“Welcome Aboard Group #6!” The Future of Airline Boarding


I am usually in the last group to board the airplane on any trip I choose to take. It might have to do with using “frequent flier miles” or buying discounted fares. But, almost invariably, I am in Boarding Group #5.

There is something mildly humiliating about this. Kind of like being placed in “the dumb row” (as it was then called by the kids) back in the primary grades. How is the order of boarding determined? I have two theories:

  1. Cheap labor in terms of monkeys in front of keyboards, randomly pressing keys that will make the assignment.
  2. A more systematic and thoughtful attempt based on the following characteristics:
  • Group #1. Rich, famous, well-connected, well-dressed, influential individuals.
  • Group #2. Business people in charge of running the world, making money; the movers and shakers.
  • Group #3. Good and decent folks who go on frequent vacations and enjoy their lives. “Hot” men and women who didn’t get into the first two groups.
  • Group #4. People who typically fall into the above groups, but are having a bad day. Maybe they bought the tickets a bit late or were assigned to Group #4 by accident.
  • My group. Moral reprobates, the unwanted, the unwashed, the unpopular, and any individual with a history of at least two years of prison time and a certificate proving that he received his Governor’s pardon while on “death row.”

In other words, being in Group #5 is never a badge of honor. But today I suffered an additional humiliation that I didn’t even know existed. Something new. I was assigned to Group #6.

Normally it is difficult enough as a member of Group #5 to find any overhead space for my carry-on luggage. Now what?

A few minutes ago I asked the woman manning the desk in front of the gate what it meant. “Oh, we just started that. We are trying to speed up departures since a lot of people have complained about delays. So once the first five groups are seated, we will push-off. Then the people in Group #6 will be asked to start running toward the moving plane. The crew will drop a rope ladder and you just grab it with one hand, keep hold of your luggage with the other, climb up, and knock on the door. We’ve been able to reduce delays by up to five minutes this way.” She paused to look me up and down. “You look pretty spry for an old guy. I’ll bet you can do it.”

I looked at the young woman in disbelief.

“Thanks for the compliment,” I said with some irony in my voice. “You said you’d bet that I could do this. Exactly how much are you willing to wager?”

The woman turned to the other lady in charge of the counter and pointed her in my direction. “Hey Trixie! How much are you willing to bet that this guy can make the “rope ladder boarding?'”

“How old is he?” Trixie replied. “Remember, if he is a senior he gets a five second head-start.”

My eyes started to water after I’d told her that I am, in fact, a senior. I was touched that the airline was willing to give me the extra five seconds.

Trixie reached into her purse after a long look at me. “I’ve got $2.50. How about that for a bet?”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” I said, as I regained my composure. “But what if I shouldn’t make it? What if I fall down?”

“Oh, in that case we give you a seat on the next available flight — assuming there is an open seat, of course. And, you get to board in Group #5.

She pointed across the concourse to what appeared to be an empty space that had just a bit of equipment. “Why don’t you go to that room over there. You can practice running and climbing the rope ladder. We’ve got it all set up. And, for $5 we will sell you a knee guard in case you fall. What would you like, one knee or two?”

I opted for protection on both knees, forked over the $10, and did a little practice. I’m back in the waiting area now. They are going to call Group #6 soon, so I have to go. Let’s hope that I don’t disappoint Trixie. I’d hate to cost her $2.50.

The photo is of a Vietnam Airlines Boeing 777-200 taking off from the Frankfurt Airport in 2012. The photographer is Milad A 380 and the image is sourced from Wikimedia Commons.