Travel Related

Let’s talk about Delta’s interim EPQS gate pillars and other outstanding issues (yes, it is “enhanced”).

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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 Delta LAX Boarding lane Area mess
An all too common site: Delta boarding mess!

Just about two years ago I posted about the old “EPQS” system that we have seen at certain gates in Atlanta. What is EPQS you ask? Delta says on the PR hub it is the “enhanced pillar queuing system“. First off, when will airlines ever learn that to frequent flyers the use of the word enhanced is equivalent to cursing (or worse). Beyond that, this test really is nothing that new since in one form or another the EPQS has been tinkered with for years.

Photo credit: Delta Air Lines

What is new is the suggested expansion of this interim fix for a rather constant problem in boarding areas like you see in the shot above from LAX gates. Or, another example below from DTW.

gate-area-in-dtw-detroid-mi-RenesPoints blog
Boarding blocking concourse DTW airport

This one from Detroit is mild in comparison to what you can see at any number of airports like JFK where the mass of folks can be so packed that it all but completely blocks the concourse preventing folks from passing to another gate.

Obviously, Delta has to do something and part of the issue is the confusion over boarding “zones” as Delta calls them vs. groups like other airlines use. Since “ZONE 1” is really the 4th (or even 5th at times) group to board you have folks assuming they will be 1st to board and start to cue up in the boarding area. Will the EPQS help? Maybe but there are clearly space issues.

Even in the PR provided photo on the Delta News Hub we can see what a mess it will create as folks try to work with gate agents before the flight and even during boarding. This is just not a great fix and as someone who flies Delta all the time I just don’t see EPQS as anything but a band-aid at best and making an already crowded area worse.

Clearly, this is all about money. Those who pay the most, including those who pay for the privilege to board early, want to get on ASAP. Delta has promoted this and will keep doing so as every bit of incremental revenue matters. Thus something has to give. Gates need to be totally reworked in order to become the clear revenue making area they want it to be and that is not how they are currently built.

You tell me. Have you experienced the EPQS yet? Do you think this will have any kind of positive impact in the boarding process? Do you have a better interim idea to fix the mess? – 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. Why can’t it just be group 1, then group 2, etc.? This bunching at the door did not really become a problem until airlines began charging for checked bags, in my humble opinion. I know I’m in the minority but I always check my bag because, as an “elite” with delta, my bag is usually one of the first to arrive in baggage claim. I can then wait and be one of the last to board and I don’t wind up sitting on the airplane for 20 minutes being bumped by every person who boards after me. Alas, I do miss the opportunity to get bonked in the head by somebody trying to heft a heavy bag into the overhead bin but some perks just have to be given up!

  2. “If I can’t carry it on board, I don’t need it” is my motto learned through over 40 years of air travel. Lost bags, delayed bags, damaged bags, etc. are only part of the story. My experience tells me that once you “surrender” your bag to the airline, you lose flexibility should delays affect your connecting flights. For international travel, this can mean a lost day, a missed meeting, rebooking to another city, or some other inconvenience. For this benefit, I sacrifice sitting time in the SkyClub for standing time in the Priority lane. I keep my luggage within the legal limits by “wear one, carry three”, and have learned to wash my clothes in the hotel sink with shampoo (collared shirts I send out), unless the hotel has guest coin laundry. I try to board first (as a Diamond), get my bags up there (love those new edgewise bins!), and enjoy the parade.

  3. Delta/NW has used a similar system at Tokyo (NRT) for decades. The system works decently there but still has problems. At NRT agents check the boarding pass of those waiting in line for priority and premium cabin boarding. No way delta will incur these added labor costs systemwide.

  4. Flew through ATL Tuesday under enhanced system. Problems: gate agent blocked by passengers with issues who then blocked the Diamond access; gate fleas stood in line blocking Diamond access because system poorly announced and totally unenforced; inadequate room for queues. Summary-made the worst Delta issue only worse again, gates areas need to be redone. I absolutely detest the “fight to be first” I am forced to engage in for every Delta flight because the boarding system is so bad. I am a Delta 3 MM, Diamond.

    I am not a fan of Southwest but this is one thing they get right, and one of the few reasons that I also am an A-List preferred with them-I know I can get on and get my bags up when running late by purchasing a Business class fare.

    Hello, McFly-is anyone at Delta listening?

    • @Robert – Thanks for your real life review and shows what I expected would happen. Ugg! 🙁

  5. One problem is there simply isn’t enough room at some gates and EPQS just takes up even more space. best thing they can do in my opinion is have a LARGE screen with zones listed, while highlighting the currently boarding zones. Some gates have something to this effect, but none seem to do it quite right or consistently.

  6. If they’re going to queue us up like cattle, I’ll just fly Southwest. I pay extra to not deal with that garbage.

  7. I experienced last year’s version of this in ATL, and it seemed pretty dysfunctional. There was no pillar for PREM, as they were simply supposed to stand by the door (but there was no sign indicating that, so the GA had to announce it). As expected, SKY had the largest number of people but was designed to be the same size as the other queues, so much of the tiny area was taken up with SKY people asking, “is this that Priority line?” This also meant people had to ask to move through the SKY line to get to later zones. Very ineffective.

    I personally like the reader idea of a large screen (or multiple ones) clearly indicating which zone is currently boarding. Not just with DL, but with multiple carriers, one so often finds passengers asking each other who’s boarding. They need to move away from overhead announcements as it’s too confusing in airports with adjacent gates that all use the same PA system. If you’re just walking up and hear “now boarding Zone 3,” you rush to the gate only to realize that is for a different flight.

  8. I like the airports where Alaska Air has the screens showing who should board and who should not, and especially when the gate agent actually enforces it and announces clearly who is and is not boarding. It is not a panacea but mitigates the problem. Basically people will follow the rules if and only if they think other people are, otherwise it all breaks down.

  9. i am used to this grouping in japan and what a fiasco its a cattle call by group and the herders are barking i swear its awful shoving and those damn carryons running into everyone. china eastern tries this in the usa departures and its no better!! and boarding at shanghai is a joke no premium boarding or sky priority its open the gare and everyone run for it?? until they expand and reorganize the gates for more room i see no solution!? our airports are seriously over capacity for vehicles as well as accomodating full planes,,,,,give it 20 years more to expand at the snail pace we are all used to

  10. Fred Zulager Reply

    As Depeche Mode says People are People ~ everyone wants to bring their steamer trunk on the flight with them as they don’t want to pay baggage fees. I know this is heresy but if Delta wants to fix the boarding then they should lower the price (or make it free) for checked bags and charge more (say $40 for a carry-on bag) and they should limit the number of carry-on bags. If the overhead bins will only accommodate 100 bags then only sell 100 carry-on bags and check the rest. Lastly, the gate agent needs to enforce the size rules. As a Diamond 2.5 MM, I have seen people literally bring a steamer trunk on board and take a whole overhead bin to themselves.

    This will do a number things – it will smooth out the boarding process as there is less of an incentive to board as you know you have a place for your bag, probably raise revenue for Delta as they won’t make checked bags free (although they are already free if you gate check them) but most importantly lower everyone’s stress. The gate agent who will now have a more orderly check-in process, have fewer gate checked bags to deal with and “happier” passengers. The flight attendants will have lower stress as they don’t have to try and figure out how to get 200 bags into bins that accomodate 100 bags and having to tell their,passengers that will sit on their plane for the next 1 to 4 hours that they had to gate check their bag that they schlepped through security. The passengers will be happy as their expectations will be met and it will be easier to board.

    At the end of the day, this is a capacity (or supply – demand) issue. There is not enough capacity in the overhead bins for the amount of bags that want to be carried on the plane. As we all learned in Economics 101, when demand outstrips supply, you should raise the price. I am a little surprised that Delta has not recognized the potential money maker this is.

  11. I’ve been flying out of MCO at least month for over a year and the boarding there is simply terrible. It’s always a free for all. My last flight Feb 25th the gate agent called for people needing assistance first (no problem there completely understandable) all while asking for volunteers to check their bag. Then they call for children in arms and again understandable, with MCO being MCO there’s a LOT usually. Between the three calls (the 2 boarding and checking bags) this pushes whatever time clock they are up against and takes a lot of time. So the next announcement was Ladies and Gentleman we are now boarding our First class passengers, Zone 1 and Zone 2. Yes they didn’t initially say anything about Priority, but by then the gate crush was on. I looked at the guy next to me and said oh this is going to be a mess.

    I think MCO should be a case study for Delta to improve boarding. I agree with Fred, a big reason for the issues are the bag fees people don’t want to pay, but from what I’ve seen inconsistencies at the gate are also a big contributor, I hate to say. (I’ve worked airside for NWA and know the gate agents are working their hardest usually with not great pay and little thanks from pax and mgnt as well as the time crunch they are always up against) Delta has a fairly good display system that announces what zone is boarding, but at least at MCO the gate agent announcements regularly override it.

    That said I still think Delta’s queuing is far better the AA going through their 9 zones. If you have a chance, just sit and listen to it, over half of all their announcements are simply naming the different zones. Crazy!

    I’m surprised an airline hasn’t just numbered the seats front to back and boarded by number, let status have a +25 for silver +50 for gold etc…

  12. Seth Redlus Reply

    I hate to go against the Southwest lovers, but that system is flawed too – they expect people to get in numerical order, but based on the way they’ve numbered their columns, it still leaves room for interpretation – so best you can really hope is to get in within 5 of your actual boarding number. The other problem with the Southwest system is that they often let people jump (seen it several times) which negates the “wisdom” of the whole thing.

    If you follow airline news, American just announced that they’re breaking their boarding into 10 groups, and following the numerical order so people know the true order they’re boarding – but I agree, it won’t solve the crowding issue. Delta has clearly been playing with this for some time since I know I saw an earlier iteration in Concourse B at ATL. I agree, the biggest issue is overflow as those lanes will only hold ~20ppl each so that’s barely half the flight that can fit within them. I think they should have turned them outward so they went into the concourse, and not just bunched up inside the gate area. Try doing any version of this in Terminal 2 at JFK – that’ll be laughable.

  13. Having TV screens list the current boarding zone doesnt do anything whatsoever. Many airports use this to no avail. Mr. “I’m gonna stand at the end of the priority carpet although I’m zone 2 so I can board first of zone 2” will continue to stand in the priority lane even when it says that SKY is boarding (and he will look at you haughtily if you DARE ask him to move aside). The only way to dispel his kind is to have the clear zone waiting sections like ATL has started to use. However, there’s not enough waiting room for all the zones and the starting point between first and sky priority is not always clear to people. Plus the premium lane often spills out into the area where passengers are waiting for the GA. However, I greatly prefer this system over the standard as at least it gives some visual cues to the cattle as to how the livestock is supposed to board. Many infrequent flyers assume that Zone 1 is the first zone and so they hover closely at the gate, not realizing that there’s probably 75 people behind them that get to board first. They never quite hear the GA saying what the zone boarding process is, so it helps to see the big “stand here if you’re this zone” signs to get a clue of what the true priority is. I greatly prefer this method as it seems to be a more effective way to tell people what their place is and is a more organized method overall.

  14. I detest the boarding process on every airline and at every airport. I usually hang out far from the crowd, then wait until nearly everyone has boarded.

    I need my personal space.

  15. The other thing that takes time away from the gate agent is why on earth do Diamonds and Plats have to wait until the last minute to be upgraded? If your able receive a complimentary upgrade “72 hours prior to departure” , why is this not able to be done online at the very latest when you check in to board? The elites knowing they qualify for an upgrade, basic economy passengers and stand by seats all add to the unnecessary gate complications. All should be auto assigned at check in.

    • @Scott – I have been told they wait as long as they can for walk-up 1st class buys that do happen. But I agree it should be UG at the 1HR mark. After all, we can not officially request RU UG after 3hr mark now.

  16. Maine Big Daddy Reply

    Had to fly United with my wife and kids this past thanksgiving (thank you Delta for being crazy expensive), she is Gold and boards Group 2, one thing United is doing at EWR (at least that is where I saw it) is that the bar code scanner will buzz and turn red if someone tries to board in the wrong zone/group. Very loud and very embarrassing, that would go a long way to keeping only those who should be boarding, boarding.

  17. Jean Mazur Reply

    Here’s one idea. Why not have queue lines in the seat aisles? You’d have everyone else waiting outside them but it might alleviate the crush at the gate. It would be hard to push ahead of someone when you get into the aisles.

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