Home Airlines Which U.S. Airline Has The Best Boarding Procedures?

Which U.S. Airline Has The Best Boarding Procedures?

by SharonKurheg

Each airline is different and with that, some of them do things differently. Take boarding procedures, for example.

Southwest is a good example – they don’t have seating assignments. Instead, they offer seating on a “first come/contact, first served [unless you pay extra to be among the first]” system.

Southwest and its totally oddball set up for boarding set aside, all the other airlines have their own ways of who gets onto the plane first, last and everyone in between. Sometimes people who need extra time board first. Sometimes the first ones are are those with the most status. Sometimes people with young children get to board first. People who are active military may be among the first to board, or they may be in the 2nd or 3rd group…all depending on the airline.

But which one does it BEST? Well, let’s look at how each airline handles boarding, first:

Alaska Airlines

  • Preboarding
    Guests with disabilities who need help or a little more time to board
    Families with children under the age of 2
    Active members of the military
  • First Class
    Guests seated in First Class (Note: Some of their aircraft don’t have First Class seating; group boarding on those flights will skip First Class seating and go straight to Group A)
  • Group A
    Mileage Plan™ Million Miler, MVP® Gold 75K, and MVP® Gold members
  • Group B
    Mileage Plan MVP® members
    Guests in Premium Class seats (Note: For airrft that offer Premium Class seating. Some don’t)
  • Group C
    Guests in Main seats located in the back half of the aircraft
  • Group D
    Guests in Main seats located in the front half of the aircraft
  • Group E
    Guests in Saver seats

Allegiant Air

  • Preboarding
    Anyone who needs extra time or assistance
  • Priority Boarding
    Those who have purchased Priority Access
    Allegiant World Mastercard holders
  • Military Boarding
    Active military personnel and their dependents
  • Family Boarding
    Passengers with car seats and strollers
  • Zone 1
    Passengers seated in the exit rows
  • Zone 2
    Passengers without carry-on bags and seated in rows 25 to 40
  • Zone 3
    Passengers without carry-on bags and seated in rows 1 to 24
  • Zone 4
    Passengers with carry-on bags who are  seated in rows 25 to 40
  • Zone 5
    Passengers with carry-on bags who are seated in rows 10 to 24
  • Zone 6
    Passengers with carry-on bags who are seated in rows 1 to 9

American Airlines

* Note: Customers who need special assistance and families with children under 2 years old can ask to board early at the gate.

  • ConciergeKey® Members
    Guests who are ConciergeKey® status
  • Group 1
    Active duty U.S. military with military I.D.
    AAdvantage Executive Platinum® (Business on a 2-class international plane)
  • Group 2
    AAdvantage Platinum Pro®
    oneworld® Emerald℠ (Business on a 3-class plane)
  • Group 3
    AAdvantage Platinum®
    oneworld® Sapphire℠
  • Group 4
    AAdvantage Gold®
    oneworld® Ruby℠
    Premium Economy
    Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive cardmembers
    Travelers who bought Priority boarding
    Eligible corporate travelers
  • Group 5 (Preferred boarding)
    Main Cabin Extra (excluding Basic Economy)
    Eligible AAdvantage® credit cardmembers
  • Group 6
    AAdvantage® members
  • Group 7
    Group 7 (Yep, that’s how they describe it on their website)
  • Group 8
    Basic Economy to / from Europe & South America
  • Group 9
    Basic Economy within the U.S., Canada, Central America, Mexico & Caribbean

Delta Air Lines

  • Pre-Boarding
    Customers needing assistance or additional time to board
  • Active Duty U.S. Military with ID
  • Delta One or First Class
  • Diamond Medallion Members
  • Delta Premium Select
  • Customers traveling with car seats and strollers
  • Delta Comfort+
  • Sky Priority
    Platinum Medallion members
    Gold Medallion members
    Flying Blue Patinum and Gold members
    Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Gold members
    SkyTeam Elite Plus members
    LATAM Pass Black Signature, Black and Platinum Elite
    WestJet Rewards Platinum and Gold Elite
  • Main Cabin 1
    Silver Medallion Members
    Delta Corporate Travelers
    Delta SkyMiles Gold, Platinum and Reserve American Express card members
    Flying Blue Silver Members
    Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Silver members
    Sky Team Elite
    SkyMiles Select Members
    LATAM Pass Gold + Elite
    WestJet Rewards Silver Elite
  • Main Cabin 2
    Main Cabin customers
  • Main Cabin 3
    Main Cabin customers booked in T, X and V fares
  • Basic Economy

Frontier Airlines

  • Special Services
    Anyone needing wheelchair or other boarding assistance
  • Zone 1
    Anyone who has purchased a carry-on bag, the WORKS℠ or by being an Elite member of myFRONTIER Miles.
  • Board First Service
    Anyone who has paid for a carry-on bag
  • Courtesy Boarding
    Families traveling with small children (under 3 years old) and any other passenger requiring additional time or assistance
  • General Boarding
    Everyone else

Hawaiian Airlines

First/Business Class Lane:

  • Pre-boarding
    Guests needing assistance
    Unaccompanied minors
  • Premium Cabin
    First Class
    Business Class
  • Zone 1
    Pualani Platinum Members (and up to 2 guests each)
  • Zone 2
    Pualani Gold Members (and up to 2 guests each)
    Premier Club Members (and up to 2 guests each)

Main Cabin Lane:

  • Early Boarding
    Active duty military personnel
    Families with children under 2
  • Zone 3
    Guests in Extra Comfort seats
  • Zones 4 and 5
    Main Cabin seats
  • Zone 6
    Main Cabin Basic seats


  • Pre-Boarding for customers with disabilities
  • Mosaic and Mint® customers
  • Even More® Space customers (Group A)
  • Courtesy Boarding for active military personnel and customers traveling with small children
  • Group B
  • Group C
  • Group D
  • Group E (N/A for E-190 aircraft)
  • All remaining customers

Southwest Airlines

You will be assigned a boarding group (A, B, or C) and position (1-60+) upon check in. Your unique group and position combination (for example: A35) will be displayed on your boarding pass and represents a reserved spot in the boarding group at the gate. Numbered posts in each of our gate areas indicate where to line up. When your boarding group is called, find your designated place in line and board the aircraft in numerical order with your boarding group.

Available boarding positions will be distributed on a first-come, first served basis upon check in. The earlier you check in, beginning 24 hours before departure, the lower your boarding group and position will be.

You may also purchase a Business Select® fare to guarantee receipt of an A1 – A15 boarding position. If you are a Rapid Rewards A-List Preferred or A-List Member, or traveling on the same reservation as an A-List Preferred or A-List Member, or purchase EarlyBird Check-In®, we’ll automatically reserve your boarding position 36 hours before departure and before check in begins. While this doesn’t guarantee an “A” boarding position, you will receive the earliest position available. While you will have a reserved boarding position, you will still need to check in within 24 hours of scheduled departure to retrieve your boarding pass.

On the day of travel, when available, Upgraded Boarding is an opportunity to secure an earlier boarding position in the A1-A15 boarding group. Upgraded Boarding can easily be added to your reservation when you check-in for your flight via the Southwest® app or Southwest.com®. Upgraded Boarding pricing starts at $30 per segment, per Customer, based on the popularity and length of each flight segment. A credit card must be used for the purchase of Upgraded Boarding.

Spirit Airlines

  • Pre-boarding
    Passengers with disabilities and those who need special assistance
  • Zone 1
    Passengers who purchased a carry-on bag (this would include the Big Comfy Seat)
  • Zone 2
    Passengers who purchased Shortcut Boarding
    Passengers who have “Silver” or “Gold” status with Free Spirit
    Cardholders of the Free Spirit® Travel More World Elite Mastercard® and the Free Spirit® Travel Mastercard®
  • Family Boarding
    Families with children aged 3 and under
  • Zone 3: General boarding
    Passengers seated in the back half of the plane
  • Zone 4: General boarding
    Passengers seated in the front half of the plane

United Airlines

  • Pre-boarding
    Unaccompanied minors
    Customers with disabilities
    Active members of the military
    United Global Services® members
    Families traveling with children age 2 and younger
    Premier® 1K® members
  • Group 1
    Premier Platinum members
    Premier Gold members
    Star Alliance™ Gold members
    Customers seated in premium cabins: United Polaris®, United First® and United Business®
  • Group 2
    Premier Silver members
    Star Alliance Silver members
    Customers who have purchased Premier Access® or Priority Boarding
    United℠ Explorer, Club, Presidential Plus℠ and Awards Cardmembers
  • Groups 3-5
    Economy Plus®
    United Economy®
    Basic Economy (Customers who have purchased a Basic Economy ticket will be in the last boarding group, except for Premier members, Chase Cardmembers of qualifying cards and Star Alliance Gold members, who will still receive their priority boarding)

Which one is best?

Honestly, travel friends, there IS no “best.” It’s very much a Your Mileage May Vary situation.

    • Having status, or a higher end credit card connected to the airline in question will often get you onto the plane faster; that seems to go across the board, even for the ultra low cost carriers. So the “best” for YOU would be whichever airline(s) you save status or credit cards with.
    • Similarly, if you need special assistance, you’re almost always going to be one of the first to board.
    • And if you have very young children, you may be among the first group or 2…or you may not. So you may think Alaska is great for you (families with little ones are in the first group), American may not have your interests in their plans (they don’t have special boarding for families with small children), and most of the other airlines are somewhere in between.
    • You could also have the crappiest seat on the plane, and paid a rock bottom price for it. But if you’re flying on Hawaiian or United and are active military, you’re going to get to go on the plane first.

It all depends on you and your specific circumstances.

Feature Photo: Nate Steiner / FlickrCC0 1.0 Universal (Public Domain)

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


Marshall November 18, 2022 - 4:34 pm

I like Allegiant’s best. Just for having their credit card you board super early.
I like American’s because I have status and board early. I like how AA boards First Class along with military, rather than other legacy’s that board military before those who paid for First Class.

DC not im DC November 19, 2022 - 6:24 am

Addition for Alaska:
Alaska MVP® Gold 100K

Also, I like pre-boarding as a United 1K.


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