Airlines have tried all manner of boarding processes for years in an attempt to load the plane more quickly. Turnaround time for an aircraft matters — to remain on schedule (delays are costly in terms of labor and misconnects), for customer satisfaction, to avoid losing air traffic control slots (delays can cascade and increasing costs can themselves increase costs).
And what seems to work for awhile no longer works — due to customer complacency, due to changing behaviors, and also varies with how full an aircraft is.
Checked bag fees mean more bags are brought onboard where possible. Although whereas airlines used to allow two carryon bags US government regulations now only allow one (and a ‘personal item’) as a way of speeding up a still-slow security process. The net effect of more bags is driven largely by full aircraft. And full aircraft means lots of time stowing bags, not enough room for all the bags, time spent searching out overhead space, and time spent gate checking luggage.
There are things that can be done to speed up boarding and deplaning. Using more than one jetbridge (or using forward and rear stairs) is one.
American thinks they’ve found another in allowing people without carryons to board in “zone 2.” That way more people are on the aircraft and other passengers working out where to put their rollaboards doesn’t delay those passengers without from getting situated.
I saw a variant on the theme about six weeks back in San Diego when gate agents announced that anyone choosing to gate check a bag (free) would be rewarded with early boarding. I was vexed at the time — after all, if you don’t have bags to stow why on earth would you need to board early?
The benefit, to me, of early boarding is having space for your carryon and having it near your seat even. But with no carryon the last thing I would want to do is be on the aircraft longer.
Although I suppose since it’s something people “get to do” they will want to do it. And somehow here’s a desire to “get situated” as though it takes a long time sans carry on to put a small bag underneath the seat and buckle up. (I get that families with small children may be another matter, but with most carriers they are already given the opportunity to board early… and what some families try to pass off as ‘small children’ for the privilege is often extreme to say the least — as well as the number of family members that try to board with one 13 year old.)
Do I think this new privilege will be revolutionary? Absolutely not. Will it make some difference to boarding time at the margin? Perhaps. Until it doesn’t any longer. And only in those instances where boarding order is clearly communicated and enforced. I suspect boarding might also be sped up by an airline that decided to keep the boarding gate clear of those not yet “on deck” to have their rows called….