Priority boarding will cost you more

Saturday December 2 2017

Most airlines board premium passengers —

Most airlines board premium passengers — first/business class and elite frequent flyers — ahead of those travelling in economy class. 

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British Airways has made a policy change regarding its boarding procedures that could see it fly into uncharted skies.

In this new procedure, how much you paid for your air ticket will determine when you are boarded. So those travelling on highly discounted and promotional fares will be boarded last.

This announcement, though not the first of its kind by an airline, was met with both outrage and jubilation.  The airline has now been accused of “shaming” the poor.

Many people are on the lookout for the lowest fare. However, the airline industry is run on Pareto’s principle, which states that 20 per cent of customers account for over 80 per cent of revenues.

These 20 per cent are usually the few who travel in business class or another few who even if always on economy class, fly so frequently during the year that they spend a significant amount on the airline.

Airlines know that the 20 per cent are willing to spend extra for some comfort and pampering, and are also sensitive to recognition and prestige.

Now the cheapest business class fare is often higher than the most expensive economy class fare.

You can imagine paying a fare that is the equivalent of three people’s fare combined and not being accorded the treatment that matches what you spent.

Hence, most airlines board premium passengers — first/business class and elite frequent flyers — ahead of those travelling in economy class.

What makes the BA procedure an outrage in some quarters is that the economy class passengers are going to be further segmented and boarded on the basis of fare paid.

Already being called “the walk of shame” by a section of commentators and attributed to “British snobbery,” the new policy change has already been effected by other airlines around the world.

What happens with most of our airlines in the region, and especially where they have many passengers on a flight, is segregation based on seating position.

At check-in, airline ground staff giving passes can seat the passenger more to the back, middle or front section of the aircraft.

That kind of segregation helps with efficiency in the boarding process particularly where large aircraft or high passenger numbers are in play. This happens a lot on Kenya Airways.

An admirable thing with Ethiopian Airlines is that they will always board passengers with children or infants first — regardless of class of travel—  alongside their elite passengers.

I find the desire to be boarded first misplaced, as all passengers will board eventually and takeoff is at the same time for all. No one arrives earlier because they were boarded first.

Some flyers will use the seat selection function during the ticketing process to pick out seats closer to the front of the economy class cabin.

This of course works well with the assumption that after first and business class the next rows to board the aircraft are the ones right behind the curtain divider.

However, the plan may not work in instances where the airline chooses to start boarding the aircraft from the rows at the back.

Worse, some passengers with seats in the rearmost sections of the aircraft put their hand luggage in the overbins right at the front.

Some passengers who occupy the first rows of economy class dash into business class during disembarkation to ride with the elite in the special bus.

Airlines usually know how many first or business class passengers they have, so expect to be held at the stairs of the aircraft until the “cattle class” bus comes.

If priority boarding is so important to you, you could buy a first or business class ticket or pick a specific airline and fly so frequently that you make it onto the elite status of their frequent flyer programme.

Just don’t buy the cheapest tickets on offer and expect priority treatment.

Michael Otieno an aviation consultant based in Nairobi. Twitter: @mosafariz; Email: [email protected]