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Delta shifts from zone boarding to color-coded system based on fare class

Delta Air Lines plans to shift from zone boarding to a color-coded system where passengers board a flight in the order of their fare class.

The new system is aimed at making the boarding process less confusing, according to Delta – and it also more clearly prioritizes customers who buy pricier tickets.

Delta says it will launch the new boarding process across all of its flights around the world starting Jan. 23.

Each fare class -- including business class, first class, premium economy, comfort+, main cabin and basic economy – will have a different color.

The new system highlights the increasing number of tiers of travelers on a single plane, as Delta and other carriers seek to charge extra for different levels of creature comforts.

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Under the new boarding system, there will be more boarding groups, with the aim of having a smaller group of passengers lining up at a time.

“We have been listening to our customers about the stress they often feel at the gate before boarding, and implementing small changes for years,” said Delta chief marketing officer Tim Mapes in a written statement. The new boarding system “is designed to better link the Delta product they purchased to differentiated experiences throughout their journey.”

Delta has been altering its boarding process in recent years, and earlier this year added a “Zone 4” for passengers who booked lower-priced “basic economy” fares, who board last and sometimes must gate check their baggage.

Under the new system, first class or Delta One business class will board first, along with diamond-level frequent fliers – the highest level in Delta’s SkyMiles program. On international flights with “premium select” premium economy seats, those passengers board after business class.

Then, passengers in Comfort+ seats board, followed by “Sky Priority” platinum and gold frequent fliers.

The next group called “Main Cabin 1” includes silver-level frequent fliers, SkyMiles credit card holders, corporate travelers and others with seating priority.

That is followed by Main Cabin 2 and Main Cabin 3, then Basic Economy boards last.

About the Author

Business reporter Kelly Yamanouchi covers airlines and the airport.

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