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Can the Dutch fix boarding with “Smart Boarding”? What about Delta?

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Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

klm changing boarding process

In this month’s KLM e-news update they have announced they are testing on a few flights a “Smart Boarding” system and that they are the first airline in the world to do this. Well, I do think a few other airlines have something similar as I saw for myself when I flew last seat coach on United coming back from Hawaii last month and boarding in “groups”. Readers also share some interesting bits that sound a bunch like what KLM has, but KLM may be more “Dutch” about it and stick to the numbers. If any readers get to try the new KLM system let me know please!

Big Cheese tweets Delta Points about Delta boarding process

That takes me to a tweet today from follower Big Cheese. My input you say? It seems this week readers are so enjoying pushing all my “hot button” issues with our beloved airline! Delta’s boarding process is truly very simple Big Cheese, (said tongue-in-cheek and teasing), since you clearly don’t fly Delta very much let me explain it. Here is how it works:

1) Long before the flight passengers start to crowd the gate area
2) Gate agent announces elderly, kids under 2, those who need extra time
3) Everyone rushes gate area blocking the above
4) Gate agent loudly tells about convoluted boarding process
5) Anyone still sitting down now rushes the gate area
6) Melee of boarding begins over gate agents shouts

The exact same thing happens every flight, every airport, every gate! Now Delta has this fantasy about a Sky Priority lane, on the “far” side of the standard boarding lane that elites and such are just to use to “board at their leisure”. Really? In my 105 flights last year just about each time both lanes are always crowded beyond belief and the same process as you see described above happened.

Is the KLM test way the solution? Is the United way the solution? Is there another better way? Is it just a matter of the gate agents FIRMLY enforcing the zone boarding rules and shaming those who try to board in the wrong zone with a “time out” i.e. “go stand over there till I call your zone“? You tell me readers. Clearly the current “Delta way” is not the best and I think we can help them make it better (it really cannot be much worse). – René

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Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

René de Lambert is a contributing writer and the founder of RenesPoints. He is an avid Delta and SkyTeam flyer who has held Delta’s top Diamond Medallion status for many years and flown millions of miles.


  1. United tried something similar many years ago (boarding window first, then middle, then aisle), and it was a disaster because if you were in an aisle seat, which I and many others prefer, you were pretty much assured of not getting overhead space. This was back when there was no status or zones and boarding generally was done by row number with back rows getting called first.

  2. This sounds more like Southwest than United, where people are lined up by boarding number than groups.

  3. Delta’s boarding is a disaster. How many times have you boarded first and a bunch of people head to the back? Watching SW and UA I think they are on to something. If you enforce the lane then people will pay attention. The current mob scene is nothing but frustrating. I am currently on a DEN-ATL flight and it was uncontrolled even though the gate agents did try and control the mob. Two lanes does not make a controlled situation. Then you have the “no speak English” group. In addition it is way past time to enforce the carry on bag size/amount limits.

  4. I agree Delta’s boarding process is a disaster. My favorite is when they haven’t even announced FC or Sky Priority yet there is an announcement for Zone 2 at an adjacent gate and everyone in Zone 2 starts rushing the gate.

    To me, it would make more sense to have something similar to Southwest. You could have FC be the first numbers (i.e. A1-12/16/20, etc.) then after FC you could number the elites in priority of status level, fare class, etc. similar to the upgrade list. After elites, remaining pax could be ordered by fare class and/or check-in time, like SW’s process.

  5. As much as I love that you can choose premuim seats, get upgrades, board first, etc, the boarding process is, without a doubt, a mess. My biggest travel pet peeve is the gate rush. For example, at BNA, Delta gates B1, B2, and B3 are by the entrance to the B Concourse. Good luck getting into the concourse if any of those gates is boarding. And the passengers stading directly in the middle of the concourse blocking traffic seem completely oblivious (or just don’t care)! Not to mention that Zone 1 is half the plane, and, as a Silver Medallion, it’s a joke that they call this a perk.

    So…I say all that to say the boarding process for Southwest is awesome, despite the open seating problem. Folks keep their butts in their seats until they are called to line up, and there is never any gate crowding. I believe that this is the case becuase the boarding process is controlled on the right side of the gate; control the airport traffic, and then let customers go from there. It’s awesome for the rare flyer, and if you have status with SW, your early boarding position takes most of the (already small amount of) stress out of the process.

    So what’s the magic answer? Who knows. All I know is that SW can turn a plane in less time than Delta can get the jetbridge up to the door, so clearly, the more organization inside the airport, the better. You can tell folks to what to do, and they will not listen. (a la “Please remain seated until your zone is called.”) Or you can force them to by making a clear, strict process. (a la SW Air) If Delta can use the creativity they have been putting into coming up with these “enhancements” to come up with some new boarding procedures, maybe they could find a new, effective solution?

  6. This will only work if Gate Agents enforce carry-on policy. Otherwise, the “big cheeses’ and those in priority seating won’t have anywhere to place their bags and that does not help the bottom line.

  7. Corbett Kroehler Reply

    The Delta concourse at MCO has a decent floor plan which allows for moderate success with the Sky Priority boarding lane. I assume that passengers’ time standing in queue at the theme parks makes them more pliant in terms of boarding when their zone is called. If a flight is delayed, however, the pandemonium which you cite can occur. The Delta concourse at DFW is only slightly worse that at MCO and I’ve seen decent success there. At ORD, it’s a mess and I’ve even seen an elderly passenger in Zone 1 physically scoff at the gate agent and board anyway after being told that only first class was boarding. Even though I despise Southwest, their stern enforcement of numbered boarding ranges strikes me as the only way to go. René, I share your frustration over the utterly absent hand luggage size enforcement and believe that the courtesy which Delta tries to extend with that cretinous rule shares causality with crowds crushing the gate at boarding time. Discipline is the answer to both.

  8. I truly believe that if the gate agents had more backbone it would help. Also, when the gate rushers and people that try to get on earlier than there zone would get pulled to the side a couple times then (just) maybe it would curtail the congestion.

  9. Instead of making the SkyPriority lane six feet long, make it 24 feet long (or so) and let skypriority people stand there (if they want to) prior to boarding. This area would be marked at the beginning and end of the area. That way zone 1 and 2 passengers wouldn’t block us out. That takes care of my problem, but Delta could do the same thing for zones 1 and 2 and even first or business class if space permits. They try to do something similar at NRT.

  10. I’ve had Sky Priority lanes work for me occaisionally, but only when I’ve been in FC and knew I’d have overhead space – then I try to board later. Otherwise, I usually board Sky Prioirity with the other 80 Sky Prioirity passengers.

    Perhaps they could do something with zone jumpers like when an upgrade or standby seat is assigned – if your boarding pass is scanned before your zone is called, you get a new one printed out with Zone 4…

  11. I have a lot of experience with KLM’s boarding process. Typically it’s LAX-AMS. I’ve noticed they’re terrible at keeping people away from the door, but they’re good at keeping people from boarding before they’re supposed to. They seem to have a better hold on it at AMS.

    On one flight last year, I was flying economy but was boarding as Skyteam Elite Plus right after business. I was fighting my way through the 20 rows of people and the woman reached in and grabbed my hand to pull me through. Someone tried to follow using the “No english. No dutch. No nothing.” excuse and she shut him right down. He was being so annoying about it that I was kind of happy she turned his ass right around. I’m all for people being treated with respect and dignity, but you have to follow the rules.

    I’ve actually found Delta to be getting better about boarding. From what I can recall sitting here not having had my morning coffee, I can’t think of a time where I thought the SkyPriority line didn’t provide SOME kind of convenience–especially if you’re running late. It’s typically empty and as soon as you walk up they usually notice.

  12. I really believe the boarding process would be well served by first enforcing the carry on baggage size limit. Or, if they did away with the baggage fee, we might could go back to boarding from the back first because there wouldn’t be a need for too many carry-ons. I remember that being a more orderly process. I think delta has put the gate agents in an untenable position because of the baggage fees. I have been in line, correctly, and a gate agent has told someone they were not supposed to be boarding yet and it wasn’t pretty.

  13. It’s telling how important FFs and co-brand credit card customers are to airlines because the current system definitely is more about marketing. I tend to think if the boarding process could be shortened they may squeeze one more turn out of a plane and think how much money that would save them. Nonetheless, if an airline truly wanted to streamline the boarding process they would waive the first checked bag fee for everyone and charge non-elites $20 for a bag tag to use the overhead bin space. Under you seat carry-on could still be free. The overhead bin (and avoiding the bag fees) is what all the fuss is about.

  14. Don in ATL Reply

    I think the gate agents are lax because if a customer complains on and spelling out the Gate, flight and time, that gate agent can be identified. The person complaining won’t say, “The gate agent turned me back because I was trying to board out of turn.” Instead the person will lie (because s/he is upset and say, “The gate agent was rude to me for no apparent reason.” The gate agent then gets bad marks in his/her record. For a gate, the best route it to not piss any customer off to the point of where the customer goes on and complains.

  15. DLin Richmond Reply

    Am I the only flyer to notice that “we are now boarding those with small children or needing additional time” is as bad as the “less that 10 items” line at your local food store? With increasing frequency this group is full of totally able passengers and I’ll bet they’re in zone 2,3,or 4 and know they’ll never get overhead space unless they act with an air of entitlement. Tough call for a GA but the abuse by some is so obvious that I’ve heard FC and SKY passengers say something – to no avail

  16. I experienced a test at DTW in 2012, where Delta had pylons/signs with the zone numbers, and you lined up behind your pylon. The gate agents explained the procedure several times. The lines were against the windows and out of the way. It worked very well; I was so impressed that I emailed Delta about it and told them they needed to implement it ASAP. I was hoping to see something in place by now!

    In general, I think if people had “somewhere to line up”, they would be happy to comply. There is limited seating space in most gate areas, so they just crowd around the gate area.

  17. Tyrell Track Master Reply

    What the Dutch need to fix are those awful “penalty boxes” at Schipol that force you to go through security into that void where you just sit there staring at the wall before boarding.

    Schipol is an awesome airport except for this feature. Why can’t they put security FIRST so you can avoid the penalty box? That would go a long way!

  18. Darth Chocolate Reply

    Watch the procedures at Narita or in China for Delta flights. Thay have extra agents patrolling the SkyPriority lanes asking to see boarding passes and directing people who are in the wrong line to go to the general boarding side.

  19. How about automated gates where you scan your boarding pass and it opens only if your zone has been called? This could cut down on the number of gate agents that are needed as well. The only problem would be if you had a companion in a lower zone, it would be tricky to board together.

  20. AHHHH, the joy of travel with only a Patagonia MiniMass bag. It always fits under the seat in front of me. I sit and wait for others to board and keep reading. When line is about done I stand and stroll aboard.

    I realize it’s not for everyone, particularly you road warriors, but it’s very freeing and leisures should try it. Sometimes I score an upgrade that I wouldn’t had I boarded in my SkyPriority zone.

    So gate lice are less an annnoyance to me, and more an amusing phenomenon to watch from afar.

  21. Delta’s non-enforcement of rules is the problem. Yesterday I observed a female pax board with (1) a very large roll aboard which had attached (2)another rollaboard (3)a fairly large duffel bag (4)a sofsided accessory bag and over her left shoulder (5)a large leather briefcase, twice the size of my carryon briefcase, and over her right shoulder (6)an enormous satchel size purse. Her items took up an entire overhead bin plus one third of the adjacent bin. I pay to check my two roll aboards and this woman just infuriated me. I’m 72 yo and couldn’t have physically handled what she did, I guess I should be in awe of her.

  22. Bright spot Reply

    I blame the boarding chaos largely on the lack of signage indicating which groups are allowed to board at any given time. I rarely see “Now boarding Zone x” information on the digital sign behind each gate, at least at U.S. airports. This drives me crazy. Seems to me this information would clear up much of the confusion, especially for folks who miss the usually-garbled audio announcement or who don’t understand English easily.

  23. I’ve seen athletes wearing team jackets and racquets slung over their shoulders boarding with the “need additional time group”. When I asked the GA why they were allowed to board, the reply was “we’re not allowed to deny anyone”. Delta will never enforce the boarding rules.

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