The winners and losers from the new 2019 Delta Color Coded Group Boarding Order vs. Zone boarding.

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Chart from Delta Air Lines

A few days ago every national media outlet covered the above. That in itself is simply amazing to me and it shows what a mega travel “hot button” issue this truly is (as one extreme example, think about the lady who got dragged off a Delta jet by the police because she was afraid of loss of overhead space last year). It is such an issue that every day my post from years ago about the “real life” Delta zone boarding order gets nearly 100 views.

Remember this?

Let me start with my thoughts on this at the risk of someone scrolling straight to the bottom of the post and typing a comment. Delta had a chance to make a clean break and simply use GROUP 1-8 boarding. This would have been, IMO, the best fix to the Zone mess. Clearly nothing will fix human behavior to stop a Group 8 flyer from standing in the way in the boarding area when they call Group 1 – but the simpler option would have been better. Delta did not do this. And the color coded boarding thing? Yeah, that worked so well for Homeland Security a few years back if you will recall. Now on the substance and the changes.

First off, when you look at the Delta published chart above, there are many things they say are “unchanged“. Then again Delta still promotes SkyMiles as “A” award winner loyalty program when they are #2 after Alaska (for two years in a row now) in the US News award they promote (so truth is a kinda fuzzy reality with Delta). For example, they say Group 5, that was Zone 3, is going to be unchanged. Really?

Next, there are clearly things totally missing when you compare to the old Zone chart. Are you a Silver Medallion? Notice you are NOT listed at all? Expect to board with Group 5 folks, that is, those who have a Delta credit card (and we thank you for your loyalty).

Then we have Platinum Medallions and Gold Medallions (as well as Skyteam Elite Plus members). You also get a downgrade in 2019. You were Zone 2 and now your are Group 4 (the RED group if that makes you feel better?)! I know many are really furious over this but to me, if and when I drop back down to Platinum from Diamond, it will not matter much. I tend to pick exit row seats because C+, especially on shorter flights with no C+ service (unless you beg for it), just does not matter. There will still be space for my bag in the overhead boarding in Group 4.

#YouAreYourFare – that is the new C+ boarding group. The sad part about this new change is that I do think this will end up slowing down the current Zone boarding process. We know from studies that random boarding works better and having a new section up front-ish of the jet is not going to make things faster. This is sad but it is about what you paid not your loyalty to Delta – we all know this in 2019!

Now let’s dive in to the psychology of the colored branding marking spin from Delta. They can never ever do anything that is like every other airline. Just one example of this is the Delta Premium Economy seat. They don’t call it PE they call it Premium Select. Same goes for Group 5 that they will call “Main Cabin 1”. Why? It will be hard to market to the every day consumer the value of getting a Delta branded credit card with the perk of Group 5 / Blue boarding, that is only 3 from the last dark blue group, but if you can sell it as CABIN 1 – well that sounds first-ish right? 😉

Will any of this have any impact on the Delta boarding process? I do think gate agents yelling out “Delta One” or “Delta Premium Select” or “First Class passengers only” will be more effective than calling now boarding ZONE PREMIUM (and it will sound much less silly). Breaking down the mass of humanity that was Zone 1 & 2 into 4 separate groups may have a tiny impact on the swell of bodies in the boarding area (but I am not holding my breath). Also, it will be for Platinum Medallions and below (as talked about above) that you will end up having more “quality time” each flight standing in the jet bridge than you had in 2018.

Do keep in mind there will be a Group 0 if you will, that is, pre-boarding will still happen before any of the colored Groups are announced. Also, there is now a tiny reason to consider C+ an upgrade – well at least in the boarding order if nothing else.

As a frequent flyer I am becoming numb to the new reality and spin of Delta marketing everything under the sun and thanking me for my loyalty is becoming all but worthless. Words mean very little and actions show the truth of the matter. In yesterday’s Delta investors day call the Delta President gleefully promoted that soon folks will be able to, on the way to the airport in the Fly Delta App, upgrade to 1st class for 3000 miles. OK then – I get it!

Now it is your turn. You have had a few days to chew on this. What do you think of the new Delta colored group not-group boarding process starting in 2019? – René