Traveling Light? American Airlines Will Let You Board Earlier

 @MarkJohansonIBT
on May 16 2013 8:16 PM
American Airlines
American Airlines customers traveling with only one personal carry-on item can now board right after premium passengers. REUTERS

Each year, airlines dream up new ways to coax passengers into bringing fewer bags. For the carriers, it helps save on costly jet fuel. For the passenger, it means a quicker entry and exit from the airport.

This is the idea behind American Airlines’ new policy, effective Thursday, which allows customers who are traveling light to board earlier.

"For customers, departing on time and arriving at their destination on time is a huge factor in how they feel about their overall experience," explained Carol Wright, American's Vice President of Customer Planning. "Our tests indicate that this new boarding process will improve our dependability and on-time performance, while being easier and more enjoyable for our customers.”

The Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier lets each customer take onboard at no charge a personal item that fits under the seat and one bag that meets the FAA-mandated carry-on size requirements for the overhead bin. Essentially, American customers traveling with only one personal carry-on item that fits under the seat in front of them -- no rolling luggage -- will now be invited to board immediately following the Group 1 premium passengers.

American will also let customers check a carry-on bag at the gate at no extra charge and board early. This could help savvy travelers save between $25 and $35, although they will have to retrieve their luggage after they land.

The carrier tested the new boarding process earlier this year at seven airports nationwide and said the feedback was “overwhelmingly positive.” It anticipates a notable reduction in average boarding time per flight with the new process, and called the idea “another example of how American is reinventing itself by continuously seeking out ways to streamline processes, creating a more efficient and enjoyable customer journey.”

The carrier has good reason to seek new ways of improving its on-time performance. Of the legacy airlines, American had the worst record for on-time arrivals in 2012 at just 77 percent.

Indeed, all carriers have suffered in this category. Because of recent fees for checked bags, many passengers now choose to cram as much as they can into their carry-on luggage, leading to limited space in overhead bins and a buildup in boarding times as passengers stop in the aisle to hoist their bags into position.

Flight attendants or gate agents are increasingly forced to ask passengers in the last boarding group to surrender their bag for gate-checking when overhead bins fill up, an awkward and timely process.

If the new boarding scheme works well for American, you can expect others to follow suit.

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