Airlines try to speed up boarding process

In this photo taken Tuesday, March 24, 2015, travelers walk toward the baggage drop area for Delta airlines at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in SeaTac, Wash. This summer travel season, Delta plans to preload carry-on bags above passengers seats on some flights.

DALLAS -- 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, Delta plans to load carry-on bags above passengers' seats on some flights before boarding begins, another attempt by airlines to tweak an ever-changing boarding system.

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.

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.

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 workers can load the bins faster than passengers.

Early Valet will be offered through August on some departures from Delta's busiest airports -- Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City and Seattle, Delta spokesman Morgan Durrant said.

It will be available only on flights that typically have a high number of vacationers. Presumably, business travelers know how to board a plane efficiently. Specially tagged bags will be stowed on the plane before boarding begins, Durrant said.

Delta tested the process last summer in Atlanta and Los Angeles and saw some reduction in boarding time, Durrant said.

Gary Leff, co-founder of frequent-flier website MilePoint, said the service will be the biggest help to passengers in the final boarding groups -- the ones most likely to find the overhead bins full. Their bags will go in the cabin instead of being gate-checked as cargo.

"This has the potential to come across as a nice, high-end service," Leff said, "but I'm skeptical that it will go mainstream" because of labor costs.

Business on 06/02/2015