It is difficult to know what factors airlines take into account when developing their boarding systems, but it is clear that the economic factor is one of the most important.
In fact, a study of the impact of flight delays published by the University of Berkeley in California showed how an estimate of the total cost of flight delays in the United States cost the industry $32.9 billion, of which $16.7 billion had a “passenger component.
A stopped plane costs between 40 and 337 dollars when stopped, the study said, so saving on boarding times should be a priority for these airlines.
This is another reason why some airlines require different additional payments depending on which cabin baggage we carry or which one we want to check: being clear about what we are going to carry and pay before can save more than a displeasure, and not only does it allow airlines to earn extra revenue, but they can also better organize boarding and reduce times with these measures.
Such measures have become the norm in highly controversial airlines such as Ryanair, which has long charged between EUR 6 and EUR 10 for hand luggage if we are foresighted, but that amount amounts to more than EUR 25 if we carry more hand luggage than is permitted at the boarding gate.
These measures work, of course, and charging more for checking in any type of baggage is one of the systems to increase revenue: in 2016 alone, US airlines received 4.2 billion dollars for this type of payment, accounting for 2.5% of their total revenue that year.
This measure does not comply with the Spanish regulations of the Air Navigation Law, but it is also that the conditions of each airline vary on a fundamental issue such as the measurements of suitcases allowed for cabin luggage, which are different depending on the company. The consensus here is non-existent, something that generates additional stress among passengers.
Some airlines do try to improve on this. American Airlines spent two years studying its boarding processes and came to the conclusion that a partially random system based on zones was the most appropriate. A little later it introduced a modification, and allowed passengers who didn’t need to put anything in the cabin compartments to have priority in boarding.
How are boarding groups created?
Each airline uses different boarding procedures involving different parameters. These parameters include the priority of passengers – whether they are members of loyalty programs, frequent flyers, etc. – what they have paid for the ticket or even the boarding systems they use on that airline.
This means that we may encounter situations that should be analogous in different companies but are not: often those who pay an extra have higher shipping priority.
In the meantime, groups with lower priority may have rented a car next to the passenger or a hotel and a group that embarks later could do so because they have paid only for the ticket without any extra, but this argument is often mixed with others that result in different situations.
In StackExchange they explained for example how in American Airlines for example the priority is for first class passengers, then business class, then high level frequent passengers, low level and then groups 1 to 4.
Group 1 would have paid an extra to board earlier or paid by credit card. In group 2 there would be people who use online check-in or who have a connecting flight with another airline, group 3 is people who use one of the ticketing terminals at the airport and group 4 is people who get a boarding pass with an agent, for example when checking in.
This system is different from United Airlines, which uses very different groups from 1 to 5. Group 1 includes first and business class passengers as well as high level frequent flyers. Group 2 would include the remaining frequent flyers, people who have paid for earlier boarding, and people with United credit cards.
Group 3 would include all passengers who go in window seats, while group 4 would include the remaining passengers who sit in the middle seat and group 5 would include the remaining passengers (aisle seats).
In Spain the same thing happens and each airline has its own procedure. Iberia, for example, has four groups, while uqe Vueling has three different groups and Ryanair, as we explained in depth a few months ago, has its own method of maximising extra revenue after buying the ticket.
There are group boarding processes of all types, and for example Lufthansa has different policies for different types of flight. In the long distance (outside Europe) while Japan Airlines has a process in which after the pre-boarding used by many airlines (people with temporary or permanent disabilities, families with small children) embark priority passengers (First, Business, frequent travelers) and then go to a boarding back to front.
There are many conclusions to be drawn from this analysis. First and foremost, that airlines do not have a unified, standard process that could help make everything easier for passengers, who are disadvantaged by these differences. The second is that economic revenue is once again being sent.
And third, that science and data seem to matter very little: there are theoretically better methods than the airlines use for boarding, but they don’t seem interested in taking advantage of them. As we mentioned at the beginning, let us hope that some of them will read to us and consider changes in a system that would not only be beneficial for passengers, but also for them thanks to time savings.