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Airlines tweak boarding process, but maximum efficiency likely won’t be achieved

It’s a familiar airport scene: a mad crush at the gate followed by a slow and anxious trek onto the airplane to claim your seat and an elusive spot for your carry-on in the overhead bin.  As airlines say they are committed to improving the travel experience, many carriers continually experiment with better ways to load their aircraft. Most recently, Alaska Airlines and United have unveiled new initiatives aimed at simplifying the boarding process.

Under Alaska’s newest plan, instead of boarding by row, passengers will be assigned a group, which will be displayed on their boarding pass. When the group is called, it will also be clearly displayed on gate-side monitors to reduce confusion as to which passengers are supposed to board. Elite passengers and those requiring extra assistance will still be called before the general boarding groups.

United is testing a new system at Chicago O’Hare, Houston George Bush and Los Angeles International airports. Under the new system United will use two lines, one for priority passengers and the other for economy and basic economy travelers. Airline officials say the two-line boarding system will be expanded to other airports this summer.

While these changes could lead to some level of improvement, industry experts say that airlines are simply sugar coating the issue noting that more efficient boarding methods are possible. However, those systems will likely never be implemented as they do not typically give priority to preferred passengers. Further, they also don’t necessarily allow the airlines to take in added revenue by selling priority boarding as an option or including it as an amenity in a higher priced ticket bundle.


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