How important is early boarding and securing carry on space?

Posted By on July 30, 2011

I read an aviation/travel article by Scott McCartney last week that reminded me of a post I made in June which dealt with booking flights and some of the changes we are all facing in air travel – childcarryonwell perhaps not elite travelers? From the sound of things, we’re in for a few more changes, and not all are going to be comfortable or convenient … at any rate it is going to feel like we’re being nickel and dimed.

Perhaps the most noticeable change long time flyers have huffed about (besides TSA screenings and heighten airport security) is the addition of a baggage fee for checked bags. This has changed the way many of us pack (sometimes for the positive) and also changes how much we attempt to carry on. Logic dictates that the more passengers carry on, the longer it takes to gets situated in a seat. So, according to McCartney, airlines have been studying the boarding process and trying out what they can do to speed up the process. Traditionally planes were boarded from back to front … except for those with elite status or paying for the privilege of boarding early. In studies, it takes on average 20-25 minutes to board a plane and some are looking for ways to shave a few minutes off of that time. In fact, “American Airlines undertook a two-year study to try and speed up boarding. The result: The airline has recently rolled out a new strategy—randomized boarding. Travelers without elite status get assigned randomly to boarding groups instead of filing onto planes from back to front.”


For those flying different airlines semi-frequently — trying to shop by ticket price – will be the “do I or do I not” pay a premium to board early … who wants to be stuck in the last boarding zone searching for overhead storage? Because, if you do find overhead space, it will often be a distance from the ticketed seat creating an even bigger delay when deplaning. This new random boarding will put a person in jeopardy each time they fly if they’ll be the last one on. Even if it is the last “zone” who knows if a bag will even fit? Some think the pressure will be there to pay for the early boarding.

If I were designing the boarding process, I think I’d go with the United Continental suggestion of loading “window, middle and then aisle seat.” To me that should run smoother and makes those inside seats a little more attractive (knowing you’ll get overhead storage).

Alaska Airline goes one better and decided to board those who check their bag (and pay for the service) first. Now that’s adds another wrinkle … as does JetBlue’s and Virgin America’s boarding early if you pay for the “even more space” extra legroom seats.

How much would you pay to keep your carry on near your seat and have the privilege of boarding early? (currently $9 is American’s number, but I’m thinking it will go up as the usage rises)


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