FORT WORTH, Texas — In a quest to speed up boarding, American Airlines is letting passengers board sooner if they travel lightly.
The airline said Thursday that people carrying just a personal item that fits under the seat – no rolling suitcases – will be allowed to board before most other passengers.
American said the change will allow flights to take off sooner.
American tested the new procedure at seven airports earlier this year and began applying it to all flights Thursday. Passengers carrying only a personal item such as a purse, backpack or computer bag that fits under the seat will board right after Group 1 premium passengers and before groups 2, 3 and 4.
The airline said it will let passengers check a carry-on bag at the gate at no charge. That means savvy travelers will be able to move up in the boarding order and avoid checked-bag fees – $25 for the first bag, $35 for a second on flights within the U.S. – though they’ll have to retrieve their bag at baggage claim after they land.
Kevin Doeksen, the director of customer planning for American, said the change will cut boarding time by about two minutes per flight, “which doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up throughout the day.”
If the change results in fewer big bags being rolled on the plane, it could reduce the number of flights on which overhead bins fill up. When the bins are stuffed, gate agents or flight attendants must ask passengers in the last boarding group to surrender their bag for gate-checking.
Competition for bin space has also made travel more stressful. Passengers in the last boarding groups often creep forward and jockey for position to be the first in their group on the plane.
“They’re anxious because they’ve got a big roll-aboard (bag with wheels) and they’re worried about having no space in the bin,” Doeksen said.
Travel experts think the idea can speed up boarding if enough passengers leave their rolling bags behind.
Chris Lopinto, the president of ExpertFlyer.com, said the key could be American’s offer to check bags at the gate for free. It won’t appeal to business travelers on a schedule, who don’t dare check a bag, “but that loophole would be great for people who don’t care about checking a bag or have a lot of people in their party.”
Southwest and US Airways said they have no plans to change their boarding process. United and Delta did not immediately respond.