On American: Travel Light, Board Early

American passengers with no overhead bags will be able to board their flights earlier in the process.

There’s a new wrinkle in American’s boarding routine, described on American’s website as follows: “We are making it easier than ever for you to get comfortable on board before departure. Now, customers without overhead luggage can board before Group 2.”

That means boarding after first-class passengers, those with elite status, Priority Access customers, and so on, but before everyone else.

It’s a novel move on American’s part. And as with any novel approach, it’s hard to clearly envision its ramifications.

It should hasten the boarding process overall, as travelers hoisting their bags into the overhead bins are a notorious chokepoint in filling the cabin.

While American cites “comfort and convenience” as the rationale for the new process, it’s also an incentive for flyers to check their bags, at $25 or more apiece.

And underlying motives aside, there’s the policy’s vagueness. What exactly is “overhead luggage”? Since overhead bin sizes and the space under seats vary across aircraft types, how is the passenger supposed to know whether his bag will fit under a seat? Are American’s check-in agents going to police bags and confront passengers trying to game the system?

In American’s tests in Austin, Baltimore, Denver, Fort Lauderdale, Kansas City, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Washington, the new system apparently proved to be a winner. According to the airline’s news release: “The test received overwhelmingly positive feedback from American’s customers, and agents like the new process because it allows for smoother and quicker boarding for everyone. American expects to see a notable reduction in average boarding time per flight with the new boarding process.”

We’ll see.

Reader Reality Check

How do you foresee this new boarding process working out?

This article originally appeared on

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By Tim Winship

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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