Delta Air Lines will soon update the way it boards passengers

Apr 9, 2024, 1:37 PM | Updated: 1:44 pm

Delta Air Lines planes line up at New York's LaGuardia Airport in an April 2024 photo.
Mandatory Cr...

Delta Air Lines planes line up at New York's LaGuardia Airport in an April 2024 photo. Mandatory Credit: Angus Mordant/Bloomberg/Getty Images via CNN Newsource

New York (CNN) — Delta Air Lines flyers will soon board its planes in a new way that might remind them of the past.

Beginning May 1, the airline will board customers by numbered zones, a change that largely reverts back to process it used until early 2019, before changing to its current process of boarding by named categories (i.e. cabins, status and ticket types).

Delta will maintain the same boarding order, but the categories will be called “zones,” beginning with zone 1 and ending with zone 8.

For example, “Pre-Boarding” and “First Class” categories will be called zone 1, the “Comfort+” category is being changed to zone 3 and the “Main Cabin” groups will now be grouped in zones 5 through 7, before ending with “Basic Economy” now in zone 8.

The airline said in a statement that the new numbered boarding zones “provide customers with more clarity” about the boarding process and will be used on all Delta flights.

The new numbered zones will be printed on customers’ boarding passes.

End of a five-year system

Next month’s changes means the end of a five-year boarding process that Delta changed to board its plane on the branded fares that customers’ purchased as part of an effort to bring “consistency, simplicity and clarity to the gate and boarding experience.”

It also introduced colors on gate screens and electronic boarding passes to the boarding process to help flyers identify their zone, which the airline will keep using.

“Zone boarding, an aviation standard for decades, will soon be a thing of the past for Delta customers,” the airline said in a 2018 release. It also expanded the number of boarding groups to “encourage fewer customers to line up in the gate area at any one time.”

Delta will be keeping the same number of zones, too.

Every minutes counts when boarding

Of course, any flyer knows that boarding is usually a chaotic process that no US carrier has exactly nailed down.

United Airlines recently changed its boarding procedure for economy class passengers, with window seat passengers boarding first, followed by middle seat and then aisle seats. The airline said the process saves “up to two minutes of boarding time.”

“Saving even one minute in airplane turn time can sum up to several hundred million dollars per year for a large airline,” John Milne of Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York, previously told CNN. Milne’s co-authored more than 20 journal articles on the topic of airplane boarding.

Milne says the time savings come down to better utilizing a key airline resource –airplanes – adding “particularly large savings for an airline result when the boarding time reduction leads to offering an additional flight during the day.”

American Airlines switched to a nine-group boarding system in 2017 and made some tweaks to that system in 2023.

CNN’s Pete Muntean contributed to this report.

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Delta Air Lines will soon update the way it boards passengers