Qantas is moving to boarding passengers on domestic flights by groups, based on their status or seat number, adopting a model already common in North America and Europe.
The new boarding process launched this week on selected flights from Brisbane, with the airline describing it as a trial before rolling it out to other capital city airports in the coming months, with the aim of Australia-wide adoption by October 2023.
Qantas expects group boarding to help more flights get away on time and reduce those interminable queues and logjams at the boarding gate, on the walkway to the plane and in the aisles.
Under Qantas’ current and oft-criticised boarding process for domestic flights, there are just two lines – a priority boarding line for business class passengers and top-tier frequent flyers, and a second line for everybody else.
The new group boarding system will see Qantas’ domestic Boeing 737 jets divided into five zones and passengers assigned to one of six boarding groups:
- Priority Boarding will be for business class passengers and top-tier frequent flyers holding Qantas Platinum, Platinum One and Oneworld Emerald status (along with invitation-only Chairman’s Lounge members, of course)
- Group 1 will be Qantas Gold and Oneworld Sapphire frequent flyers
- Groups 2A and 2B will be for passengers sitting in the back half of the economy cabin
- Groups 3A and 3B will be for passengers sitting in the front half of the economy cabin
On flights where the rear doors are used for boarding, that will be the pathway for those in Group 2A and 2B, while travellers seating in Group 3A and 3B will board from the front. If the rear door isn’t used, boarding will take place from the back to the front.
(Qantas says its A330s won't be part of the initial Brisbane-based trials, so the airline has not yet shared the A330 boarding group layout.)
Digital and printed Qantas boarding passes will include the passenger’s boarding group, while there will also be revised boarding gate layouts, signage and announcements.
It’s far from innovative – most North American and many European airlines already pre-sort passengers into groups based on their frequent flyer status or where they are seated – but as most international travellers can attest, the system works well when it’s properly managed and policed at the gate.
Executive Traveller understands Qantas will set the departure gate’s boarding pass scanners to automatically deny boarding to passengers until their group has been called.
First up, Qantas Priority Boarding
As you’d expect, passengers eligible for Priority Boarding will invited to board the plane first, but can of course walk up at any time (as many prefer to stay a little longer in the lounge before heading to the departure gate).
Gold-grade frequent flyers are no longer counted in the Priority Boarding group, although they will still board ahead of almost everyone else in economy.
This will certainly thin out the early boarding ranks and will be especially useful on the east coast ‘triangle’, where it often seems like there are more people in the frequent flyer-laden premium boarding line than low-status and no-status passengers.
After the first batch of Priority Boarding passengers, travellers seated in the ‘front middle’ and ‘back middle’ zones – respectively, groups 2A and 3A – will be called first.
Once they’ve settled in, passengers in the very front and very back – groups 2B and 3B – will be called up.
At the Qantas departure gate
As a result of the more structured front-and-back boarding, the domestic departure gates will effectively see passengers divided into three groups: Priority Boarding, Group 2 and Group 3.
Qantas says it will reorganise the seating and layout of its departure gates to support this grouping, reduce congestion at the gate and minimise how long passengers spend standing in a line that slowly shuffles forward.
There will also be digital signage at the gates to help direct passengers to the appropriate group.
The airline says it will assess how the system works in practice at Brisbane, and what other measures might help streamline the boarding process, before it’s introduced at other airports.
ET readers: what’s your experience with group boarding or zone boarding overseas, and what can Qantas do to make the same process work best for passengers here in Australia?