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

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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.

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


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. Greetings, All would be better if check-in would enforce carry-on size and number rules and gate agents would send those who jump boarding zones back rather than just letting them on. There are rules to be enforced or just junk the rules.

  2. ” Are you a Silver Medallion? Notice you are NOT listed at all? Expect to board with Group 5 folks…”

    They are listed as Zone 1 which is being rebranded Main Cabin 1 (i.e. Group 5) as it says “unchanged” implying all pax who qualified for Zone 1 now receive Main Cabin 1.

    I would expect Delta to shift over the specifics of who qualifies for each group when they remove the old system and have a graphic only depicting their new one after the transitional period.

    • @Tim – So to you going from the 3rd boarding group (now) to the 5th boarding group is implying unchanged?

  3. Frankie Morgan Reply

    It certainly adds an incentive to purchase DL Comfort even for shorter flights. And Platinums will now board one group later and be treated the same as Golds.

    I think overall to the vast majority of travelers who are unsophisticated flyers that this will all be exceptionally confusing.

    How are colors supposed to work when many passengers print off their boarding passes at home in black and white?

  4. The Man from del Monte Reply

    Sadly, what slows down boarding most is the inconsiderate nitwits who fly in first and seem to think that the eleven teen hours it takes them to store their junk is appropriate. If you board First last, I think you’d find we’d get on the plane in half the time

  5. I can just picture eight boarding groups for your CRJ-200 out of South Bend!

  6. Sigh… that’s what I did after reading the article. For me personally, I’ll have my first year of Diamond status with Delta so I’m at the top, but after spending much of this year as Gold and Platinum, I feel this is not good overall.

    Platinums and Golds board together. To earn Platinum, you have to fly a lot, especially if you’re only taking domestic flights. I feel there should be a delineation of service between gold and platinum which could easily be done at boarding. Other than some minor things, you pretty much get the same benefits at Platinum that you do at gold. I think this should be changed.

    I 100% agree with John. If the gate agents enforced the rules, boarding would be so much better. I like the idea of penalizing those trying to jump the line. Something like, if you try to board outside of your zone, you will be penalized and only be allowed to board at the tail end of your boarding zone. No doubt it would cause some friction, but it would actually allow Delta to keep its structure and be able to provide benefits to their most loyal customers (who aren’t likely to line jump in the first place). But as John mentions, those folks are usually allowed to board, even if they’ve slid in line multiple zones in front of what’s on their ticket. I’ve personally seen this happen multiple times this year. I hate to sound like a butthole, but what’s the point of paying for additional perks if everyone is allowed the same benefit without paying for it?

  7. The only reason to be a platinum is the four RUC’s that’s it.

    I know another subject completely but I still cannot understand why we board plans the same way we did it in 1950. Should really board 1st so they can get their drink on then back to front. Also if you cannot use overhead bin correctly the flight attendant should publicly shame you “who’s bag is this”!

  8. United has scanners that alarm (loudly) when you try and board outside of your ‘zone’. My wife is Plat with United and when I travel with her, I am allowed to board with her even though my boarding pass says lesser level, but the BUZZER when it is scanned is pretty effective! Maybe Delta should try that!

  9. Frankie Morgan Reply

    To Yasmas in post#10. The main reason I work to get PM each year is not for the RUC’s (I always select the $200 voucher) but for the thousands I save each year for my family of 5 on award ticket reinstatement waiver fees.

  10. I wonder what Delta is going to do with all their new boarding zone poles (kind of like Southwest). Will they add 3 or 4 more to line people up in 8 groups?

  11. Gold, 50K MQM requirement. I will end this year with 119 MQM…100% domestic travel. I want the carryover MQM’s in 2019 It will be so nice to continue to board behind multiple people who did less than 50% of the MQM’s I did. Complementary first class upgrades are thing of the past and frankly, comfort + is even more rare. For two years I have been politely begging delta to have a separate group after diamond for those of us many platinum‘s and can’t get an upgrade to first. Oh I guess it’s another year of battling the scrum to elbow my way into the red group.

    Delta wouldn’t really have killed you to have a separate group for non-upgrade plat boarding? I would suggest a forgettable dull beige color for that group.

  12. How about one or two days in 2019 where every platinum who boards a Delta flight requests pre-board? Platinums of the delta world unite!!

    • @Rolo – While not nice to those who need this (disabled etc) that is a funny idea!

  13. What about color bind people? Is there a violation of ADA rules here?

    It’s not clear to me what problems Delta is trying to solve with this new scheme. “If it’s not broke don’t fix it”. Seems like a waste of money to me.

    • @Scott – There will be text as well as the colored background on the GIDS

  14. howard feinglass Reply

    I echo john in comment 3. How about gate agents enforcing the order in the first place!

  15. I’m seeing RED because I banged my leg running to answer a robs-call and it turned BLACK and BLUE. If I weren’t so YELLOW I’d blow up the phone company for allowing those calls. But instead, I’m just BROWN nosing my Delta rep to let me board early; please don’t be GREEN with envy. Now I’m feeling BLUE because of the GRAY skies….
    Sometimes COLORS are more… colorful. But not in the boarding processing. Give me group numbers or give me death.

  16. Michael Giardina Reply

    I see very little benefit to the new system of boarding. The real things IMO that contribute to slow boarding are not addressed. Maybe if we also take away preflight drinks for First Class as well they will be able to increase boarding by 1/10 of a millisecond.

  17. People who read this blog are much more likely to be frequent travelers. The vast majority of people boarding fly a few times a year on various different airlines. Those announcements can be hard to hear and understand and mostly confuse the average traveler. I’d be willing to bet the typical DL credit card holder thinks they are supposed to board after the first class passengers.
    I don’t know if this is a better or worse system for these travelers, but I would ask you guys to not assume that poor guy in the wrong group isn’t trying to cheat. In my 1st year in this game I tried to board with the wrong group 2x–once because I misunderstood what group I was in and once because I thought they’d called my group. (I find United loud alarm horrifying! I was already mortified just for being corrected. )

  18. HuntingtonGuy Reply

    8 Zones, carry on melees, devalued loyalty (ala SWA Business Select), fewer upgrades, more costs, higher pax dissatisfaction rates, questionable pre-boards to avoid the BS (hey, add a BS Boarding Group too) swarm of flying elbows while people compete for overhead space before slipping into the smaller seats.
    Let’s not forget the $.01 valuation they’ve defaulted to on points, further reducing the value of our “investments”.

    Finally hit PL for 2019. I must say, the effort and expense certainly feel appreciated.
    Is there/would there be a reason Amex would chime in about the decline/changes in services? They are certainly stake holders in all this. If DL and Amex aggressively market the co-branded products they should both begin to consider the impact on loyalty by their supposed valued customers.

    Bonus: I’m a big guy, 6’-1”, 280 and it’s almost amusing when I’m in a C+ seat and it is 2” narrower and the seatbelt is 4” shorter than the previous flight. 50% of my C+ flights I have to request a belt extender, the other half not. How can that be?

    Rant over, thanks for listening

  19. My 3.3 Million lifetime miles on Delta will get me Zone 4 and a free checked bag when I retire. Thanks, Delta!

  20. I am glad they are trying to do something. In a busy airport it is very hard to hear the call out for your seat. i have lost my platinum status this year, but I am not too worried about it. When I did have platinum, I did usually have a seat in Comfort Plus selected several days out, or possibly first, so I am not sure that the new boarding order makes too much difference for Platinum. I often wait to get on the airplane anyway, because I like to be on the plane as short a time as possible. It is annoying when people who do not fly a lot try to get up front and block the path for everyone else, but I find that is often because the airport is so noisy it is hard to hear the announcements. If they do break it out into separate lines, as it appears they are doing, then it should lead to less confusion in the boarding process. We shall see. They needed to do something. So I am happy they are trying new strategies.

  21. Kailash Nathan Reply

    This aligns boarding process by dollars spent. C+ boarding gets a slight upgrade. @rene I disagree that now Silvers have to board later. All the change is at the top and it’s just a differentiation between higher fare products. Silvers whether in group 3 or group 5 still board after the same higher boarding classes board.

    It’s not great that Silvers don’t get any real time to board before Main Cabin, but it’s better than being in the later groups.

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