Delta Says It’s Eliminating Zonal Boarding – Boarding By “Branded Fare” Is Coming

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Delta has announced that boarding aircraft by zones “will soon be a thing of the past” as the airline changes the way it herds passengers onboard to a system governed by the fare brand that passengers have purchased.

Starting from 23 January 2019 Delta will board passengers based on the type of fare purchased (Basic Economy, Main Cabin, Delta Comfort+, Delta Premium Select/First Class and Delta One) but the airline has also confirmed that SkyMiles Medallion Members and eligible Delta SkyMiles American Express Credit Card Members will continue to receive priority boarding.

Here’s How It’s Going To Work

Delta is bringing a lot of color to its boarding process in a bid to make things a little more obvious for travelers…but it looks like they could have done with making the colors a bit more distinguishable from one another.

All fare types will now be issued with a color and the color will be displayed from booking all the way though boarding to ensure passengers understand what color their fare is associated with.

This is Delta’s chart showing the old and the new boarding orders (click to enlarge):

a screenshot of a flight schedule

In cast that isn’t all that clear here’s the new boarding order without all the noise:

  1. Delta One/Diamond Medallion (where there’s a Delta One cabin)
  2. First Class/Delta Premium Select/Diamond Medallion (where there isn’t a Delta One cabin)
  3. Delta Comfort+
  4. SkyPriority – Platinum & Gold Medallion members, Sky Team Elite Plus and other eligible loyalty program members not boarded earlier.
  5. Main Cabin 1
  6. Main Cabin 2
  7. Main Cabin 3
  8. Basic Economy

It looks like Main Cabin passengers are still split into zones so zones are not really being eliminated altogether.

Here’s what Delta has had to say:

Boarding zones for Delta-operated flights worldwide will be renamed to reflect the branded fare purchased, while still prioritizing customer loyalty. As a result, Delta will increase the number of boarding groups to encourage fewer customers to line up in the gate area at any one time.

To make sure communication is clear and consistent, the new boarding order name will be featured:

  • In the online shopping experience
  • On boarding passes and on the Today screen of the Fly Delta app
  • On Jetway screens and boarding signage at the gate

While new colors associated with each branded fare will be visible on boarding screens and signs at the gate starting on Jan. 23, they will be visible to only to a small number of customers in the digital shopping experience to start. A gradual roll-out to all customers on and the Fly Delta app in accordance with best practices for large digital changes will allow Delta to gather customer feedback for continuous improvements until the rollout is complete in 2019.

a diagram of different colors


I’m really not sure that boarding needs to be this complicated or this colorful…and if it has to be colorful why not make each color easily and quickly distinguishable from all the others?

Is it just me who thinks that Delta Premium Select and SkyPriority will get mixed up…or that the colors for Delta Comfort+,Main Cabin  and Basic Economy look very similar to one another?

I guess that having more boarding groups may reduce the stampede at the gate but I have my doubts.

Most of my experiences indicate that people will clutter up the gate area regardless of what’s printed on their boarding passes so, short of enclosing passengers inside pre-boarding pens, I don’t see anything changing this…there’s certainly nothing here that looks like it will significantly change passenger behavior.

Overall I’m not really sure I see what the point of all of this is other than to give a few marketing executives some more work and an image consultant more money – zones aren’t really going away as Delta is claiming….they’re just being renamed and given a color.

Still, I’m not a frequent flyer with Delta so I’m probably not in the strongest of positions to comment on the boarding changes as a whole….would any readers like to comment?

Business Credit Cards


  1. They are out of their minds. The only problem with the current boarding process could have been easily fixed, but they instead made it worse.

    Who in their mind thinks that ZONE 1 is the 5th group to board?

    Of course people with zone 1 and 2 gather around the gate.

    And, by the way, none of this speeds up the process. The bottle neck is in the aisle AFTER they board.

  2. Part of it is marketing. It wouldn’t matter too much if they boarded a simpler system.

    Zone 1: Elites and non-economy passengers.
    Zone 2: Everyone except basic economy
    Zone 3: Basic economy

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