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American Airlines 787-800. Credit: American Airlines

The Nine Levels of Hell – American’s New Boarding Process Revealed

The boarding process is usually the bane of most frequent fliers’ existence – and airline continually ‘strive’ to better rationalize the whole deal or at least make it more efficient. Sometimes, as in the case with Southwest, it works and the whole process becomes much more of quick and painless affair. Other times, such as United’s diluted and everyone and their mother for priority boarding approach, it doesn’t work as well and doesn’t help anyone or anything at all.

Of course there’s the approach of many airlines abroad, especially in South America and Asia – where no real process is enforced, (usually just elites and Business Class first then – good luck) but still somehow manage to board a full 777 in 15 minutes where despite all the bells and whistles of a very rigid system as seen in the United States and elsewhere – it takes a full 45 minutes to board a half full 757.

Well, this theory is being put to the sword yet again and let’s see if it passes even the lightest of stress tests because folks, American Airlines (AA) has revealed their new boarding process – and it doesn’t look good.

The Scoop:

Given recent changes to American’s loyalty program and the addition and deletion of partner airlines and credit cards, the airline has had to completely revamp the way they board their airplanes. And boy have they managed to make a relatively simple concept quite complicated.

Are you ready? Here we go: there are nine – nine – boarding groups to be introduced. Of which five – fiveare labelled as ‘priority boarding’. We’re not sure what priority means when more than half your boarding groups are considered as ‘priority’ – but hey, who are we to judge.

Group 1 is straightforward – it’s understandably First Class on either three or two cabin aircraft. Regardless of domestic or international, this will be the cabin that boards first, always. In the event that it is an international two class configured aircraft with only a Business Class cabin, they will board first in Group 1. Also included are uniformed American military service personnel with valid ID. Good start.

Group 2 is for the frequent fliers and oneworld elites – AA Executive Platinum, oneworld Emerald (the highest tier of the oneworld FF program) and Business Class on a three class configured aircraft (mostly international flights here to Asia and London, save for AA’s Flagship services between San Francisco and LAX and New York JFK and Miami).

Now we start to go down the rabbit hole. Per American’s hastily put out press release:

Group 3

Platinum Pro


oneworld® SapphireSM

Group 4

Alaska Airlines MVP® members


Premium Economy

Citi®/AAdvantage® Executive cardmembers

Customers who bought Priority boarding

And now we dip into ‘Preferred Boarding’ – which we presume is some sort of limbo between actual priority boarding and well, nothing really apart from the abyss.

Group 5 (Preferred boarding)

Main Cabin Extra

Eligible AAdvantage® credit cardmembers

Eligible corporate travelers

Then we go into the real dross.

Group 6

Group 7

Group 8

And last up, of course…

Group 9

Basic Economy

It makes sense that Basic Economy, the fare class that AA recently introduced that truly is a bare bones affair, is last on the list. But what exactly differentiates Group 6 and Group 8 is unclear – we presume that it either goes by row or a discretion between aisle or window seats – the airline doesn’t make it clear.

Another interesting thing is that there’s actually a boarding tier for folks who bought ‘Priority Boarding’ – Group 4 of 9. If there’s a Ponzi scheme out there, this surely must qualify as one. What exactly the benefits of this ‘service’ is I’m not sure, and when you consider it’s a paid service, well that’s rather remarkable.

We’d also assume that AA gate agents better have some lozenges and water on hand at the ready given just how many announcements they are seemingly expected to make to board at what many times will be domestic narrow body aircraft.

Oh and enforcing this mess? Have fun with that! Those Orlando departures back up the East Coast will surely be the stuff of nightmares.

American Airlines has introduced a new boarding process that some have found cumbersome and overly complicated.

The Takeaway:

You might not have noticed – but we’re not a fan of this new system. It seems overly complicated and unnecessarily segmented – alas we suppose this is the new law of the land. The more any airline (and AA is not alone here) can siphon off any revenue by extra charges, upselling or putting more and more credit cards out there the better they seem to do, so here we are.

What’s all the more galling is that despite this ridiculous new nine step/tiered boarding process, it does seem that it takes longer to board an American Airlines 737-800 than an Emirates A380. It’s all the more outrageous when you think that some people have actually paid a premium to board early – and by early we mean group five of nine.

The other odd thing is that there isn’t a peep of recognition for lower oneworld frequent flier members or folks of AA’s own program but fliers on certain credit cards and even Alaska Airlines FF members are listed as part of the priority boarding process (albeit rather low on the chart). Other rivals, such as United and Delta do at least give a rudimentary nod to their Silvers and let them board early, despite being further down the pecking order which again, makes sense.

Let’s see how this whole thing rolls out and works out in real time but the initial reactions and rumblings amongst AA and especially oneworld elites doesn’t seem favourable. American deserves the benefit of the doubt of trying this new system but it does seem like selling out on the biggest order and this whole concept of being an ‘elite’ within a frequent flier system increasingly looks like a thing of the past when you can have no status but have a credit card you barely qualify for and you’re treated basically the same by your supposed ‘home’ airline.

Sad days.

How do you feel about the new trend of increasingly tiered and complicated boarding processes? Do you feel like you benefit or suffer from them? Rant or rave below!

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