Delta Will Start Boarding Domestic Flights Earlier, Taking Off Early Beginning In June

Delta is going to start paying flight attendants for time spent boarding aircraft to coincide with moving up boarding time on domestic mainline narrowbody flights by 5 minutes (although the pay increases apply to flight attendants working all flights).

Starting June 2 Delta will begin boarding for domestic narrowbody aircraft 40 minutes prior to departure. They began testing this with certain flights in November, and continued to board early on test routes since then.

As a result of this change, Delta’s boarding times will be:

  • Domestic narrowbody: D-40 (5 minutes earlier)
  • Domestic widebody: D-45 (no change)
  • Transoceanic: D-50 (no change)

In contrast, American Airlines boards either 30 minutes (smaller narrowbodies like Airbus A319s) or 35 minutes prior to departure for domestic flights. With the addition of seats to Boeing 737s, most domestic flights now board 35 minutes prior to departure.

  • Earlier boarding means having to spend more time on the plane if you want overhead bin space.
  • Delta lacks the larger overhead bins that help accommodate more bags and reduce (but does not eliminate) the need to fight for bin space. Reserved signs doesn’t solve the issue, either.

  • That means getting to the airport earlier, or leaving the lounge earlier. Put another way, it’s customers lining up for the operational convenience of the airline (low cost carrier model) rather than organizing the operation for the convenience of the customer.

As American Airlines moves to single agent boarding for domestic flights that are less than 80% full, Delta is going to expand use of a third agent, according to an internal memo reviewed by View From The Wing, who will operate

in the jet bridge, focusing on hubs and large narrowbody (LNB) aircraft first, and we’ll broaden our testing of ways to incentivize customers to check their cabin bags in the lobby.

Finally, as Delta starts boarding earlier and adds staff to facilitate boarding, they’re going to “expand[…] the practice of leaving when ready…to get an early start when all pre-flight duties are complete, and everyone is ready.” Taken together these changes aim to improve on-time performance.

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 do not understand that, after decades of commercial flight, a common sense solution to getting passengers on a plane is still so elusive.

  2. As other carriers improve their operations, Delta will double down on what has worked for them which is to run a reliable operation. With flights on all carriers full and expected to be that way throughout the summer, having an on-time departure does wonders to get the plane where it needs to be for the next departure.

    And, Gary, Delta most certainly does have a number of fleets that have oversized overhead bins that allow bags to be turned on their sides. The A321CEO is the primary fleet that does not have the oversized bins but then neither do most Southwest aircraft. I see Delta flight attendants more engaging in “flipping” bags onto their side on those aircraft since the average traveler doesn’t bother to turn their bags on their side. And on United, you have the highest chance of having to gate check your bag because the flight is operated on a regional jet.

  3. And in other news…………….. Delta just announced that a one-way coach ticket from Atlanta to Augusta will now cost 80K Sky-Pesos.

  4. Don’t understand why there would be consternation about boarding 5 minutes earlier. I’m very interested to see if this reduces boarding stress.

  5. Flight Attendants deserve to get paid for boarding. Most airlines added additional seats (more passengers), more carry on luggage (charging for bags) and pre-departure beverages in first class (blocking boarding) all increasing boarding times.

  6. As someone who regularly flys very short haul in the Southeast, the main result I see from this is extending the obligatory ATL ATC ‘hold at origin because of air space congestion’ time another ten minutes once you’re on the plane with doors closed.

  7. LMAO !! Just DL trying to get their moneys worth now paying for boarding … Which they didn’t even go after their full rate of pay for dumb.

  8. Let’s be clear. This is nothing more than an attempt by Delta to avoid unionization. I’d estimate 40% of Delta’s flight attendants want to unionize, judging by how many wear the protest all-black uniforms.

    If Delta was serious about fixing boarding, they would CHARGE non-status customers for carry-on bags and give FREE checked bags to all passengers. 40 minutes on a fully loaded 737, 757, or A321 is hardly sufficient time given that many passengers are bringing a pursue, background or duffle bag, and a full-size carry-on bag.

  9. It always amazes me how long boarding takes in North America … In Europe, you‘d have a full A321 boarded in no time – with less boarding groups than stateside.

  10. This would be a good time to remind the peanut gallery that of the airlines that have provided investor guidance for the 2nd quarter, AA-DL-UA-AS- B6-HA – DL’s guidance is for the highest margins. WN reports later this week.
    Whatever strategy Delta is using is expected to generate industry leading profits.

    Paying FAs to board and starting boarding earlier is clearly an investment in their product that they can afford to pay and see as something that will strengthen their operations.

  11. Still waiting for DL to trial charging for carry-on & giving checked bags. Doubtless this will speed everything up since they insentivise bringing everything pax need/want to bring on board. They can just reverse everything & give away bin space to Elites & the Amex Reserve & Platinum.

  12. Delta is miles ahead by far the best US airline✈️ JD Power Award winner to name just one of their awards. Video screens at every seat on their fleet free entertainment, power outlets, music & WIFI. By far the best customer service in the industry & nearly always on time departures.

  13. Leaving early will just mean holding in the penalty box when you land as your gate is ‘occupied’ by the previous airplane that hasn’t departed yet!

  14. well, no, Spencer. if Delta schedules their flights to ALL leave early or has extra gates, then there is no problem. Part of Delta’s industry-leading on-time is having the resources to support flights even when there are delays.

  15. @Tim and @Spencer: My two Delta flights yesterday had to wait for the arrival gate because it was occupied. For the first one, the occupying flight was 1 hour late. For the second one, the occupying flight was on-time, but our flight arrived early.

    Even if you eventually get to your arrival gate on time, it’s a frustrating feeling to wait for your gate because you arrived early. Especially if you see another gate nearby that is not occupied — that’s the most frustrating.

  16. Edwin,
    you didn’t say the arrival airport for either of your flights that had to wait for a gate or how long you had to wait including if your arrival ended up being 15 minutes or more past scheduled arrival.

    In case you have missed it, it is the low cost and ultra low cost carriers that are now pulling back on schedules after aggressively re-adding flights w/ the covid recovery. The big 4 (AA DL UA and WN) have changed their scheduling practices to be much more in line with what they can deliver, lessons that were driven home during the pandemic. AA DL and UA have extra gates in their largest hubs – outside of the two coasts – specifically to deal w/ early or late flights.

    We can all cite anecdotes but the big airlines use very precise data to schedule their flights and the DOT tracks taxi in and out time – because any plane that isn’t at a gate is using space the FAA has to manage. I can cite far more Delta flights that I have been on that have arrived early and I was off the plane before scheduled arrival time, even if I was sitting further back in coach.
    There is no benefit for any airline to consistently overschedule resources (gates, personnel, aircraft etc) because anyone knows the system will not support that level of capacity if one piece falls apart.

    Flightaware shows that Delta had a pretty good day yesterday – but still had 300 delayed flights. AA DL and WN all operate on average 3000 or more flight segments/day. DL’s on-time yesterday was 89%.

    I would far rather leave a few minutes early – I am there anyway – than have a less than 5% chance that I might have to wait for a gate on arrival. It is pure statistics which the airlines use to schedule. I can’t say with certainty that I can drive 30 miles in my hometown metro area with a 90% certainty of arriving within 5 minutes of my plan so I’m not sure the airlines can be held to a whole lot higher standard.

    The problem is when airlines don’t fix consistent problems that delay operations but Delta didn’t get to the top of the US airline on-time chart by not looking at everything.

  17. I still cannot fathom why airlines can’t sometimes park their planes sideways like they always used to do.
    Either using airstairs for the rear door, or another vacant jetway.
    By using both the front and the rear passenger doors, deplaning and boarding times would be cut by more than half!

  18. @Tim Dunn
    UAL is the better investment at the moment, much more upside in the months ahead due to UA’s advantage with having hubs in the best business locations, best network, largest global network, largest alliance, etc, that will benefit particularly from the next stages of reopening. And it has a less woke C-suite than DAL.

    Going back to the article, earlier boarding is good – but still, no airline should be closing the door IF there are verified connecting passengers checked in to the flight.

  19. Amazing how long it takes to board here. JL boards a 500-seat 773 in 20 minutes HND-OKA.

  20. First of all, if an aircraft has multiple doors, USE them for boarding. “Rows 1 – xx, use this line for boarding. Rows xxx thru xxxx, use this line.”

    Secondly, I notice it never takes more than 10 minutes for all passengers to get OFF the aircraft. So, they should be able to get on just as fast. Logically, it’s absurd that airlines tolerate 30-40 minutes to board.

    The BEST SOLUTION someone else posted here is:
    “If Delta was serious about fixing boarding, they would CHARGE non-status customers for carry-on bags and give FREE checked bags to all passengers. 40 minutes on a fully loaded 737, 757, or A321 is hardly sufficient time given that many passengers are bringing a pursue, background or duffle bag, and a full-size carry-on bag.” A single passenger who bring so much crap that they block the aisle for 180 seconds just trying to sit down NEEDS TO PAY MORE. Meaning, SIGNIFICANTLY more. If you cannot arrive at your row and stow your carry-on above & get out of the aisle in 20 seconds, then you need to pay an extra $100. If you want to travel with all your worldly possessions, fine, but check them at the ticket counter.

  21. Boarding FIFTY (50) minutes before for a longhaul? What an utter and complete joke: Singapore Airlines boards 30 minutes prior, British Airways 35, JAL 35, and on ad on. And they get out on time.

    There’s something really broken with an airline when it takes so much time to board, increasing its costs and wasting passenger’s times. And that’s the best the USA has to offer?

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