Business Treaveler logo

Travel news, reviews and intel for high-flyers

What You Need to Know About Delta’s New Boarding Process

The airline says modifications will make the boarding process more intuitive, but critics say the changes are superficial

by Samir Kadri

May 1, 2024

Photo: Courtesy of Delta Air Lines / Joey Mintz, Jamie Choi

Delta Air Lines is revamping its boarding process to enhance efficiency and clarity for passengers. After May 1, travelers will be assigned a zone number and board the plane sequentially in numerical order.

Delta will still prioritize First Class, Delta One passengers, and other premium ticket holders, including its top frequent Diamond, Platinum, and Silver Medallion flyers.

Delta’s New Zone-Based Boarding

The new boarding system, which Delta hopes will be less confusing for passengers, will consist of eight zones, starting with First Class passengers in Zone 1, followed by Premium Select Cabin passengers and Diamond Medallion members in Zone 2, Comfort+ passengers in Zone 3, Sky Priority customers in Zone 4, Main Cabin passengers in Zones 5 to 7, and Basic Economy passengers in Zone 8.

Views of the new satellite T3 gates at Los Angeles International Airport. Photographer: Chris Rank, Rank Studios

Delta expects these changes will make the boarding process more intuitive, especially for infrequent travelers and those with difficulty with the language. The new numbered zones will be printed on all boarding passes.

While Delta’s new system bears similarities to the previous ‘Branded Boarding’ system, some experts have criticized the changes as being superficial and not improving efficiency.

However, Delta’s new boarding system aims to provide international customers with a more consistent and simplified travel experience. According to the airline’s statement, this will bring Delta closer to its joint venture and international partners, ensuring a seamless travel experience even when using different aircraft and codeshare partners during a multi-stop itinerary.

Some argue that boarding passengers with window seats in the back of the plane first could speed up the boarding process. This could reduce congestion in the middle of the aircraft and prevent delays, leading to a faster overall experience.

Photo: Courtesy of Hanson Lu / Unsplash

According to travel expert Scott Keyes, “The fact that they’ve reverted to numbered zones, like those employed by virtually all other airlines, speaks volumes.”

“Traditionally, Delta has been seen as the innovative airline, and others have followed suit,” adds Keyes. “In this case, Delta’s innovation didn’t pan out, and they’ve been forced to once again mimic American and United’s boarding processes.”

Keyes also suggests that any meaningful attempt to speed up passenger boarding could improve an airline’s bottom line. “Speeding up the boarding process by even 10 minutes can prevent delays, and if sustained, allow airlines to add an additional daily flight to the schedule.”

Delta continues to be profitable, reporting a $37 million profit for Q1 on April 24. As the demand for air travel increases, Delta is set to capitalize on this trend and remain a top airline choice for passengers.