Airlines are trying to save time by speeding up a part of flying that creates delays even before the plane leaves the gate: the boarding process.
This summer travel season, Delta plans to preload carry-on bags above passengers’ seats on some flights. Southwest wants to get families seated together more quickly.
Airlines have tinkered with different boarding systems almost since the days of Orville and Wilbur Wright, who tossed a coin to decide who would fly first aboard their biplane. Plenty of people have offered ideas for improvement, but no perfect method has ever emerged.
Most airlines let first-class and other elite customers board first. After that, some carriers fill the rear rows and work toward the front. Others fill window seats and work toward the aisle. Some use a combination of the two. Airlines have also tried other tricks, like letting people board early if they do not have aisle-clogging carry-on bags.
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Delta’s Early Valet service will offer to have airline employees take carry-on bags at the gate and put them in the bins above assigned seats. The airline wants to see if its own workers can load the bins faster than passengers.
The service began Monday on about two dozen flights, and that number is expected to rise steadily during June, Delta spokeswoman Morgan Durrant said.
With many flights full, anxious passengers know that boarding late means there might not be any room left in the overhead bin.
And it matters to the airlines. Slow boarding creates delays, which mean missed connections, unhappy customers and extra costs.
Researchers from Northern Illinois University once figured that every extra minute that a plane stands idle at the gate adds $30 in costs. About 1 in 4 U.S. flights runs at least 15 minutes late. Multiply that by thousands of flights each day, and it quickly adds up for the industry.