Is BA’s boarding system based on the price of the fare really elitist?

British Airways' pay-least-board-last policy for boarding planes has sparked anger and criticism. But is zonal boarding really that bad?

British Airways Boeing 747-400
(c) flickr/Luis Argerich

British Airways has changed its boarding rules. They say that from December 12, there will be a hierarchy of boarding based on the price a passenger has paid for the ticket. BA say that this zonal boarding will speed up the process which, if it works, is a good thing isn’t it?

Not everyone thinks so and some deem this to be a controversial move. Indeed, immediately after the Independent broke the story earlier this week, a drama exploded onto the twitterati about this.

Angry comments appeared saying that this is humiliating for those travelling economy. Some accuse BA for being “elitist” – one passenger even told a tabloid newspaper “everyone will know how much money you have got based on where you are in the line.” Really?

So let’s take a look at how the system works

When you check in you will be allocated a number between 1 to 5 denoting how much you have spent on your ticket and determines your place in the queue. Those allocated number 1 (First Class, gold members) will board first and those with a number 5 will board last.

I can see how at first glance this can press some buttons. But consider the various permeations and lay these alongside the fact that this will replace the current chaos at BA’s boarding queues that so many complain about.

Savvy travellers who manage to travel with hand luggage travelling in economy will have paid the least and may well end up being among the last to board.

Then there are those that have paid less or nothing at all for their ticket thanks to spending their accumulated Avios points.

And of course, there are deals and if you managed to bag one who cares when you board as long as you get on.

Finally, as is traditional, those with young children and disabled passengers will be exempt from the priority ruling and will board first no matter how much they have spent.

A spokesman for the airline said:

We are always looking at ways to improve and simplify the airport experience for our customers. Earlier this year we were the first UK airline to introduce automated biometric technology, with the launch of self-service boarding gates, and we also installed self-service bag drop points at Heathrow and Gatwick giving our customers an even quicker check-in experience.

Next month we are introducing new boarding procedures to speed up the process and make it simpler for customers to understand.

Not a new idea

This is not a new idea and has been used for several years by American Airlines, Iberia and Qatar.

Budget airlines do this too, I travel frequently with Easyjet and never buy speedy boarding. So I never expect to be among the first to board. Indeed I am inclined to watch the queue die before leaving my seat in the departure lounge. I can report no adverse reactions.

Referring back to BA and the boarding-rage fiasco, I would much prefer to save money on my fare rather than give it to the airline. If it means less time in an economy seat waiting for everyone else to board and settle into their seats then surely that’s a bonus.

Those who splash out on first class fares; well good for them. This is a minor perk. For the rest of us, are we really so insecure as to value ourselves based on a place in the line? Bear in mind that you will be taking your seat in economy for all to see.

So for those who like a drama let me just say that this really is much ado about nothing.

Detailed BA boarding split

The detailed lowdown according to an internal document found by The Independent newspaper is below. Incidentally this is not yet confirmed by BA who are only saying that there will indeed be a split boarding.

On short-haul flights the boarding order will be:

Group one – Executive Club Gold members and business class passengers (in Club Europe)
Group two – Executive Club Silver members
Group three – Executive Club Bronze members
Groups four and five – Economy passengers (in Euro Traveller)

On long-haul flights the boarding order will be:

Group one – Executive Club Gold members and first class passengers
Group two – Executive Club Silver members and business class passengers (in Club World)
Group three – Executive Club Bronze members and premium economy passengers (in World Traveller Plus)
Groups four and five – Economy class passengers (in World Traveller)


Do you think BA’s boarding policy is elitist? Leave a comment

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