It will likely come as no surprise to frequent fliers that the answer to the boarding procedure question is fraught. Though the science is clear, most airlines stick to group boarding, from the back of the plane to the front. Here’s what you need to know about boarding, airline by airline.

Alaska Airlines Boarding Procedures

Alaska Airlines touts its boarding as “simplified” so noisy airports don’t impact your boarding experience.

The first group to board is preboarding passengers. Pre-boarding includes travelers with disabilities, families with children under the age of 2, and active members of the military.

Next, First Class customers are permitted to board. On Alaska flights without First Class seating, those passengers board with Group “A.”

Once First Class and pre-boarding customers are on the plane, Alaska boards by lettered group, A-E:

  1. Group A: Mileage Plan™ Million Miler, MVP® Gold 75K, and MVP® Gold members
  2. Group B: Mileage Plan MVP® members, travelers in Premium Class seats (when available)
  3. Group C: Guests in Main seats located in the back half of the aircraft
  4. Group D: Guests in Main seats located in the front half of the aircraft
  5. Group E: Guests in saver seats

American Airlines Boarding Procedures

American Airlines’ website states that “most flights” begin boarding 30 to 50 minutes before departure, but varies based on destination and plane. Boarding “closes” 15 minutes prior to departure, at which time the ground crew may give your empty seat to another passenger. Once the gate closes, you will not be permitted to board.

Families with children under 2 years old can ask to board early at the gate.

Early boarding is also available to senior travelers if you need more time or assistance boarding. You must identify yourself to the gate agent to request early boarding.

Once pre-boarding passengers are on the plane, American boards by numbered group, 1-9:

  • ConciergeKey members
  • Group 1: First Class, active duty military, AAdvantage Executive Platinum, Business on a 2-class international plane
  • Group 2: Advantage Platinum Pro, Oneworld Emerald, Business on a 3-class plane
  • Group 3: Advantage Platinum, Oneworld Sapphire
  • Group 4: Advantage Gold, Oneworld Ruby, AirPass, Premium Economy, Citi / Advantage Executive Cardmembers, Travelers who bought Priority Boarding, Eligible corporate travelers
  • Group 5: Main Cabin Extra (excluding Basic Economy), eligible AAdvantage credit cardmembers
  • Group 6: AAdvantage members
  • Group 7: Group 7
  • Group 8: Group 8, Basic Economy to / from Europe & South America
  • Group 9: Basic Economy within the U.S., Canada, Central America, Mexico & Caribbean

empty gate at an airport

Delta Air Lines Boarding Process

Delta Air Lines offers customers boarding “zones,” in this order:

  • Pre-boarding: Customers who need assistance or require additional time to board, active duty military with I.D., Delta One and First Class customers, Diamond Medallion Members, Delta Premium Select customers, Delta Comfort customers
  • Sky Priority includes: Platinum Medallion Members, Gold Medallion Members, Flying Blue Platinum and Gold members, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Gold members, SkyTeam Elite Plus members, LATAM Pass Black Signature, Black and Platinum Elite, WestJet Rewards Platinum and Gold Elite
  • Main Cabin 1 includes: Silver Medallion Members, Delta Corporate Travelers, Delta SkyMiles Gold, Platinum and Reserve, American Express card members, Flying Blue Silver Members, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Silver members, Sky Team Elite, SkyMIles Select Members, LATAM Pass Gold + Elite, WestJet Rewards Silver Elite
  • Main Cabin 2 customers
  • Main Cabin 3 customers booked in T, X and V fares
  • Basic Economy customers

Silver Medallion Members will not have a dedicated Priority Boarding zone on Delta flights departing AMS and CDG due to Air France-KLM boarding policies.

Frontier Airlines

Frontier begins boarding 30 minutes prior to departure, but because they have fewer boarding groups than most other airlines, they generally aim to have boarding complete about 20 minutes out. Because of this more truncated process, Frontier closes the airplane doors 15 minutes prior to departure.

Frontier’s boarding process begins with boarding passengers who need extra assistance first, followed by myFRONTIER Miles elite members and people who have purchased priority boarding.

Then they allow families to board, and finally the rest of the passengers through general boarding.

The general boarding sub-groups are boarded in order by rows, starting from the back of the plane and going toward the front.

Let’s break it down by boarding group:

  • Special Services: Passengers needing a wheelchair or other boarding assistance and unaccompanied minors
  • Zone 1 (priority boarding): Passengers who purchase a carry-on bag, passengers who purchase the WORKS, Elite members of myFRONTIER Miles
  • Courtesy boarding: Families traveling with small children (under 3 years old), other passengers requiring additional time or assistance
  • General boarding: All other passengers

Hawaiian Airlines Boarding Procedures

Hawaiian Airlines is the first airline in our roundup to do things a little differently. With Hawaiian, there are two lanes open at boarding – one for First/Business class customers, and one for the Main Cabin (everyone else). Each lane has its own priority boarding groups as follows:

First/Business Class Lane

    • Pre-boarding: Guests who need additional assistance and unaccompanied minors
    • Premium Cabin: First and Business Class
    • Zone 1: Pualani Platinum Members*
    • Zone 2: Pualani Gold and Premier Club Members

* Pualani Platinum, Pualani Gold, and Premier Club members may be joined in the boarding line by 2 guests.

Main Cabin Lane

    • Early Boarding: Active duty military personnel and families with children under 2
    • Zone 3: Guests in Extra Comfort seats
    • Zones 4 and 5: Main Cabin seats
    • Zone 6: Main Cabin Basic seats

NOTE: Those passengers without a Zone on their boarding pass, should board with zone 4.

Jetblue Airways Boarding Procedures

JetBlue also boards by group, which is noted on your boarding pass above or net to your seat number. Customers on the same reservation and checked in together will be assigned to the same boarding group. Customers on the same reservation who check in separately are not guaranteed the same boarding group.

For domestic flights, you must be on board at least 15 minutes prior to departure.

For international flights, you must be on board at least 20 minutes prior to departure.

Boarding group order is as follows:

    • Pre-Boarding for customers with disabilities
    • Mosaic and Mint® customers
    • Even More® Space customers (Group A), courtesy boarding for active military personnel and customers traveling with small children
    • Group B
    • Group C
    • Group D
    • Group E (N/A for E-190 aircraft)
    • All remaining customers

Unaccompanied minors will either board at the beginning of the process or the very end, depending on when they arrived at the gate.

empty airport boarding area with airplane through a window

Southwest Airlines Boarding Process

Southwest Airlines has the most efficient, fastest boarding process in the business. The airline has an open seating policy, which allows them to board passengers faster.

Southwest may begin boarding 30 minutes prior to scheduled departure time, and asks that passengers be in the boarding area no later than this. When the flight is within 10 minutes of departure, Southwest may cancel your seats if you are not in the boarding area with your pass.

Southwest’s Boarding Groups

You will be assigned a boarding group (A, B, or C) and position (1-60+) upon check in. You can check in up to 24 hours prior to departure.. Available boarding positions are distributed on a first-come, first served basis upon check in. The earlier you check in, beginning 24 hours before departure, the lower your boarding group and position will be.

Your unique group and position combination (for example: A35) will be displayed on your boarding pass and represents a reserved spot in the boarding group at the gate. Numbered posts in each gate area indicates where to line up. When your boarding group is called, find your designated place in line and board the aircraft in numerical order with your boarding group.

Get a Better Position with Southwest Boarding

Passengers who purchase a Business Select® fare are guaranteed an A1 – A15 boarding position. Rapid Rewards A-List Preferred or A-List Member and those traveling on the same reservation as an A-List Preferred or A-List Member, as well as those who purchase EarlyBird Check-In®, are automatically reserved their boarding positions 36 hours before departure and before check in begins. This doesn’t guarantee an “A” boarding position, but it does guarantee the earliest position available.These passengers do still need to check in within 24 hours of scheduled departure to retrieve a boarding pass.

When available, Upgraded Boarding is available for purchase on the day of travel. It’s an opportunity to secure an earlier boarding position in the A1-A15 boarding group. Upgraded Boarding can easily be added to your reservation when you check-in for your flight via the Southwest® app or®. Upgraded Boarding pricing starts at $30 per segment, per Customer, based on the popularity and length of each flight segment. A credit card must be used for the purchase of Upgraded Boarding.

Spirit Airlines Boarding Procedures

Spirit Airlines offers 4 numbered zones, along with pre-boarding and family boarding for a simple and straightforward boarding process. In each boarding zone, see which passengers are eligible to board.

Spirit customers are given the opportunity to purchase a seat ahead of time. If you do not pay for a seat in advance, you will be assigned a seat when you check in for your flight. Once the seat is assigned, you will be placed into one of the available boarding zones, which will be shown on your boarding pass.

Spirit flights board zones in this order:

    • Pre-boarding: Passengers with disabilities and those who need special assistance
    • Zone 1: passengers who purchased a carry-on bag
    • Zone 2: Passengers who purchased Shortcut Boarding, those who have “Silver” or “Gold” status with Free Spirit,and Cardholders of the Free Spirit® Travel More World Elite Mastercard® and the Free Spirit® Travel Mastercard®
      Family Boarding – families with children aged 3 and under
    • Zone 3: General boarding (usually in the back half of the airplane)
    • Zone 4: General boarding (usually the front half of the airplane)

IMPORTANT: Once you arrive at the airport, Spirit actually charges you to print a boarding pass. It will cost you $2 to print your boarding pass at one of its kiosks, or $10 to have an agent print your boarding pass. Print your boarding pass at home to avoid unnecessary charges.

United Airlines Boarding Process

This U.S. airline giant recently instituted some changes to their boarding process. United had a group boarding process in place, but now offers two lanes – a blue and a green – for a more streamlined process.

United is a bit less specific as to when the boarding procedures will begin and end than the other airlines, but suggests travelers “allow enough time to make your way to the gate, and your boarding pass will tell you when to expect boarding to start and end.” For most flights, you can opt in to receive a United app push notification that lets you know when boarding has started.

Group 1 will board through the blue lane and Group 2 will board through the green lane. The remaining Groups 3-5 will then board through the green lane when called, and Groups 1 and 2 can continue to board through the blue lane.

United boards groups in this order:

  • Pre-boarding: unaccompanied minors, customers with disabilities, active members of the military, United Global Services® members, families traveling with children age 2 and younger, Premier® 1K® members
  • Group 1: Premier Platinum members, Premier Gold members, Star Alliance™ Gold members, customers seated in premium cabins: United Polaris®, United First® and United Business®
  • Group 2: Premier Silver members, Star Alliance Silver members, customers who have purchased Premier Access® or Priority Boarding, United℠ Explorer, Club, Presidential Plus℠ and Awards Cardmembers
  • Groups 3 through 5: Economy Plus®, United Economy®, Basic Economy*

*Customers who have purchased a Basic Economy ticket will be in the last boarding group, except for Premier members, Chase Cardmembers of qualifying cards and Star Alliance Gold members, who will still receive their priority boarding.
Travelers can also purchase Priority Boarding to avoid the lines and board earlier.

We hope you found this round-up of domestic air carrier boarding procedures helpful. Please connect with is in the comments section. Do you have any tips for the various carriers, or care to share your personal boarding experiences? Positive and negative comments welcome – we just want to hear from you!

Search for Flights

Post a Comment