A few weeks ago, when I was on my way to cover a medical conference in San Francisco, I found myself in the middle of pure chaos at the departure gate of my layover city of Dallas. American Airlines had chosen that day to introduce their new “travelers with lighter baggage go first” boarding system and everyone, including the gate staff, was thoroughly confused and beyond irritated.
According to a story by Forbes.com, the new system is supposed to decrease boarding times by 2 minutes. A spokesperson for American Airlines told Forbes, “This group is very quick because once they get on board, they are not looking for bin space. They board the aircraft and find seating and sit down.”
“Our tests indicate that this new boarding process will improve our dependability and on-time performance, while being easier and more enjoyable for our customers,” said Carol Wright, Vice President-Customer Planning for American Airlines, in a release.
However, at least on that first day of implementation, it was anything but smooth sailing. After first boarding First Class and priority passengers on the large plane, the announcement was made for Group 2 passengers to board, “But only if you have just one small carryon that fits under the seat in front of you. No exceptions!”
Tired passengers don’t really listen to announcements at gates except for the words “flight delayed” or “gate change,” and they’ve been trained to immediately shuffle forward when their group number is called. So that’s what they did. A big mass of people began funneling traveler after traveler up to the door — each with the normal 2 carryons and most having at least 1 very large rolly bag. And each person was turned down and sent back out of line to make way for travelers with just 1 bag only.
You would think that after watching this same scenario play out over and over some people would realize, “Hey, something new must be going on. What did they say earlier?” But no, each heavily laden passenger in that group number took their turn and seemed shocked at being rejected.
The “rejectees” then hung around the front, figuring they’d be called next. But nope, the new system calls for each number’s group of light travelers to go first. Then the airline personnel circles back around and finally starts calling each group number again, but this time for those challenged by packing lightly.
Phrases such as “herding cats” came to mind while watching this long and confusing act of airport theater play out. “This is maddening! Why did they have to change it?” sighed the extremely tired looking check-in agent. “And this is supposed to make things run faster?” I asked back.
Everyone was eventually loaded on, of course, but I was a bit apprehensive about facing the same chaos on my flight back a week later. But you know what? At least on my flight home American Airlines seemed to have worked out the kinks (or that particular group of passengers decided to pay special attention that day). Either way, it went rather smoothly.
But did it seem faster than their previous boarding system? Not really. I actually think the “outward in” system by US Airways, as mentioned in the Forbes article, makes the most sense. They board all window seats first, then middle seats, and finally aisle seats, cutting down on the need to crawl over people or to cause everyone in line to wait while a seated passenger has to stand up and move into the aisle to allow you to file in.
I can’t help but wonder why all airlines don’t adapt this easy-to-understand and logical system. Readers, what do you think? What system makes sense to you? And can anything airline related ever be considered “easy” or “fast”?
Video from: Bounce TV Tallahassee