Group A for Asinine! Alaska Airlines introduces a new Boarding Process

Today, in “news that will continue to confuse passengers…” 

Boarding an airplane sucks. It sucks so much that it has created a phenomenon called “gate lice.” You’ve seen them, right? The people who block the hallways in airports, all waiting to board a plane. They look down on their boarding pass as if in a trance, seemingly oblivious to anything around them. 

“I’m zone 3, so since they’re on zone 1, I’ll just stand here and block everyone else because, ya know, I have to get on board the plane right away!!”

Not entirely their fault

You can’t blame the passengers for everything. Ever since airlines started charging for luggage, the race to avoid fees has begun. Passengers will continue to carry on luggage and try and get themselves on the plane first. They know that if they don’t, that precious overhead bin space will disappear and they’ll be forced to check their luggage. At least on Alaska Airlines there is a 20 minute bag guarantee so you’re not waiting too long…

Alaska Airlines thinks that they have a solution to this problem. Starting on July 18th, Alaska will “simplify the boarding process.” According to the airline:

Starting July 18, Alaska will be launching a new group boarding process that will simplify the process for guests. This identifies which of the five groups – First Class, Group A, Group B, Group C or Group D – you belong to. You’ll simply approach the gate with the rest of your group when your group is announced.


From Alaska’s website, New Boarding Passes

Boarding Timeline

From Alaska’s Website, here’s a breakdown of the boarding timeline with the new process:

30 to 35 minutes before departure: Agents at your gate will make initial announcements letting you know that boarding will begin shortly. This is your cue to gather your things and be ready, but you don’t need to move to line up.

When boarding begins (approximate 5 minute intervals):

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

from Alaska Airlines’ website.

What’s the problem?

Sounds great on paper, right? But what’s really going to happen? See where it says “this is your cue to gather your things and be ready, but you don’t need to move to line up…” Ain’t no one gonna pay attention to that! 

If you’ve flown more than 1 day in your life, you know that when people hear “we’re boarding soon” they all go into a tizzy and start elbowing for room at the gate. Hence, gate lice.

Customers will still continue to flood the boarding area and make it impossible to find out when it’s actually your time to board. They’ll still look at their boarding passes in disbelief, with FOMO (that’s fear of missing out for all you non-millennials) .

What’s the solution?

The real problem is that the rules aren’t enforced by gate agents when it’s time to board. People who are in Group C (or zone 2) are still allowed to board in the first class section, and the gate agents don’t enforce them. If you want to truly make a difference, when it comes time to board and it’s Group B, only let Group B people board. If the front line people aren’t in line with the back office folks, then nothing will change.

The problem exacerbates when the back office wants to impose these new rules, but also still sets very stringent rules about on time performance and boarding. They want everyone to get on board and get moving as quickly as possible, and if they start enforcing the “you’re in the wrong group” rule, those two butt against each other. 

They’re hoping for self policing from passengers, but we all know that’s not a thing. Most people don’t travel enough to understand the rules and probably feel embarrassed or out of sorts asking for help.

What do you think? What’s the best way to avoid a boarding disaster? How do we answer the age old question of “What’s the best way to board an aircraft?”

Author: Jon Nickel-D'Andrea

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  1. I’d like to see an airline try a boarding process where there are 6 groups, one for each seat in the row. Passengers queue up in reverse order of seat row. First group left window, 2nd right window, 3rd left middle, 4th right middle, etc. This way nobody in same group will be waiting for anyone to get out of the aisle, and nobody will have to get up to let anyone in to their seat. Of course this would require sufficient gate space to allow such long orderly queues, although conceivably the row queuing could be done in the jetway.

    The second suggestion is to charge all luggage based on weight, regardless of if it is checked or not. They can still have an allowance of whatever they want, but this would remove the incentive to lug everything onboard, slowing down the boarding process. Sure, they might lose a little cargo space, but a more efficient and faster boarding process saves time and money.

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    • I like that plan 🙂

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  2. Sounds like the Alaska Airlines boarding process is inching closer to how Southwest boards their planes.

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    • And I might be OK with that… with the understanding that if I’m in First Class or MVP75k, I’m still going to skip the line if I’m hanging in the lounge.

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  3. I’d like to see a class of service where you have to audition and prove you can get seated in under 10 seconds.

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    • Without looking at your boarding pass more than once and without looking up at the overhead bins more than twice to find which side of the aisle you’re on

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  4. I flew Alaska yesterday for the first time and it was much smoother than I typically experience with United, American or Delta. Nice new interior, exceptional in flight service.

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    • Right on! Welcome to the Alaska family 🙂 Enjoy the Crater Lake Hazelnut Espresso Vodka

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  5. I’d like to see carry on limits enforced, overhead usage enforced, and more attention paid to people packing overheads in a way that maximizes the space usage. Until this happens, people are gonna continue to clump up to the front to get ahead of everyone else in their boarding group so the don’t get screwed by the asshat stuffing their oversized carry-on *and* personal item overhead in the most inefficient way possible.

    I don’t think checked baggage fees are entirely the issue driving people to avoid checking luggage either. Lost, damaged, or stolen luggage/luggage contents is always a concern, as is having your luggage gone through and not arriving packed the way you left it. Also people don’t want to have to make the extra trek to baggage and once again right people who have to crowd so close that others can’t even see if they’re bags are coming out. Flying already takes longer than it should (thank you, TSA), so by the time I finally arrive, I know I just want to get the hell out of there!

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