Delta’s New Color Coded Boarding is Live, Internal Memo Admits They’re Trying to Upsell You

When Delta announced a new boarding process last month I gave it only a minor note since there’s very little actual change despite the hype about colors, simplicity and a better experience.

Instead of boarding being called out as “zone 1” they’ll call for the premium cabin (and top elites). Instead of calling for zone 6 they’ll call for basic economy passengers. As I said at the time this was about naming and shaming. Now Delta admits that is what they are doing.

The new process began on Wednesday. It has two additional boarding zones, an idea they say came from employees, and should reduce crowding ‘at the gate’ (gate areas will be just as crowded but in some cases fewer people lining up at a time). They’re making boarding more like American.

Despite how it was pitched to media (“Delta Is Getting Rid of Boarding Zones“, “Delta Is Completely Changing the Way You Board an Airplane“) in a memo to employees in advance of the launch the airline reassured employees that “there won’t be major changes in the boarding process with this launch.”

In this memo Delta explained that the effort is in part about “making sure customers can easily recognize the attributes of the branded fares..they purchase every step of the way” in other words they want to make it clear what customers are buying when they pay more (or not getting when they pay less).

No airline is as far along as Delta with upselling passengers not just when they’re buying a ticket but throughout the time until they actually fly. This appears to be part of their strategy to make clear what customers get based on what they buy. American sees their path as trying to follow Delta with upsells though they’re much farther behind.

Here’s a copy of the memo Delta sent to employees about ‘branded boarding’:


About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Delta Airlines should consider adding additional boarding categories for “Gate Lice,” “Delta Comfort Plus Gate Lice,” and “Delta Comfort Plus Gate Lice with Fake Emotional Support Animal.”

  2. Sky Priority is below Comfort Plus, that’s not right. Apparently paying more IS more important than loyalty at DL. Also, you NEVER use color codes for service level. 20% of the population is color blind so this will just confuse people even more. DL boarder is (and will continue) to be the worst of the big 3. AA right now has the easiest IMO..

  3. LOL, numbers 2 and 3 contradict each other. Employees wanted a change to have less crowding and make things easier to manage. Yet after all this nonsense they say there will be no major changes. Ummm, okayyyyy.

  4. My understanding is that the FAs will line up and beat the basic economy folk as they walk down a rickety wooden gangplank to the plane.

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