British Airways passengers paying the lowest fares on European flights will be kept back at the departure gate until everyone else has boarded the plane.
On 12 December, the carrier will introduce a “group boarding” system on all its flights.
When the passenger checks in, whether online or at the airport, they will be assigned a group numbered between one and five. “This number will then be displayed prominently on the boarding pass, printed or mobile,” says British Airways in an internal newsletter.
The lower the number, the earlier the passenger will be allowed to board. The highest priority will be assigned to Gold members of the British Airways Executive Club, as well as First Class passengers on long-haul flights and short-haul travellers on BA’s business class, Club Europe.
Next are Silver members and Club World passengers on long-haul flights.
Group three will comprise Bronze Executive Club members and passengers in World Traveller Plus, BA’s premium economy.
Economy passengers with no special status will be in group 4, with group 5 on European flights comprising those travelling on the cheapest, hand-baggage only fares. These fares were introduced in 2013 as BA sought to compete with easyJet.
Passengers with mobility issues or who are travelling with young children will still be able to board ahead of everyone else. Travellers who have frequent-flyer status with BA’s Oneworld alliance partners will also get priority.
In its internal document, British Airways says: “This method has been used all around the world by many airlines and aligns BA with partners American Airlines and Iberia.
“Group boarding simplifies the process, making it easier for customers to understand the boarding sequence at the gate.”
The move follows the introduction of “basic economy“ on US airlines as they seek to compete with low-cost carriers.
A spokesperson for British Airways said: “We are always looking at ways to improve the airport experience for our customers. Earlier this year we were the first UK airline to introduce automated biometric technology, with the launch of self-service boarding gates, and we also installed self-service bag drop points at Heathrow and Gatwick giving our customers an even quicker check-in experience.
“Next month we are looking at introducing new boarding procedures to further improve the customer journey by creating a number of groups to speed up the process. This method has been used by airlines around the world for a number of years, including by our partners American Airlines, Iberia and Qatar.”
One BA passenger who is a member of the lowest Executive Club tier, Blue, said: “In a society which we’re trying to make more equal, British Airways is doing the opposite. It’s very Kardashian, being ostentatious about wealth and status. Everyone will know how much money you’ve got based on where you are in the line.
“And in practical terms, the very people who need to board first are those in economy travelling with hand baggage only, so it could delay departures,” she said.
Ben Schlappig, who writes the One Mile At A Time frequent-flyer blog, said of the BA move: “Ultimately the success of such a system largely comes down to the clarity of announcements and the enforcement of the boarding area.
“The way I see it this would definitely simplify things, so I’d welcome it.”
But one response to his post questioned BA’s move to align with its sister airline, Iberia: “My first and hopefully last experience with Iberia’s ‘zoned’ boarding was lining up all of the zones and then releasing them all at the same time Mad Max-style to fight to get on the plane,” wrote Ocop.
And on FlyerTalk, Karfa proposes their own boarding system: “1. Me. 2. Everyone else.”