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Delta Is Making This Big Change to How You Board Its Flights, Starting Now

The airline is shuffling up the process of getting passengers into their seats.

The air travel experience isn't just about what happens after the flight crew closes the cabin doors. Anyone passing through the airport still has to contend with checking luggage, getting through security, and making their way to the gate on time before they can sit back and relax. What's more, the actual process of getting passengers on the plane differs from one airline to the other, each with their own policies and practices in place. Now Delta has announced a big change to the way you'll board its flights from now on. Read on to see what will be different next time you line up to jet off.

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Delta is making changes to the pre-flight experience.

passengers in airport
06photo / Shutterstock

As air travel numbers return to pre-pandemic levels, airlines like Delta have begun to tailor their offerings to deal with the influx of passengers—and hopefully win over new devoted customers. Recently, the airline announced it had installed new technology known as "Parallel Reality" for passengers traveling through Detroit Metropolitan Airport. The unique experience allows anyone with a Delta ticket to scan their boarding pass or opt into a facial recognition scan that will send their flight information to a 21-by-six-foot digital board that emits different colors of light in different directions, The Washington Post reported. Up to 100 passengers at a time can see their gate and departure information from wherever they're standing—while not seeing anyone else's, even as they move across the room.

"If everything keeps going as positively as it has so far, I would expect to see it in more airports and in more places in the airport," Greg Forbes, managing director of airport experience for Delta, told Business Insider.

But the airline hasn't entirely avoided some unpopular changes. In June, Delta came under fire from some of its most loyal customers when it announced it would limit access to its Sky Club airport lounges to no more than three hours before a passenger's scheduled departure time. Executives explained that the company implemented the eligibility change to cut back on overcrowding issues in the popular pre-flight hangout spaces, with Claude Roussel, managing director of Delta Sky Club, telling The Wall Street Journal: "We're not a WeWork."

Now, the airline has announced another potentially controversial operations update.

Delta has announced a big change to the order in which passengers board its flights.

Shot of queue of passengers waiting at boarding gate at airport. Group of people standing in queue to board airplane.

On August 3, Delta Air Lines announced it had changed the order in which passengers board its flights, The Points Guy reports. An update to the carrier's website confirms that the new system is already in effect.

The latest boarding process will affect the airline's loyal Diamond Medallion frequent flyer members, who were previously invited to board along with Delta One business class or First Class travelers. Under the new rules, they will now have to wait until passengers seated in the front cabin board the plane before they're allowed to take their seats.

According to Delta's website, the new order for boarding eligibility begins with passengers who need assistance or more time to board, followed by active duty U.S. military with I.D. for pre-boarding. Next, Delta One and First Class customers are the first ticketed passengers eligible to board, followed by Delta Diamond Medallion members, and then passengers seated in Delta Premium Select on flights offering the section. From there, passengers with car seats and strollers will be allowed to board before Comfort+ passengers, followed by travelers with the airline's Sky Priority designation. The process then begins seating the main cabin, in order from zone one to three, before finishing with passengers holding basic economy tickets.

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Executives say the update will "simplify and better meter" the boarding process.

Delta Airlines passenger jet arrives at a gate at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

While some of the airline's most frequent flyers will see their wait to get onboard increase slightly, the company said it decided to update the boarding process to help reduce overcrowding and confusion at the gate and avoid delays.

"As customers continue to return to travel in high numbers, Delta is implementing a minor boarding update across the system on August 3 that will simplify and better meter the current boarding process," a spokesperson for the company told The Points Guy in a statement confirming the changes. "This adjustment will shift the boarding order for a small group of premium customers while still offering them a preferential boarding experience."

Delta's change sets it apart from how other major U.S. carriers board their flights.

A woman boarding a commercial plane.

While the latest changes will hopefully make the process of getting everyone into their seats more efficient, the update also sets Delta apart from how other major U.S. carriers prioritize frequent flyers. For example, passengers flying American Airlines with top-tier AAdvantage Executive Platinum are still allowed to board with first class ticket holders, according to travel and loyalty program news outlet One Mile at a Time. And United Airlines lets passengers from its highest MileagePlus Premier 1K loyalty tier board before first class.

"Personally, I don't think there's a right or wrong policy, and from an efficiency standpoint, I don't think either policy makes a material difference," Ben Schlappig, founder of One Mile a Time, says of the changes in a blog post. "After all, it's often 30 seconds between different boarding groups being called."

Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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