In 2019, I was pretty well up to date with the games airlines played to keep their flights on time. We knew that they’d try to gate check as many bags as possible to board planes faster. American Airlines was notorious for telling us our properly sized luggage wouldn’t fit in the overhead bins.
However, airlines did one more thing to make sure they leave on time that I hadn’t experienced until our most recent flight. This one seems to be specific to American. They like to start boarding planes before the time stated on the ticket.
Using our flight as an example, when we checked in our flight was already delayed. The updated boarding time was 3:25 PM for a 4:00 PM departure. Starting boarding 35 minutes before the departure time is within the guidance given on the AA website.
Most flights start boarding 30 – 50 minutes before scheduled departure, but the exact time depends on your destination and plane. Boarding ends 15 minutes before departure
We have an American Airlines co-brand card from Citi so we’re in boarding group 5. American is still following its normal boarding process, unlike Delta, who does not give earlier boarding to credit cardholders.
Our flight was delayed again until 4:20 PM. We left the lounge around 3:30 and despite our problems getting from the lounge to the gates, we arrived around 3:45, 35 minutes before when we were supposed to be leaving.
When we got to the gate, the plane was already boarding and they were up to boarding group 8, which is the basic economy passengers. In other words, the whole plane had already boarded.
I have no idea when they started boarding but there’s no way to know since American didn’t update the boarding time on the app. I can only guess that it had to be at least 10-15 minutes before we got there to board first class, MCE passengers and everyone who was on the plane when arrived.
Fortunately, the people sitting in our rows didn’t have much in the way of carry-on luggage so there was still space for our bags.
This has been an issue going back for years and American has no plans on stopping the practice if it means the planes leave on time. Unfortunately, this means either getting to the plane extra early to board with your assigned group (and having to sit on the plane for longer) or waiting until the end of boarding and hoping there’s still room for your bag.
I don’t mind the boarding earlier part. It’s that American prints one time on your boarding pass knowing that they’re going to try to start the process before that time, which is confusing and frustrating for everyone. People plan their snack purchases, bathroom breaks and bag arranging based on what time they think they’re going to board. Letting people on before that just makes everyone feel rushed, and adding stress to a hectic process is the last thing American should be doing.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary