Confirmed: Delta’s Current Boarding Process Eliminates Co-Brand Cardholder Benefit

by joeheg

The Delta Airlines co-brand cards from American Express provide benefits to cardholders as a perk for paying the annual fee. These benefits are similar to those given to entry-level elite members and help take the sting out of paying $99 a year for a card that doesn’t offer a great return for spending.

The two most useful benefits of the Gold Delta Skymiles American Express are the free checked bag benefit and priority boarding.

Unfortunately, Delta has “temporarily” changed the boarding process, eliminating the priority boarding benefit for co-brand cardholders.

I experienced this first-hand on our flights from MCO-JFK-MCO. These were our first flights since 2019 and I also have to report that the gate lice have survived the pandemic and have even become more prevalent. Once boarding started, the entire plane stood up to get in line. That’s understandable because Delta has eliminated using the boarding groups printed on your ticket which requires you to hear the gate announcements for direction.

a man wearing a mask and backpack standing in a room with luggage

For those not familiar with Orlando International Airport, there’s a circular area with five or six gates at the ends of each terminal spoke. Several of them had flights leaving simultaneously, and the announcements seemed to blend into one another, leaving everyone confused.

As our flight began the boarding process, everything was following the plan. They used the priority lane for First Class, Delta Comfort+ and Sky Priority customers. Then they announced that all passengers in rows 25 and higher could now board. We were flying on an A321 and row 25 is where the exit row is located. I’m not sure if this is the cutoff Delta’s using for all narrowbody jets but it’s the best I can come up with.

Over 1/2 of the remaining passengers headed for the plane all at once, pushing past all the passengers who were confused why the gate agents passed over their group. In addition, everyone followed the previous passengers, only to be told they had to use the general boarding lane and not the priority lane.

After these passengers boarded, they called for general boarding of everyone else. Since I like to sit over the wing, I booked seats in row 20. By the time we boarded, other passengers had filled the overhead bins with Disney bags and popcorn containers. I managed to find some space in the bin before our row but that shouldn’t have been the case.

Here’s Delta’s take on the current boarding process:

Delta One, Delta Premium Select, First Class, Delta Comfort+ and Sky Priority customers will be invited to board before our agents begin back-to-front boarding for Main Cabin and Basic Economy customers. With more customers traveling with us this summer, we have implemented a more efficient boarding experience.

Delta has different boarding zones to reward those who earned or paid for the privilege of getting on the plane first and not having to worry about overhead space. We’re experienced what can happen when Delta forces you to gate-check a bag because there’s no more room in the overhead storage (Can you say broken Christmas ornament?)

I’m not happy about Delta’s decision to suddenly eliminate one of the most useful perks of a $99 credit card until further notice. They’re also leaving out their own Silver Medallion members and people with status with partner airlines.

The boarding process was already confusing. Making a change that turns the gate area into a free-for-all and forces everyone to huddle close to hear announcements is exactly what they should be trying to avoid.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


JRG August 15, 2021 - 7:02 pm

I’ve not flown yet since COVID-19, but I believe I was Main 1 before with my AMEX Delta Gold, and according to the site below, still am:

joeheg August 15, 2021 - 8:25 pm

That is what you’d think but on that page, it says that after sky priority the plane boards back to front. Main Cabin 1, 2 and 3 and basic economy board together. This change was supposedly “for the summer” but there’s no time listed where they’ll go back to normal.

Howard August 15, 2021 - 10:01 pm

I normally fly UAL but had to fly Delta as my flight was cancelled. Glee TYS-ATL-EWR. They boarded back to front but in ATL it was a free for all. The boarding line was packed which would not allow for called rows to board. Than the agents were opening the que ropes and letting people in anywhere. They also didn’t confirm I was good to sit in an exit row.

Wayne August 19, 2021 - 2:15 pm

Those who’ve lost their Delta/American Express Group One boarding perk should consider calling Am Ex. If you relied on the promise of early boarding when you applied for the cobranded card, you are now owed something: waiver of the annual fee, Sky Miles, statement credit, etc. Decide what you think is fair. Then call and ask for it.

ED Beltran August 19, 2021 - 2:32 pm

I have a suggestion, drop the military pre-boarding (now extended to retired, and family) and add the card-holders. Pre-boarding is a perk based on loyalty to the program and needs (physical and metal disabilities, children), not on you ability to do military service (their choice). In our last trip to SEA, the line of military pre-boarding was longer than business class and medallion members.

Barbara August 19, 2021 - 6:47 pm

I will gladly allow a military veteran, military veteran family member and/or military retiree board an airplane before me—any day—any time—-anywhere. It is the least I can do to honor their service and commitment to our country.

Barbara August 19, 2021 - 6:38 pm

The return to boarding processes, “back to front” is to reduce, eliminate close quarter contact with anyone earlier seated in rows ahead of those called. This seating process was called into play during COVID to mitigate disease spread.
Pease note, years ago, that all airlines seated passengers “back to front”; prior to REWARD benefits and profit came before comfort and safety. The Willy Nilly and savage behavior of passengers at the gate is difficult to control when gate agent staff are not well supported and turn around time goals reign supreme. What we can do though, is control our behavior and actions and disallow ourselves to succumb to the herd mentality and feelings of entitlement. Trust all, the front and back of the plane arrive at the final destination at the same time and above all; be kind, courteous and respectful of others.


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