Is American’s New Boarding Process Destined for Failure?

I’m catching up with last week’s notable airline news items and American’s new boarding process, tested earlier this year, is a hot topic.

Basically, American Airlines is now allowing those passengers without carry-ons requiring overhead bin space to board ahead of Group 2. The test of this new process, rolled out systemwide last Thursday, was a resounding success according to American’s press release:

The test received overwhelmingly positive feedback from American’s customers, and agents like the new process because it allows for smoother and quicker boarding for everyone.

But based on several Twitter conversations I had today, as well as an interesting Forbes article, compliance and enforcement issues could create more drama and negative impact than the reportedly two minutes the new process saves in boarding time.

Virgin America tried a similar boarding system, but abandoned it after such compliance and enforcement issues arose. From the Forbes article:

In fact, Virgin America has already tried and abandoned American’s new process. “It is more efficient and you do get a lot of people on the aircraft more quickly,” said Virgin America CEO David Cush, in an interview. “But it’s difficult to police. You get into a debate about how big is something that fits under your seat.”

Additionally, Cush said, early boarding passengers would sometimes glance up at all the empty bin space overhead and then place their carry-on in the bin. Virgin America dropped the process in 2011, after about half a year. “It may work for American,” Cush said. “I applaud them for trying different things. It didn’t seem to be an overwhelming hit for us.”

While I can see gate agents policing the new system at the boarding door, once the passenger is onboard nearly all bets are off as to where their underseat item actually gets stowed.

Flight attendants tend to do a wonderful job with announcements and shifting items to make more space, but they can’t be at every row, nor would they know that the person walking onboard fell into this group. It’s effectively an honor system and we all know how well some travelers abide by the “rules.” 😉

It will be interesting to see if American’s new process goes the way of Virgin America.

Read more:

American Airlines Testing New Boarding Procedure

Is American’s Preferred Seat Allocation a Bit Excessive?

— Follow Darren Booth on Twitter, @FrequentlyFlyin, for more airline, hotel and travel industry news, reviews and opinions.


  1. Why shouldn’t someone with relatively little carry on use a small amount of overhead space and keep the area by their feet free?

  2. @NB: Many do that yes, but hopefully not those who board as part of this new group. I, out of courtesy, only ever put my rollaboard in the overhead to leave space. For my underseat bag, I slide it behind my legs after takeoff and then have ample foot room.

  3. people cannot seem to resist putting everything up in the overhead bins..even when it causes others to have to check their bags…very few FA’s police it well

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