently screwed regarding overhead bin space. The vast majority of passengers are cooperative if they are merely asked to do what helps maximize bin space and the flight attendants make some modest efforts to encourage and even correct things that take away that efficiency.

  24. None of this makes a lick of difference at most airports – the gate agents announce the boarding order but then they don’t enforce jack squat. The douchebag premium cabin members start pushing up to the front of the line half an hour before the plane from the last flight is even on the ground, and once boarding starts, half the time the agent doesn’t announce anything – so people just start cramming up to the boarding line whether they paid full fare in first class or are “ultra economy no seat assignment” – it does not matter. If the gate agent doesn’t send them to the back of the line- and better than 3/4 of the time they do not – the line-breakers will get on whenever they want. Then… they’ll throw their oversized bags in the first bins they come to… above row 5 even if they’re sitting in row 25. Add that to all the morons who refuse to use their foot space for a bag or a coat – unless you too are “that guy” pushing your way up the line, there is a very good chance you won’t find a spot for your carry-on bag (that you paid dearly for).
    It’s just ridiculous how the major airlines do their boarding, but then at the same time refuse to police anything. This new set of nonsense is just one more example of the corporate wonks never having to fly economy. Does anyone remember the “windows first…. then middle… then aisle….” boarding scheme?

    1. Mythbusters did a episode on airplane boarding and the most efficient way to board an aircraft is windows first, then middle seats then aisles. Saves almost 12 minutes of boarding time. The DAL employees making these decisions have no idea how the boarding process works and they have never witnessed an aircraft boarding. The gate agents and flight attendants have never been asked their opinion on how an aircraft should be boarded. We see the bottlenecks and how they develop and how they can avoided. Everyone complains about baggage fees but all they need to do is approach the gate agent and volunteer to check their bags and they pay nothing!

      1. Here’s an article about the fastest way to board according to an astrophysicist:

        Basically, it is window, middle, and then aisle, but the order is very precise so that people aren’t on top of each other trying to board (i.e. board even windows on one side, then the other, and then odd windows on one side, the the other, and so on with middles and then aisles. It’s pretty much impossible because you could never get people on the plane in that precise order.

    2. And since Delta isn’t Southwest, every seat is already assigned…. so all the hubbub is about bin space. Personally, I try to travel with just one carryon that’ll fit under the seat… of course I realize that that’s not a viable option for most pax.
      In a post up above, someone mentioned how easy boarding was on TAP… how about other non-US carriers? What do BA, Air France, Cathay, etc. do? Are they also complicating something that ought to be simple, or does rationality still prevail?

  25. This is just change for change’s sake.

    Airlines just have to accept it’s going to take a given amount of time to get everyone on the plane and that they can screw around with the order all they want and it isn’t going to change a bloody thing because there are too many people not thinking about the process and standing in the aisle yakking on the damn phone instead of putting their crap in the overhead bin and sitting down.

    If we really wanted to improve efficiency, each seat would have an assigned allotment of bin space above it and you would have to either buy a bag that would fit in that space or smaller items like small backpacks, etc. (I’m presuming we could adopt an industry-standard bag size so you wouldn’t have to have a different carry-on bag for each airline.) And if you have something that doesn’t fit in “your space”, you check it.

    Especially bloody guitars. Buy a proper padded case and check your guitar already.

  26. So far I see this does nothing but add more congestion and confusion at the gate as people are even more concerned about grabbing that precious overhead bin space. What I’ve witnessed is people just disregard what is says on the boarding pass and board in whatever line they happen to get in. The gate agents don’t enforce it because the clock is ticking and it’s easier for them just to let them board then ask them to stand aside adding even more confusion. So basically if you’re a Platinum or lower by the time they call sky zone 3/4 of the plane is boarded. It’s a joke really, all I see this doing is forcing people into acting more like an uncivilized mob than before the change.

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Cranky Flier