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

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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.

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 😉

UPDATE: See the 2019+ NEW boarding order HERE! <-LINK


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 (learn more) #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 (learn more) 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

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. 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. dot cahill Reply

    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. Pingback: when is "priority" boarding Sky vs 1?? - FlyerTalk Forums

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

  8. Diana George Reply

    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.

    • @Diana – You need, at least, to get a Delta AMEX card to get ZONE 1. Beyond that is status to get faster boarding and choose the nice seats. Or just book C+.

  9. I thought elites still get their priority boarding even with an “E” fare.

    • @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.

  10. Kevin King Reply

    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.

  11. After every Delta flight, they send me a survey. My feedback to them is usually the same every time. The flight was fine, the organization at the gate was awful. Even when I’ve had first class tickets, I still have to bump my way past all the gate hoverers. I’ve had multiple occasions where I couldn’t push my way through and ended up boarding with the Sky Priority group (which out of ATL is often the largest group). If you’ve ever flown with Cathay Pacific, they have gate organization down to a science. Yes, they have 5-6 gate agents instead of the 2-4 that DAL typically uses, but CX ensures the folks that paid for premium service actually get to experience the premium service. With DAL, that doesn’t usually happen unless you’re willing to throw a few elbows at the boarding gate.

  12. As a Plat with with 115K MQM’s last year, along with the Delta AMEX card, who seldom (almost never) gets a FC upgrade, boarding 25th in the Sky Group (55th overall) is the absolute worst part of not getting an upgrade. Oh, and to get that 25th position in sky in airports like Atlanta, I have to push my way through 20 people.

    I’ve written Delta post-flight numerous times asking for platinum to board after premium and then let sky be gold and silver. I know it’s self serving, but it makes more sense to me.

  13. I have Delta AmEx and I always get SKY. Are you saying I should be Zone 1? Or only if also Diamond?

    • @CSue – If you are a medallion that gets SKY that will trump the card Zone 1 boardings.

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