American Airlines Testing New Boarding Procedure

This past weekend I noticed the following Twitter exchange between @JohnnyJet and American Airlines:

a screenshot of a social media posta screenshot of a social media postAccording to Johnny’s tweet, he noticed that American offered boarding to passengers without carry-ons in the second group, likely after those with Priority Access.

Curiosity peaked, I emailed American’s PR team on Monday and received the following reply yesterday (bolding mine):

I just heard back from the customer contact planning group. American is indeed testing this new process at select airports whereby customers who do not have any baggage to stow in the overhead compartment are boarded in a separate group. This is a very limited test and no results have even been analyzed yet.

It’s not necessarily hush-hush, but the PR rep noted that American didn’t wish to provide additional details beyond confirming the test.

So long as elites and others with Priority Access are boarded ahead of this group, I think it’s a great idea as long as it’s enforced properly. Potential downsides: turning people away who think they qualify causing a congested boarding lane, and the possibility that gate checking bags once the overhead bins are full could lead to departure delays since all remaining passengers needing overhead bin space are at the tail end of boarding as opposed to being spaced out. That said, if everyone else is in their seats already, it might not be a big deal.

What do you think?

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Is American’s Preferred Seat Allocation a Bit Excessive?


  1. I’ve seen something similar on a couple airlines in the past (including AA), though I think at the discretion of individual gate agents and not as official policy. They were always on completely full flights where it was clear bags would have to be gate-checked, and the GA was offering people who volunteered to gate check their bags prior to the start of boarding the privilege of boarding early.

  2. Ive experienced that offer before, can’t recall what airline – Frontier, perhaps? I think it’s an intriguing idea for frequent (but non-status) flyers to try to encourage them not to carry on everything they own, but is boarding a little early worth paying for checking luggage? Also – it doesn’t really change behavior in the moment – it’s too late to check at that point. So the person has to be a repeat customer and remember about the incentive for it to be effective.

  3. This is pretty funny to me.

    First, they implement punitive checked baggage fees, incenting all their passengers to bring everything they own in a carryon.

    Then, they implement priority boarding for people without carryons, incenting all their passengers to not travel with anything at all.

    I’m sure they will end up charging people a “nominal” fee for this no-carryon priority boarding once this goes live. Then they will introduce a carryon fee, and they will be collecting some sort of fee from you whether you’re checking, carrying, or neither.

    You can only wring the rag so many times before it’s empty…

  4. I think I’ve seen it on Alaska Airlines before. They constantly have to point out that your personal item must go under your seat, and can’t go up top. That’s one of the other problems of this policy: having people get on without a carryon, but then put their coat/purse/backpack up top instead of under the seat, which requires the FAs to constantly be policing them.

    • @Steve: Excellent point!
      @autolycus: Valid as @Bob mentions, but I believe the “care” in this type of boarding process is with the airline trying to create a smoother process, not necessarily the benefit to the passenger.

  5. I always thought the best part of not having a carry-on was being able to saunter to my seat right before they shut the door. Why would you want to get on a plane earlier if you didn’t have a bag to stow? Those seats aren’t getting any bigger.

  6. I’m tired of the bs about not putting a backpack in the overhead – if I pay to check one bag, and I only carry one onboard, I’ve paid for the right to use overhead space.

  7. I flew five flights on Alaska Airlines in March. People not using overhead bins were allowed to board ahead of others on four out of five flights. This process is a JOKE. Alaska Airlines will lose my business if it is not fixed. So many people who had bags that would NEVER fit under the seat in front of them were allowed to board ahead of others who waited and followed the instructions, including me. I stood near the gate and listened. Everyone who was asked if they were sure their bag would fit assured the agent at the gate that it would. I saw multiple people then put said bags in the overhead bins anyway. They need an “under-the-seat bag sizer” to rule out any debate, like they have for carry-ons. Enforce the rule fairly and turn away those trying to get away with it and board early. Better yet, drop this stupid policy altogether. As others have noted, why does someone who has no plans to use overhead space have any need to board ahead of others? Just board by rows from the back of the plane and treat everyone fairly.

  8. Unlike most travelers, I travel very light, and usually check the one suitcase. Hate schlepping bags all over airports, and haven’t yet felt the urge to be a skycap. I like to have room to stow the briefcase and coat overhead. But unfortunately have to compete with the gypsy hordes who feel compelled to carry their life’s belongings on a 2-day trip.

    This EXP gives a hearty AAplause to AA for the move.

  9. i think it is a nice idea if they really enforce no overhead items for that group with no carry coat up there no briefcase up there no hat up there ..etc even with the one bag overhead people do what they want and put their purse/briefcase/coat/sweater/junk anything +++ up there and do not follow the rules and the FA’s usually do not notice or confront to take the XXtra stuff down

  10. What about the Citi credit cards?? We are guaranteed group 1 boarding. I guess we are now group ‘2’ boarding if we have carryons. What if I am paying $50 (one way) for a main cabin seat, does this mean I am pushed back to a lower group if I have a carryon?

  11. Interesting idea by AA. Curious to see how it works.

    As far as AS goes, I flew 4 segments on AS this past week and never once was told to put my backpack down below nor did they board people without carry ones first. Maybe it’s because I was stuck on Q400s?

  12. I wonder if AA was looking at the latest research from the Transportation Research Record. A new article by Tang et al., entitled “An Aircraft Boarding Model Accounting for Passengers’ Individual Properties,” indicated that ordering passenger boarding by individual time to board minimized the overall boarding time, as well as minimized individual delay.

    It’s actually some pretty interesting reading if you can find a free version (or have access to the TRR through an academic library). Essentially, it’s the same concept as “stay right, pass left.” The slower people get to go at their own speed, and the fast people get to go at theirs. It makes better use of “upstream capacity” in the system by getting the faster people out of the way.

    Works for trains, works for cars. Why wouldn’t it work for airplanes?

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