In recent times, specifically in the US, airlines have been employing a ‘zoned boarding concept’. This is designed to speed up the boarding process, and make it more efficient for passengers to stow their cabin baggage – as numbers dramatically increase. The arguments for this system are:
- Passengers are assigned zones easily
- Consistent across aircraft types (unlike a ‘row by row’ boarding system)
- Easier for passengers to comprehend
- Refrains from blocking aisles when stowing cabin baggage
As the concept grows in popularity, it has spread to Europe. For example, when I flew to Dublin – with Aer Lingus Regional – in August, I was assigned a zone on my boarding pass, but this wasn’t implemented at the boarding gate. Following this trend, it looks like the latest airline to implement this system is British Airways, to align itself with its IAG & oneworld partners – American Airlines and Iberia. This is what BA had to say about the new boarding system, which will be introduced from 12th December 2017:
British Airways will be changing the way it boards aircraft with the introduction of group boarding in December. Group boarding simplifies the process, making it easier for customers to understand the boarding sequence at the gate. At the check-in stage, the customer will be put into a group number dependent on their cabin of travel and frequent-flyer status. This number will then be displayed prominently on the boarding pass, printed or mobile. Customers who are entitled will continue to be offered priority boarding for both long-haul and short-haul domestic.
British Airways recently added a Business Class product to its domestic offering, so the short-haul boarding process applies to both European and UK services, and looks as follows:
- Group 1 — Executive Club Gold, oneworld Emerald & Club Europe
- Group 2 — Executive Club Silver and oneworld Sapphire
- Group 3 — Executive Club Bronze and oneworld Ruby
- Group 4 — Economy Class Passengers
- Group 5 — Economy Class Passengers, with hand-luggage only fares
British Airways therefore seems to be disincentivising hand-luggage only fares, as its popularity grows, as boarding the aircraft last means a lesser chance of overhead locker space. BA will, however, check your hand luggage bag into the hold for no extra cost, if there is no space available.
For long-haul flights the boarding process is similar, but differs slightly due to the different travel classes available:
- Group 1 — Executive Club Gold, oneworld Emerald, and First Class
- Group 2 — Executive Club Silver, oneworld Sapphire, and Business Class
- Group 3 — Executive Club Bronze, oneworld Ruby, and Premium Economy
- Groups 4 & 5 — Economy Class Passengers
This is a new scheme for British Airways, and it seems logical, following their partner airlines, who’ve clearly enjoyed more efficient boarding by employing this method. The main difference is that airlines such as American Airlines designate more zones to economy, to help further organise the process, in terms of back to front boarding etc. Providing the process is enforced with clarity and consistency, this new method should prove beneficial for British Airways.