Has KLM Perfected the Concept of Boarding an Aircraft? Your Input Is Requested

The tail of an airplane operated by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is seen here at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol early one morning. Will this be one of many airplanes to be able to board passengers more quickly due to the Smart Boarding process? Photograph ©2013 by Brian Cohen.

After testing the concept over the past few months with promising results, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines introduced Smart Boarding earlier this month, which has purportedly significantly reduced the amount of time needed to board passengers onto its airplanes due to less congestion and interference aboard the aircraft.
According to FlyerTalk member Gajan, the Smart Boarding procedure operates as follows:
Upon entering the gate area, each passenger scans his or her boarding pass. The computer provides a number which determines the boarding sequence of passengers. Once boarding of the aircraft has started, the number on the monitor determines which number is called — and only then is the passenger allowed to board.
Passengers with SkyPriority status are given low numbers. Within this group of passengers, the lowest numbers are given to frequent flier loyalty program members with elite status who hold seat assignments at the windows towards the back of the airplane; while frequent flier loyalty program members with elite status who hold seat assignments next to the aisle towards the front of the aircraft will be given higher numbers within the elite group. This is the same procedure of filling the aircraft with passengers from the back to the front.
Passengers who have SkyPriority status are given priority. The system will ensure priority is given to passengers who have SkyPriority status so they do not have to wait long before boarding the aircraft.
Passengers traveling on one single passenger name record and seated next to each other will be given consecutive numbers.
The Smart Boarding procedure will not be used for bus gates.
The boarding number is given at the gate in order for employees of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines to know which passengers are already at the gate. Moreover, the later you determine the sequence, the better it is optimized. If the sequence is determined before the first passenger checks in, there will be many passengers who have not selected a seat yet. As a result, the data on many information technology systems worldwide would have to be changed to print a new number on the boarding pass.
The Smart Boarding process is still being monitored; and it is expected to be further optimized based on what will have been learned this winter.
I personally like the idea of scanning the boarding pass myself. I certainly received enough practice and experience from being a gate agent for a day at the international airport in Atlanta and the procedure is simple enough — but then again, with my luck I will either have a boarding pass scanner which malfunctions; or I will have someone in front of me in line who does not seem competent enough to successfully implement the procedure of scanning a boarding pass.
Gajan posts that “with the new Smart Boarding method there is less congestion and interference on board. However, allowing SkyPriority passengers to board first is a concession to the optimal sequence. Elite passengers often sit in an aisle seat in the front of the plane. So they will have to get up later to allow the passengers in the window and middle seats next to them to get into their seat. As they do this, they block the aisle for passengers that need to get to the back of the plane. Besides that: the idea is to board from back to front, but now passengers seated in the back have to wait until Elite passengers in the front have taken their seat and cleared the aisle.”
Airlines have been attempting for decades to significantly improve the boarding process — usually with little to no success. For example, an unpopular attempt by United Airlines to simplify and reduce the number of boarding groups, as well as eventually revise the layout of gate areas with premium bypass lanes and improved directional signage was launched in January of 2013; and American Airlines earlier this year tested at several airports a boarding procedure which allows passengers without any carry-on luggage to board the aircraft early.
The war over the space in the overhead storage bins by passengers does not exactly help expedite the boarding process, to say the least. Long lines usually result; and flights have been known to be delayed as a result…
…but has KLM Royal Dutch Airlines actually perfected the procedure of boarding an airplane? Well — that is where you come in.
Suggestions, comments and constructive feedback are welcome — especially if you have experienced the Smart Boarding procedure yourself. Should KLM Royal Dutch Airlines strictly adhere to priority boarding — even if this means that the overall boarding process is less efficient and therefore takes longer? What alternative ways are there to provide recognition and sufficient space for hand luggage? For example, how would you feel about waiting in an airport lounge until the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines software application program on your portable electronic device notifies you that you need to start walking to the gate; and when you arrive at the gate, you are to immediately board the aircraft?
What are your thoughts?
  1. If Elite passengers were to board and remain in their seats first, although deviating from the model, it would not slow the process too much as these are your experienced fliers. Overhead bag space is the glitch. These (myself included) passengers want their deserved space above their seats. The rest of the plane can then board as planned.

  2. This is genius, in my opinion. It would significantly de-zoo the boarding process everywhere, especially in the US.

  3. A system like this, or perhaps very different, would work “best” if the airlines would just ban roll aboard luggage. TSA screening would be quicker, boarding would be faster, and baggage handling & security resources (i.e., personnel) could focus more on the luggage process in order to decrease risks and increase loading/delivery speeds. My .02cents.
    And AA is still allowing “no baggage” holders to board before the Priority group at many aiports nationwide.

    1. I have not been a passenger on an airplane operated by American Airlines recently, Moving Chicane. Thank you for the update.

  4. diburning – I think you enormously over-estimate how much people actually care about getting on the aircraft first… I personally see no benefit in sitting in a crampt economy seat for an extra 15 minutes instead of relaxing in the departure lounge. The only time most people really care about this is on the few airlines who don’t assign seats.
    As to whether I like this idea or not, it’s always puzzled me why no airline did this already. It can’t be particularly hard to develop the software and it will improve the passenger experience while possibly preventing late take-offs and therefore avoiding the fines etc.

  5. Calum9999, the overhead space is king. Whoever gets on the plane late or last usually ends up gate-checking their bags, and that’s highly inconvenient. If the passenger was OK with checking a bag (ignoring fees), and waiting for it at the far end for 30-60 minutes, then they would, especially the frequent flyers who get some checked bags free. Getting on and off a plane with no carry-on bag is very liberating.
    I hate the aisle seat, but recently had to change to it so I wasn’t the last group to board. That group have very little chance of not getting overhead space, and for my (within limits) bag on full flights, it’s still an issue. This was with United. The last group to board is usually always desperate for space, and some have to gate check because of it.
    The root issue here is the overhead space. If Gate Agents enforced the size of carry-on bags, this would still be an issue, but not nearly as big as it is now.
    The flight attendants also need to get with the program too. On a US-Air flight, I was last to board because of a late in-bound flight. I had to gate check my carry-on – which was even smaller than I have now; because I had a checked bag and only needed essentials – simply because the fight attendants wouldn’t push two jackets over and make space.
    The system is broken because of greedy airlines, who can do simple things to fix it, but fail to see it.
    Instead, they look at the boarding being the issue. It wasn’t an issue 30 years ago where passengers were boarded from the back first, regardless of how close they were to the window, and when they could pack a check bag for free, reducing their carry-on needs. Now, we pack a week’s worth of everything into a carry-on to avoid the fees, and inconvenience of waiting at the destination.

  6. Duty-Free is also a problem… how many tourists do you see with one carry-on but with 2-3 shopping bags full of dried food, clothes or what-not bought at the duty-free before boarding. They end up at the gate with one carry-on bag, a laptop bag/purse and both hands full of shopping stuff…. They take up so much space already that they are the ones rushing to board first in order to secure that precious overhead space on top of their seat…

  7. I think many folks are missing the point re KLM doing this. The Schipol hub gates aren’t like anything in the US (or for that matter, Germany, UK, Japan etc.) . Each gate there has its own security and walled off area. THAT security checkpoint is where the BPs will get scanned, not at the entrance to the main concourse, lounges etc. Oh, and the gates don’t open till about t-60; I have seen t-30 in the case of some shorthaul flights.
    So all the comments about waiting in the lounge etc. are way off point, since you don’t get registered or get a number till you’re actually *at* the gate, waiting in a small area with a bunch of regular seats and no facilities to speak of. The scrum will move slightly from the boarding line to the gate entry line as everyone tries to get a low boarding number. And then the fun continues at the actual boarding queue when someone tries to board out of turn. There’s no waiting in the lounge until your number is called, so to speak.
    And anyone thinking that assigning numbers is a brilliant idea should investigate the assorted line-jumper threads on the SouthWest forum. It works, but it has lots of glitches and there will be a long learning curve.

  8. The entire problem is caused by airlines charging for checked bags, leading more people to bring carry ons, and requiring elites to board early SOLELY for the purpose of getting overhead bin space. As an elite I’d prefer to board last (after enjoying time in the lounge) if I wouldn’t be forced to gate check my bag. Remove the financial incentive to fill the carry on bins, and the boarding wars will cease.

  9. scnzzz: You’ve clearly only seen the non-Schengen part of Schiphol. For the Schengen part there is centralised security, i.e. there is no security at each gate. All of the flights they’re currently trialling this with are flights to Schengen destinations. Also, the Boarding Pass is not scanned at gate security (except for a few bus gates from the D pier).

  10. Everybody should get one space allotment in the bin. Period. Restrict the under-seat items from going up. Because we will assume they already have used up space for their luggage item too. If they bought a bunch of crap in duty-free then they have to sacrifice the carry-on to be checked to make space for it or they have to cram the sacks under their seat. This of course requires that FAs vigorously police people when they board, something a lot of them don’t want to do because of the likelihood of confrontation. They’d rather let people bring on all that stuff and then the last people to board lose. They have to give up their bags without a fight, because after all, there’s simply no space left sir.
    I generally travel with my backpack only, and I don’t mind it in front of me because I can move it close to my seat and stretch out my legs in flight. I do this whether I am in first or economy. I probably see 20-30% of the bins filled with small backpacks, laptop cases, and shopping bags – all items that really ought to go under the seat. The only under-seat items to go up would be for the people sitting at bulkheads. Then I would bet there would be plenty of space to go around even in the dead cold of winter.

  11. I disagree that charges (for checked bags) are the biggest issue – surely it’s convenience? I rarely travel on an airline that charges me (as a frequent flyer, not a business class pax), but I have to carry my laptop anyway, so why cool my heels for 30~60 minutes when I arrive? I’m either arriving somewhere late at night or I’m in a hurry to get to my business destination…
    The KLM system sounds like a reasonable attempt at balancing efficiency with keeping “status” flyers happy… The proof of the pudding, however, will be in the eating. KLM discipline at AMS non-Schengen gates, for example, has historically been non-existent.

  12. I agree, the real issue with boarding early – for a frequent flyer anyway – is the overhead space. I don’t have to pay for checked bags, but on a short trip I don’t want to wait to get my bags at the carousel, get off the plane, walk to my rental car, hotel, whatever the destination may be. If I am checking a bag, I’m happy to wait until the end to sit for however many hours the taxing and flight may be. It’s defintely a perk to be an elite member and get on 1st and secure an overhead bin for my suitcase – especially being tall and leg room a key. Another issue with this program is if I am travelling with others- they should let all people travelling together board at the same time as the highest elite person within in the group. Not just myself and leave my SO or however many other people may be in my party behind – we’re all obviously sitting together so I think it would make sense to get us all on board and situated in our row and out of everyone’s way at once.

  13. Glad to see that someone has a plan and is testing it. Boarding now is ridiculous, with people carrying on the most bizarre things. How can they not notice that they are smashing their backpack/purse/stuffed animal/pillow into people’s heads all the way down the aisle? 90% of the overhead storage problem would be solved if bags were limited in size and number … and the gate agents enforced the rules.

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