Rookie Wednesday: Understanding the Delta boarding Zones / Groups (all 7 of them)!

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RenesPoints Rookie

Welcome to a weekly feature on the Renés Points blog. Each week this series covers in a “rookie” way either a Delta or travel related theme and attempts to break down to a basic level each topic. You can read up on all the previous posts HERE. Now on to this week’s feature.

what delta zone boarding really is like

Official boarding vs. Real boarding 😉

I thought this week it would be a fun idea to translate the official Delta wording + zones into more understandable and realistic verbiage for the normal flyer to better grasp just what will happen when you board a Delta jet.

First off Delta does not use groups like other airlines do. They do call some of them zones but this really is a bit misleading as you can see by the time you get to “zone 1” you really are up to the FOURTH group of folks who will board the jet. Let’s look at these one by one with me expanding on Delta’s official wording:

  • Pre-Boarding a.k.a. Group 1. Old folks, those with a limp (real limp, or not), parents with lots of kids who need time even if half of the kids are teens. Thankfully social shaming does tend to stop “most” from abusing this boarding group but just know just about anyone can board with this group. If you are challenged by the gate agent and tell them you need more time they are not going to stop you.
  • Premium Zone a.k.a. Group 2. If you see PREM on your boarding pass you (and those with you) get to find lots of open overhead space and can settle in and start to relax. If you happen to be a Diamond Medallion you know you get to board now unless you got an evil E BASIC fare and are not smart enough to have a Delta AMEX card #TIP
  • Sky Zone a.k.a. Group 3. Welcome just about everyone at the gate area who is an elite or has upgraded to C+ or who purchased a C+ seat. Even if your boarding pass says SKY it will take a while to board but at least you have a decent shot at getting your bag over your seat and can enjoy bumping everyone in the aisle with your bags who were in the first two groups of folks!
  • Zone 1 a.k.a. Group 4. Ya know 1 sounds like first but then again Delta 1st class is not 1st class so this is just one more way Delta plays with words. If you are anyone remotely connected with Delta you are boarding now after most of the folks on the jet are already onboard (if you’re at a Delta hub city). You still have a shot at overhead space but may have to go back a few rows to find an open spot (but at least you get one).
  • Zone 2 a.k.a. Group 5. Did I mention the gate agent will check your bag to your final destination for free before you get to board? No really, they will – and will force you to. The chance your bag will fly inside the cabin is remote unless it can fit where your feet would like to go. Sorry, next time you fly at least get a Delta AMEX card to board with Zone 1 😉
  • Zone 3 a.k.a. Group 6. I hope you have a backpack and a small one at that. I bet you are in a middle seat aren’t you. By now 1st class should be done with drinks and you can enjoy a very long wait in the jet bridge that will be insanely hot during summer and cold in winter. Enjoy?
  • Zone 4 a.k.a. Group 7. This one is not listed because it is not for “real” passengers. If your gate pass says NRSA it is very possible you will still be standing around with an expectant look on your face hoping the GA has a real boarding pass for you. At least you are smart enough to have a small carry-on or are ready to have your bag checked or are ready to beg for the coat closet for your bag.

This is the reality of Delta boarding zones if you have yet to experience it. How do I know this? I have been in them all as I tend to, when needed, join #TeamBoardLast as when there is a seat that is not filled in 1st class and I am the last elite standing I get the seat (most times) vs the elites that have boarded (despite the new rules that say they can go on-board).

What do you think of Delta zone boarding? – René

 

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15 comments

  1. The Delta boarding process is, more often than not, an excerise in frustration.

    Half the time, the GAs are barely audible.

    Plus, another example of Delta and their cute way of wording things: the co-branded Amex cards have a “priority boarding” perk that really is Zone 1 (Group 4). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve waited to board in our assigned SKY zone and people with Zone 1 boarding passes ask my wife or me or another passenger if they’re in the right spot for SKY. Almost all of the time, they had the AMEX credit card holder designation printed on the boarding pass. They understandably equated SkyPriority with the priority boarding Delta sold them on the card. (And in hub cities, Zone 1 is akin to, like, boarding number B30 or worse on Southwest.)

    I do wish Delta had assigned boarding lanes (in addition to the Sky and general), similar to Southwest and their A-B-C lines. I think that would really help start to get people lined up in the correct zones prior to boarding. I think a couple gates in ATL are doing this on a test basis?

  2. Funny! Some call the SW process madness, but I am way more frustrated by Delta boarding because inevitably, the entire concourse hall is completely blocked each time boarding begins (and before). Happens in ATL, and it happens in Nashville.

    I am cheating on SW w/ Delta next week (tiny airport), and I am hoping for At least Zone 2 (5?) cause there is no status for me anymore. It was always so frustrating that Silvers had Zone 1 as a “perk.”

    Anyway – wish me luck!

  3. Watching Pre-boarding is painful so many jump up and get on-looking perfectly fine…or have kids over 8?????? One trip i saw four guys in their 20’s jump up and pre-board??? and no questions asked or repeat special needs or help or kids under 2 ??? some GA’s specify those needing help or kids in car seats or coaches but i’ve seen kids in coaches over 8???

  4. I think of ten boarding groups:
    1. Pre Boarding: Sky Club, Centurion Lounge, Priority Lounge etc.
    2. Infirm passengers.
    3. Families with infants.
    4. Premium/Diamond
    5. Sky
    6. Zone 1
    7. Zone 2
    8. Zone 3
    9. #TeamBoardLast
    10. Non-revenue Space Available

  5. I love the Ted Stevens Anchorage, Alaska International Airport. No one crowds around the gate. Not ever. Boarding here is a pleasure. I wish all other airport gates were this laid back and orderly.

  6. Why would anybody pay to check in their bag, when you can bring it to you gate and check it in for free?????

  7. I moved to Delta to get away from standing in line at Southwest and having to pay to get “A” boarding. I wanted an assigned seat. My first experience was not good as I was in Zone 3 and had to wait until the plane emptied to retrieve my bag which was in the rear of the plane. What happened to seating everyone from the rear forward so the time it takes for everyone to board is significantly decreased. If those in first class want to board first – let them sit for a half hour or more and watch the others embark. I don’t care, but don’t let me make reservations 3 months in advance, have a seat in row 16 and then have to wait until the entire plane empties to retrieve my bag. It is cheaper at Southwest if I have to stand in line and end up in Zone 3 at Delta. It is too bad as my trip and changing planes in Atlanta was easy with Delta.

  8. @Justin – Justin either holding the Delta AMEX card or being a Medallion does get you priority boarding even if you are on a BASIC E fare.

  9. Rene, The blue light indicates that the passenger is plugged into power. The green light indicates the seat in D1 in locked. The picture clearly shows a non D1 seat and the light is blue.

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