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Delta Tweaks Boarding Process (Again), But Little Will Change

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Delta will change up a new boarding process next month, but don't get too excited (or outraged) about who boards the plane when just yet: Nothing is really changing.

Starting May 1, Delta will resume using a numbered boarding process – calling out “Zone 1” through “Zone 8,” with corresponding numbers printed on boarding passes. It ends the Atlanta-based airline's short-lived attempt at “branded boarding,” with ticket types like “Delta One” and status names like Diamond Medallion replacing the traditional numbered zones airlines typically use.

But the order itself isn't changing.

Delta One or first class passengers will board first in Zone 1; travelers with a Delta Amex card like the *delta skymiles gold card* will still board fifth in Zone 5; and flyers with the cheapest Delta basic economy tickets will board last in Zone 8. As always, passengers who need extra time or assistance will still be able to board the plane before everyone with a pre-boarding call. 

All that's really changing is how Delta announces each group – and what's printed on each boarding pass. Here's a breakdown of how it will look come May 1.


Delta numbered boarding


The airline quietly updated its website with information about the new boarding groups this week. Although it won't change when you actually get on the plane, the switch back to numbered boarding zones could help solve “gate lice” – travelers who crowd around the gate, waiting for their turn.

On paper, Delta's branded boarding zones were meant to reduce confusion at the gate by making your boarding zone clear from the moment you purchase a ticket. But in practice, it might have exacerbated it: leaving travelers wondering exactly when it was time for Sky Priority boarding or basic economy's turn.

“While a simple change, Delta believes the move to numbered zones will simplify the boarding process for both our customers and our employees, adding clarity of sequence and improving the overall gate experience,” a spokesperson said in a statement, adding that it should be especially helpful to “infrequent travelers and/or customers who might face a language barrier at the gate.”

U.S. airlines have constantly tried (and almost always failed) to improve the chaotic and time-consuming boarding process. But in this case, Delta is making no attempt to claim this change will speed things up.


Bottom Line

A new boarding process is coming to Delta gates around the country. It's a lot like the old one.

The airline will resume calling out numbered boarding zones at the gate, ditching its attempt to board the plane instead based upon the fare you bought or your status with the airline. That won't change when you get on the plane – just what you see on your boarding pass and hear at the gate when it's time to depart.


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