American Airlines Says They’ll Keep Boarding Planes Before The Time Printed On Your Boarding Pass

For six years I’ve written about the frustration where American Airlines would begin boarding planes prior to scheduled boarding time. That often meant showing up at the gate correctly, finding the aircraft mostly boarded, and not having any overhead bin space left.

Some agents have even been known to skip upgrading passengers who aren’t at the gate, so boarding early also has meant customers losing out on upgrades.

Gate agents do it because the earlier they start the better chance they have that the flight will push back exactly on time (and they won’t risk their stats or get yelled at for late departures). Flight attendants hate it because this means they are forced to start working earlier than they’re supposed to (and they don’t get paid extra for it).

The American Airlines flight attendants union has a grievance over boarding planes prior to scheduled departure that is pending arbitration. The case won’t be heard until the fall.

According to the union,

[W]e have seen early boarding become the norm rather than the exception. Many times, even after the boarding time has been established during the Departure Dependability Briefing, passengers are being sent down early and before Flight Attendants are ready to receive passengers. This is unacceptable.

Attempts at mediation failed because American Airlines, in the union’s words, “maintains that no language in the [flight attendant contract] prohibits them from boarding early.” They believe they can keep doing it, even though it’s bad for flight attendants and customers.

Sections 11.M. and 14.F. of the flight attendant contract (“JCBA”) details when a flight attendant needs to be on board so that American Airlines can begin passenger boarding of the aircraft. For domestic flights these times are,

  • Aircraft with fewer than 165 seats board 30 minutes prior to departure
  • Aircraft with 165 or more seats board 35 minutes prior to departure

Boeing 737s used to have 160 seats on them (150 prior to US Airways management taking over the airline) so they boarded 30 minutes prior to departure. Now that they added seats to the aircraft, to match the way they’re configuring Boeing 737 MAX planes, they hold 172 passengers and board 35 minutes to departure.

American’s boarding passes used to print that boarding was 30 minutes to departure even for flights where it was 35, but they’ve fixed that issue that went on for years.

This is one issue on which I hope that the flight attendants prevail.

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, 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. I have to chuckle at this tempest in a teapot.
    Who really cares? No one.
    Don’t like it don’t fly.
    That is what TEAMS etc. is about.
    No one is that important that they have to personally be there anymore.
    As for vacation I will never fly again if I have to wear a mask or dress in a special way. There is enough to see no matter where you live in a day’s drive and that is the same time waste getting to an airport getting onto the plane and getting out.

  2. So you get there the last minute and are bothered that you can’t get overhead? Wow you really are special

  3. Hello, One very important item is the cost to meet co-vid testing prior to flying.
    This applies on departure and again upon return.
    Will prior testing be eliminated if fliers are fully vaccinated?

  4. American is so ridiculous…push back on time no issue…and then sit on the runway for freaking 30 mins…its so stupid. Right up there with their stupid ass boarding procedure…9 zones. Each one geys 90 seconds to get on the plane.

  5. Time is money. Airline struggle every day to meet on time schedules. I show up to job interviews before the scheduled times. Be responsible, show up for your flight a few minutes ahead of schedule. Quit your crying, ticket prices are so low it’s ridiculous

  6. The only credible facet of this article is that some flight attendants may not be in favor of early boarding. So what? If the incentive to meet metrics keeps management heat off of them and customers get to depart a few minutes early then everyone should be accepting of this operating technique. I’m not even sure that passengers arriving at the gate at the least minute actually have the sense of entitlement that they’ve been wronged somehow.

  7. Quit your snibbbling. Arrive early and get boarded what five while minutes. Really? Waste of news story

  8. Well, it’s not always about overhead storage. I arrived at the gate with my minor child 20 minutes prior to boarding beginning. The plan was gone. They had overbooked, started boarding an hour early and had left at least 25 minutes before boarding was supposed to start.

  9. means they are forced to start working earlier than they’re supposed to (and they don’t get paid extra for it).

    Hate to burst a snowflake’s bubble but they are ALREADY on the clock whether or not people are boarding. So might as well get some productivity out of them.

  10. George Francis hate 2 bust YOUR bubble but flt att. sign in 4 flts r 1hr – 1:15 depending if dom or intl before departure TOTALLY UNPAID, crews start “on the clock” @ push back, rotation of the wheel, anything (delays included) everything between unpaid.
    Now early boarding: going down 2 1 agent @ gate so 1 person 2 check reservation upgrades seat changes miles bags boarding pass boarding … extra time is needed … mayb over time that agent will grow extra arms like an octopus 2 work 2 computers, boarding machine, tag bags and still b able 2 listen 2 all the whining abt masks boarding no liquor etc etc but nit surprising in todays low fare travel climate… ✌

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