Delta is switching up their boarding process next year, adding several tiers for passengers and replacing its numbered boarding zones with a color-coordinated approach.
The airline calls it Branded Boarding, and it will take effect for all Delta flights starting Jan. 23. In practice, there are just a few changes to the pecking order of who boards when. Delta is expanding its current crop of six boarding groups up to eight, broken out by booking class and Medallion Status.
But the biggest change behind Delta's new boarding structure is in its overall design. Rather than simply stamping a zone number on your boarding pass, it's tied directly to the fare you book. And that means flyers will see where they stand from the time they check out until they get to the gate.
There will be no more “Zone 1, Zone 2, Zone 3.” Instead, there's just Delta One boarding. And Delta Comfort Plus boarding for those passengers. Basic economy flyers will take up the rear, boarding eighth and last.
Delta is clearly hoping to eliminate some of the confusion behind the boarding process by constantly putting it in front of flyers' faces.
“Every customer values consistency and a sense of knowing what to expect when they’re traveling,” Tim Mapes, Delta’s Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, said in a statement announcing the change. “This latest enhancement further refines how Delta’s process works and is designed to better link the Delta product they purchased to differentiated experiences throughout their journey.”
Changes Behind Boarding Order
Even with some additional boarding groups, there aren't many changes to who will board when with Delta.
The biggest change is that flyers sitting in Comfort Plus now get a designated boarding group – and it's ahead of Delta Medallion status members with Platinum or Gold. While that may sound like a loss for Delta's most loyal flyers, many of these passengers will be upgraded into Comfort Plus or above anyway. It's likely a wash.
While all premium cabin passengers currently board together, Delta is divvying that group up a bit. If the plane's got a Delta One cabin, those passengers will board first along with top-tier Delta Diamond status holders. Up next will be flyers in the new Premium Select cabin, or first class if it's a domestic flight.
If you've got a co-branded American Express card like the Gold Delta SkyMiles card, don't worry. You'll still get priority boarding after these changes.
Boarding an airplane is a tough nut to crack. And for some reason, U.S. airlines can't seem to crack it.
I've watched Asian airlines board nearly 400 passengers on a Boeing 777 in just 15-20 minutes, while Delta, United, and others often struggle getting tiny regional jets ready to go.
Delta is clearly hoping that this branded color coordination is going to help. Come Jan. 23, you'll be getting reminders about where you stand for boarding when you book, when you pull up your app or boarding pass, and at the gate. In theory, tying a flyer's boarding zone to their boarding class could work.
But the biggest factor behind slow boarding is human error and impatience. And I'm not sure some new colors are going to stop the line cutters or help new travelers understand boarding.
Only time will tell whether Delta's new system will pay off. There aren't many changes to how Delta will physically board the aircraft – it's all about a change in approach.