American Airlines Overhauls Boarding Groups American Airlines Overhauls Boarding Groups

American Airlines Overhauls Boarding Groups

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Hot on the heels of their recent announcement that they are introducing Basic Economy fares, American Airlines has also announced that they will be overhauling their boarding groups as of March 1, 2017. If AA boarding groups were not complicated enough, the new system will see the introduction of nine groups. Yes, nine groups.

New Boarding System

The new system now has 9 boarding groups, as compared to the old system which only had 4 groups and many pre-boarding options. The new system aims to rationalize the older system which had many categories for Elites and other classes based on boarding priorities. This is how the new and old compare:

American Airlines Boarding Groups

New SystemOld System
Group 1

First Class & US military—including Business class on 2 class flights

First Class & US
military—including Business class on 2 class flights
Group 2

AAdvantage Executive Platinum as well as oneworld Emerald—includes Business class on 3 cabin aircraft

AAdvantage Executive Platinum as well as oneworld Emerald—includes Business class on 3 cabin aircraft
Group 3

AAdvantage Platinum Pro, AAdvantage Platinum, as well as oneworld Sapphire

AAdvantage Platinum Pro, AAdvantage Platinum, as well as oneworld Sapphire
Group 4

AAdvantage Gold, oneworld Ruby, Air Pass Citi, Alaska Airlines MVP, passengers who purchased priority boarding, and AAdvantage Executive card members

AAdvantage Gold and oneworld ruby

Air Pass Citi, Alaska Airlines MVP, passengers who purchased priority boarding, and AAdvantage Executive card members
Group 5

Premium Economy, Main Cabin Extra and Eligible Credit Card members
Group 1

Main Cabin Extra and Eligible Credit Card members
Group 6Group 2
Group 7Group 3
Group 8Group 4
Group 9

Basic Economy Fares

As you can see there is not really much of a change, just a reorganization of the system and placing passengers who previously did not fit into any group into their own grouping. However, one addition which was not there in the old system is pre-boarding; since while AA will have 9 groups, ConciergeKey Members will be pre-boarded even before group one.

In terms of the logistics of how this will work in real life, there is no major change. The priority boarding gate will be used by groups 1 to 4, while the regular boarding gate will be used by groups 5-9. This way if you have priority, you will still be able to jump the main line and board by using the priority gate even after boarding has started.


While this may seem confusing and unnecessary, it is actually a very smart move by American Airlines. Previously even with boarding groups clearly marked on boarding cards, passengers were left wondering why if they were in boarding group one, why there were so many other passengers getting on the flight before them. By reclassifying all the groups that have boarding priority, AA has effectively made the situation far more transparent and straightforward, which should make it easier for airline staff as well as passengers waiting to board.

Source: The Points Guy/JT Genter

5 / 5 - (8 votes)

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  • I never much paid attention to boarding groups before, but have glanced at my own ticket and wondered what it all meant. Now I get it. But what’s the benefit to boarding first? Then you have to sit and wait for everyone else to board and get their ish together so the plane can get going. I’d rather wait in the gate with legroom than wait cramped on the plane.

  • Kieran Perry says:

    Simple and effective. However people still line up way before the calling of their group/zone, so the chaos continues at the gate…

  • arran wallace says:

    good to see our military getting the recognition they deserve!

    much appreciated..

  • arran wallace says:

    in practice there is never enough space at the gate so you have to battle your way thru the scrimmage line..

    as other posters have said,as seatsare decided boarding group doesnt matter for this ,but what does matter is if you are in a later group
    it can be very difficult tofind anywhere to storeyour bag and you may end up cking it..
    the other thing that happens,is that with the baggage issue boarding gets really backed up for the later groups and so you end up waiting for ages in a crowded and often cold gateway!

  • Boarding always seems confusing, a number of people standing around in clumps as there aren’t enough seats at the gate, and you can’t tell what is a queue, or a pre-queue…
    I know that my ticket is generally next to last zone to board (combination of price paid and time booked), but fortunately as I’ve tended to travel internationally I’ve got hold luggage and little hand luggage, so it’s not a big deal.

  • I was wondering the same thing. Is it group 5 that Citi Platinum advantage card holders fall into?

  • So which group do Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard holders fall under now? Group 5? AA boarding generally is OK compared to other shambolic efforts by othe airlines.

  • says:

    Guess this means no overhead bin for me 🙁

  • Several years since I last few AA. I was at the time a OW Emerald, flying in (paid) domestic First.

    I waited patiently at the gate, thinking I’d likely in the first group to be called forward to board.

    The gate agent called for “the wheelchairs” and a handful of completely fit and well older people and a huge group of their family members surged forward. They all walked briskly past the waiting wheelchairs, and boarded at speed.

  • If they decide to have separate lanes for each boarding group like United, they Will have to remove seats to make room.

    Now people will have a valid reason to crowd the gate. No place to sit!

  • This works in theory if people follow the boarding pass correctly. Otherwise, it can be time consuming to turn people away for boarding with the wrong group.

  • Since seats are assigned, these boarding groups never quite bother me. I like waiting until everyone else is in first and then board only when I have to. I rather have the open space in an airport over tight spaces aboard the aircraft.

  • Not gonna lie, got a little frightened at the prospect of “9 groups” I guess it just sounds more intimidating since its just a visual revamp of the same system. That IS all it is correct?

  • How has it got so complicated! What’s wrong with just boarding the plane in a logical order, like in order of rows etc.

  • This shows why having the credit card is important when flying using the new basic economy fares! Makes that $95 annual fee a bit easier to swallow when you still get your first bag free and group 1 boarding.

  • Like Craig said, even first and business class passengers need to be very alert about boarding and rush on asap. Otherwise, the overhead bin can be filled by passengers who board before they are supposed to because of “misunderstanding”.

  • ADAM PARSONS says:

    Agree, board groupings can ease queues at the gate.

  • Boarding groups that board the back and window seats first are the way to go. Also, if possible board from both fwd and aft doors at the same time to cut boarding time to half.

  • Unfortunate to see AA thinks Gold/Ruby should be lumped in with Alaska elites and credit card holders.

  • If it were Southwest, I might be concerned. Small carry-on.. I’m happy to board last.

  • Seems like it is might be better for non frequent travelers. Not sure about medium status holders.

  • US airlines should take a look at Europe’s RyanAir and Easyjet, they board so fast and from both ends of the aircraft, I was very impressed with both airlines boarding process, they do it quick!

  • Lori O'Connor says:

    Thanks so much for the explanation – its takes the guesswork out of it when we experience it at the gate.

  • “New and improved”.

    We’ll just have to wait and see.

  • Seems to downgrade gold status. Not sure I like this

  • So it seems there are no real changes but a reorganisation with a more clear indication of groups of boarding.
    Anyway, it would be strange to have the group 9 in the boarding pass!

  • I do think this will make things a lot easier for non-frequent fliers. I wish more airlines would put the group currently boarding on the monitors though!

  • Brian Gallagher says:

    I’m a fan of them offering some clarity on this. I’ve always felt a bit… short changed when it came to boarding groups. I’ve got status, but not amazing status, but, i want to board before folks with no status. What I’m really curious about is how much this will slow down or speed up the boarding process. That’s the real question in the end.

  • I’m glad I have their rewards cards for earlier boarding. But really the plane doesn’t leave till every passenger is on the plane and buckled in..

  • That is a lot of boarding groups for their smaller aircraft.

  • In general it’s nice to see boarding priority being enforced even though it’s a bit counter-intuitive to me that instead of “boarding at our leisure” elites and First Class passengers need to rush on first in order to claim the overhead bin space.

  • For those buying basic economy fares and not wanting to pay to check a bag it is worth having a CITI AA credit card.

  • last time we flew AA we had free tickets, and they bumped us up to priority

  • Reminds my why most of my paid flights are on Southwest. Too much chaos with other airlines systems.

  • a bit much in my opinion. things were fine the way they were

  • Hopefully this smooths the flow at the gatehouse. Perhaps this will even reduce the number of “misunderstandings” by our fellow customers that they were to board much earlier than their category would allow. If there is a gate agent reading this perhaps they could advise us as to whether or not they believe this will improve customer flow.

  • It looks like another reason not to keep their credit card.

  • That’s a lot of groups. But it is more transparent now.

  • Eventually there will just be 150ish boarding groups. One for each passenger. Frankly it might be smoother that way. Many Southwest boardings are simpler than the legacy carriers.

  • Seems more like an internal organizing thing rather than something that affects customers

  • Interesting. I’d like to see Airlines deal with the common problem of people rushing ahead of their own group and the people at the desk letting them get away with it.

  • So, essentially placing numbers on all boarding cards; got it.