Has Qantas stumbled upon a faster, easier way to board your flight?

Starting from the last row of a domestic flight, "sequenced boarding" is both logical and hassle-free.

By David Flynn, June 23 2020
Has Qantas stumbled upon a faster, easier way to board your flight?

For the most part, boarding a domestic flight can be a frustrating experience. With just one door shared by anywhere from 170- to 300-odd passengers, who are funnelled from the departure gate though the chokehold of a narrow aerobridge walkway, it's a tedious routine of shuffle-wait, shuffle-wait,

But Qantas may have stumbled on the best way to turn that into a smoother, more streamlined and even more relaxing experience.

The airline calls it "sequenced boarding" – a measure introduced as part of the Fly Well initiative to give passengers 'peace of mind' in the crowd-averse coronavirus era – but it could also prove a slim silver lining on the dark and heavy Covid cloud.

Last week, Executive Traveller made a quick Sydney-Melbourne trip to experience first-hand the new shape of domestic travel (click here to read our full review).

Something were keen to observe was the boarding process, which by necessity involves leaving plenty of space between passengers in accordance with social distancing requirements. You'd expect this could mean a longer line, and that boarding itself would take longer too.

However, Qantas' gate staff called passengers for boarding in reverse row order – that is, starting from the rear of of the plane.

There was still a seperate Premium Boarding lane for business class, Platinum- and Gold-grade frequent flyers, who could board at any time – and Qantas appears to finally be doing this right following a November 2019 reboot of its priority boarding process.

But everybody else was called forward based on their row number, starting from the last rows of the A330's economy cabin and moving forward in blocks of five rows – a maximum of 40 passengers at a time

With 190 economy passengers on this Airbus A330 flight, the boarding process ran pretty much hassle-free. People were easily able to get to their seat without much standing around, and stow their cary-on luggage in the locker right above or very close to their seat.

Meanwhile, passengers with seating closer to the front of the plane seemed quite content to relax at the departure gate until it was 'their turn'.

Of course, this is just one way to efficiently board a flight beyond the usual 'cattle call', and there's been plenty of research – scientific and practical – done into all those methods.

And while there are many things we look forward to returning to normal in the coming months – the reopening of airport lounges, the return of the inflight tipple, switching inflight WiFi and movies back on – we wouldn't mind seeing "sequenced boarding" stay on the cards.

Also read: Review – what's it like to fly with Qantas in the coronavirus era?

David

David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

bmc
bmc

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

22 Aug 2013

Total posts 157

There is a heap of fascinating research on the fastest way to board a plane. I remember seeing articles on this every few years but the authors always mention reticence on behalf of the airlines to implement changes

It's probably like boarding passes, every few years somebody who is usually a design or user experience student comes out with a way to "re-invent" the boarding pass so that it's so much easier to read, everything is laid out in a logical way, sometimes using colours also, but for all sorts of reasons airlines stick with the traditional boarding pass.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 692

I don't think QF has discovered something never known before. LCCs with tight turns have been doing zoned boarding for years and most A380 operators use a similar process to ease boarding on them.

It works as long as the gate staff are firm in forcing those who go earlier than they should back to the end of the queue. QF gate staff are notoriously poor at enforcing these rules so it will be interesting to see how well it goes in normal situations when AJ isn't standing there watching.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Jul 2016

Total posts 1

The major challenge for Qantas is ensuring all overhead bins are not filled prior to your sequence boarding. They will need to ensure overhead bins are closed or enforce restrictions on carry-on. I am fed up when boarding to have to find a spot for my carry-on many rows past where l sit due to others dumping or carrying on excessive amounts.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 May 2014

Total posts 10

This is exactly what happened to me last week. Sitting in row 5 as a Plat QFF, and the ground staff either didn't announce it, or didn't enforce it, for premium boarding, so I waited, until rows 4-10 were callled. And bam, nomlocker space between rows 5 &20 when I got on board.

Customer service manager was apologetic but just said well, if there's no space then it will be off loaded. Why should last rows to board & be the only one penalised just with having 1 overhead bag, when every one else had the same!! and not more than half had bags under the seat!, QF ground staff were NOT also enforcing “under seat” baggage with the red tag system either on a totally full 737 flight.

As I waited to get back to row 19 for my bag from row 5 seating, I noted at least 5 bags were claimed from above me in the locker, by those further back in the plane ! Not happy with this experience, and won't be waiting for my row to be called again next time.

05 May 2016

Total posts 567

Being able to board early and more easily find a place to store my bag is one of the better perks of status. It helps reduce the stress in flying.

Though unless international travel is allowed again next year or QF does a further extension I'll likely find that I'll drop back from Gold.

15 Feb 2013

Total posts 160

The fastest way to board a plane is window seats first, then middle, then aisle (with some studies showing next best is actually random, not from the back). If they combined them and had window seats at the back first, then middle, then aisle, gradually moving forward, that might be the fastest (although would require three times as many announcements). However when you see people get on board and are immediately surprised that seat 28C is not at the front row, my confidence is not filled in the general public being able to comprehend such instructions.

08 Feb 2018

Total posts 87

I remember boarding an Air Canada red-eye from Vancouver to Toronto, they had everyone line up in five separate lines for each boarding zone, and then went through re-ordering everyone in seat-row order while queuing up. When boarding opened they let everyone board line-by-line and the stragglers were left to last. I was in premium economy (no priority, domestic its just treated same as Economy) and was in my seat within 5 mins of boarding commencing. Was the ONLY thing Air Canada got right haha!!

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

08 May 2014

Total posts 43

I think your experience and observations last week may well have been skewed. I would suspect/guess that a lot of the passengers on your flights last week are 'seasoned regulars' who had a clear necessity to travel last while while the country is still returning from COVID restrictions.

I agree with other comments - this has been extensively researched and done and it will be interesting in the longer term once flying returns to 'normal' (and with a higher proportion of irregular travelers) if Qantas retain this boarding strategy and/or if the experience is similar.

Etihad - Etihad Guest

11 May 2018

Total posts 3

Lots of tries by different airports and airlines over the years.

Search for "Gatwick boarding trial" for last year's efforts with EasyJet.
I don't know what happened to that attempt, but the trial used visual prompts on screens in addition to the audio announcements. Seemed like if any attempt was going to work, it was going to be that.

On another policy, I've never been a fan of Southwest's open seating approach, but I did appreciate the way they have people line up to board by number. In the few times I experienced it, it seemed to eliminate the mad dash and the sort of "are you line cutting me?" resentment that I sometimes see elsewhere in the States. Also helped people to chat with each other a bit if they wanted to do that.

AJW
AJW

16 Nov 2011

Total posts 560

I don't think this is a revelation to anyone really.

I do wonder however if it is working because people are being more compliant due to COVID than they would ordinarily be.

19 Jun 2020

Total posts 9

Part of the success is the discipline of the public who are now awaiting their turn, allowing block boarding to work. (VA and VA pax did this really well so hope that continues.)

This reminds me of when QF had to cut costs several years ago, one of the measures adopted was that on an A330 which flew SYD-MEL-PER they used to fill the water tanks used for drinking water, flushing the toilets etc all the way up at SYD before take-off. QF started examining everything they did and one suggestion was to only fill the A330 water tank maybe 1/4 of the way at SYD because you'd never use more than that much water on the short SYD-MEL leg, but the A330 burnt more fuel carrying a full tank of water, 3/4 of which wasn't needed. So QF decided to adopt this measure and refill the water tank at MEL because most of the water consumption was on the longer MEL-PER leg. Simple little things like this come about when you change procedures, and maybe QF will kepp this "sequential boarding" procedure after Covid-19.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 Nov 2012

Total posts 43

I flew up and back to Sydney last week and was very impressed with the boarding process. Liked that Jclass WP and Gold got called first and others didn't come up and clog it and then the row thing worked very well on both 737's. Flights were both around 70% full and boarded in way less time. I'm a convert!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 Feb 2015

Total posts 106

I love it!!!

It means i dont have to stand up 25 min before boarding starts because some special people love to start queuing 35 min before we start to board (the only reason I care about getting on early is to secure a spot for my carry on) so this way i get to sit in the bliss of the Port Hedland airport a bit longer :)

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Jun 2020

Total posts 2

It would be good to see if they used multiple aerobridges on the bigger planes more often such as the a330 and 787. Right now they only use multiple on the 747 and a380

22 Sep 2017

Total posts 28

Or just use the entrance closest to the wing so the queue can split in both directions as passengers enter.

XWu
XWu

09 May 2020

Total posts 46

Maybe it was the routes I was taking but I had very poor experience with VA despite their boarding by rows method or boarding via front and back entrance. It almost seemed the pax are taking the entire 25 min boarding time to do the boarding (and I am not considering the stragglers coming in late) as Parkinson's rule will attest. And I always wondered about QF and their 20 min boarding time, who almost manages to get their doors closed within 5-10 mins of departure time if not before.

The only difference is disembarking when the back door is allowed to be used usually VA at certain airports. And even then not by much when the hold up of the entire flying experience invariably is at the the checked-in luggage pickup rows, where I think both VA and QF luggage handlers are class-blind and treat all bags the same except for flight crew arriving on international flights (maybe it's more have to do with how departure airport baggage handlers overseas pack deliberately flight crews' baggage).

The main issue with boarding by rows is that there are enough smart arses around whose seats are at the back but they put their carry-on in the stowaway compartments for the front rows so that they dont have to carry their bags all the way to the back. Some even tried this stunt with business class overhead space, and no, all of this happened very early in the boarding when the back rows‘ carry on compartment are not yet full.

Then again maybe it's the routes I was taking.

15 Mar 2018

Total posts 33

The problem is those who board and choose to put their carry-on in the first luggage space they come to. This seems to go unchallenged, which means the last people boarding find their carry-ons put elsewhere which is a problem when it comes to disembarking the plane. I'm happy to stay in the lounge till the last minute, but lack of baggage space in the overheads has taught me to not delay, too many times. Now I board early.


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