Business Travel: Airlines Seek to Improve Boarding
There’s no doubt that flight delays are costly, both to airlines and passengers. A report commissioned by the Federal Aviation Administration called domestic flight delays a “serious and widespread problem” and pegged the annual impact on the U.S. economy at more than $30 billion.
While airlines face increased costs for crews, fuel and maintenance, business travelers have a different, yet equally pressing, set of concerns. For them, and for their companies, a flight delay means rescheduling meetings, extending hotel stays and booking new flights, all of which add to the cost of doing business.Some delays are obviously out of the carrier’s control, such as those caused by bad weather. But airlines are increasingly looking at what is in their control.
One area that’s getting new scrutiny is the boarding process.Airlines are trying out new ways to get passengers in their seats and carry-on items stowed with greater speed and efficiency that in turn can lead to an increase in on-time departures. For example, this summer Delta Air Lines is introducing its Early Valet program at airports in Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City and Seattle.A limited test last summer in Atlanta and Los Angeles showed some success in reducing boarding time. Passengers on selected flights will have the option of dropping off their carry-on bags before boarding.
Delta is targeting flights on planes that have one long aisle, where it takes longer to get everyone seated. Under the program the bags will be tagged and brought onto the plane by Delta employees, who will stow them in bins above the passengers’ assigned seats. Delta’s hope is that its employees will be able to accomplish the task faster and more efficiently. Airline passengers who’ve been frustrated trying to find space to squeeze in their carry-on bag will agree that it’s one area where there’s room for improvement. United Airlines has also been working to improve its boarding process. Over the past two years the airline has implemented changes designed to make things go more smoothly.
Those changes include reducing the number of boarding groups from seven to five and simplifying the announcements that customer service representatives use to guide boarding. In addition, the airline has unveiled new, ultra-modern boarding areas at airports in Boston and San Francisco and tried out other ideas at one of its primary hubs, O’Hare Airport in Chicago. For example, United has experimented with changing the layout at its gates, installing new podiums for agents and making the signs that direct passengers more distinctive. Clearly marked boarding lanes help people figure out where they should be standing in line, thus avoiding a crush toward the front as each boarding group is announced.
While the efforts of airlines such as Delta and United will aid all travelers, they’re especially important for business travelers. A more efficient boarding process improves the odds that their flight will take off on time, enabling them to reach their destination and get on with their work.