If you’ve ever taken a domestic flight in the United States or indeed flown on a US airline from London, you may well be familiar with the concept of group boarding.
Put simply, each passenger is allocated to a group and invited to board in that order. From Tuesday 12 December 2017, BA will be adopting this system across its network. Mercifully, BA has restricted the number of groups to five. This is in contrast to nine groups adopted by some US airlines.
The intention is to make the boarding process more efficient and reduce crowding around gate areas in advance of boarding. The system should also be easier to understand for all passengers, particularly those whose first language is not English.
You may well have read coverage of this chance in the UK media. It has to be said what coverage we have seen has been absolutely dismal and has misrepresented the changes. This includes outlets such as BBC News that really should know better. The essence of the change is a modification to existing processes rather than a radical implementation of a new class system!
Please see here for the system used for flights up to 12 December 2017.
What has changed
From 12 December 2017 all passengers on short and long-haul flights will be allocated to one of five groups and called for boarding in group order.
By introducing a grouping system BA is now effectively introducing a form of priority boarding for World Traveller Plus passengers which it hasn’t really done in the past.
BA is now distinguishing between those who purchase “Basic” and “Plus” short-haul economy fares. Those who purchase Basic fares and do not have frequent flyer status will board these flights last.
What has not changed
BA will continue to offer early boarding for families and passengers requiring special assistance.
Passengers historically eligible for priority boarding will also be able to board at their leisure through dedicated lanes, if they prefer to board last.
As far as we know, if you’re unfortunate enough to be bussed to a remote stand from the dreaded Gate A10 at Terminal 5, priority boarding effectively becomes superfluous.
The new groupings are as follows:
Group 1: First Class passengers (where this is offered) and BA Executive Club Gold and Oneworld Emerald cardholders.
Group 2: Club World Business Class passengers and BA Executive Club Silver and Oneworld Sapphire cardholders.
Group 3: World Traveller Plus Premium Economy and BA Bronze and Oneworld Ruby cardholders.
Groups 4 & 5: World Traveller economy passengers.
Group 1: Club Europe Business Class passengers and BA Executive Club Gold and Oneworld Emerald cardholders.
Group 2: BA Executive Club Silver and Oneworld Sapphire cardholders.
Group 3: BA Executive Club Bronze and Oneworld Ruby cardholders.
Group 4: EuroTraveller economy passengers who have purchased Plus fares.
Group 5: EuroTraveller economy passengers who have purchased Basic (formerly hand baggage only) fares.
Given the number of airports BA operates from, and the fact that almost all outside London use third party contractors to handle flights, it is inevitable that there will be some teething problems and variances from official policy.
If the experience of US airlines is anything to go by, expect the system to be tweaked and modified over time. You can also expect post flight passenger survey scores to be monitored closely, so do make your views known.
Although the boarding process is a relatively pedestrian aspect of air travel, it is something important for passengers who visit the airport every week and a smooth and orderly process does significant reduce the stress of travel.
To give BA credit, it does also point to the airline really trying to sharpen up its operation and the influence of its Chief Operating Officer, Klaus Goersch, formerly of Air Canada, is quite evident.
Update January 2018:
The implementation of group boarding appears to have been delayed. Electronic and printed boarding passes are displaying a Group number, but the actual group boarding process hasn’t been implemented yet. However, you may see group boarding trialled at certain gates at London Heathrow Terminal 5 and at certain airports outside on London.