I recently took a round-trip flight on Delta. It’s been a while. I mostly fly United and I’m mostly happy. But I had to go to a Delta hub, and their timing was just better.
In each direction, they boarded the plane completely differently. Boarding took what felt like longer than usual in both directions. I was surprised to see it look so disorganized and inconsistent.
On the Way There
On the way to my destination, Delta asked people who did not have suitcases or other bags that would go in the overhead to go ahead and board early. That way, people who are more likely to board quickly and efficiently can get on board.
They asked other passengers with later boarding groups to please come up and start gate checking bags while us “faster” people boarded. They were sure they’d be running out of room, so you might as well gate check that now. They eventually forced people with the last boarding group to gate check on the assumption that there would be no room.
This boarding approach made sense. Forcing people to gate check when you’re not sure if there’s room or not didn’t make sense. Find out for sure. But as for boarding, this was a winner.
On the Way Home
Same predicament. Full flight. Lots of people to board, many with rolling bags that would go in the overhead bins. Assumption that space would run out. Let’s start gate checking bags.
Early in the process, they asked all people who have rolling bags to please come up NOW, gate check them, and then board. As you might imagine, this line moved incredibly slowly. People had to get tagged, the tag had to be associated with their ticket, and then they could move through the boarding process.
They seemed to mostly throw away groups and focus on the slow-moving gate-checking people.
I went up to the agent and said that on the way there, Delta had let people who didn’t need to gate check to board earlier since we don’t hold people up in aisles. Can we board too? She looked at me blankly and said, “We’re boarding people gate checking bags now.” Yes, I knew that. Thank you SO much for your help.
Side Effect: Anger At Gate Checking Bags
There is a “side effect” of an airline pre-deciding that they will run out of space and forcing anybody in certain boarding groups to gate check bags, which they did. The side effect looks like this:
High strung local is forced to gate check a bag he didn’t plan to check. He’s told they’re running out of space, and he has no choice. He gets on the plane. LOTS of bins are open. He sits down at the window seat in front of my aisle seat and starts complaining endlessly to the poor woman in the middle seat.
He is SO upset that he had to gate check his bag. Why did they take it from him? They didn’t need to! Look at all these open bins. Now I have to wait for my bag when we land!
A flight attendant overheard him having a small fit and asked what the issue was. After being caught up, the flight attendant said, “Oh, the gate agent is supposed to check with us as to how much space is really left. I guess she didn’t do that.”
No she didn’t do that. You saved a 20-second call from gate to plane and in return, you will frustrate a lot of passengers who hate checking bags and waiting for them on the other side.
Other Delta Frustration: Zone 2 Is Last
When I get zone 2 boarding from United, I know I’m going on early. Zone 1 is first. Zone 2 is second.
Not at Delta. At Delta, Zone 2, will be fourth or fifth. Either way, it will be LAST. The groups that board before zone 1 don’t have numbers. They are called up by class or perk. “If you’re first class or have our American Express card,” type of stuff. Zone 2 on Delta is bad news. You are last. If you were hoping to get something in the overhead bin, start praying.
Wait, I Have One More
I was flying with a banner in a soft case for my conference table. On the way to the event, the flight attendants were happy to put it in the first class coat rack area.
Flying home, I asked if it could go in the first class coat area. NO. Stuff it into the overhead bin. Thanks a lot.
I’ll keep flying United where I can.
While United isn’t perfect (none of them are), I have had consistently good experiences with them. Boarding always seems smooth and logical. Treatment (for me anyway) is consistent. Approaches are consistent.
Consistency is important. Setting expectations is important. Meeting or exceeding expectations is important.