Gate Crowding: The Zombie Apocalypse – How Delta’s Passengers Are Blocking Even More Gates

Gate Crowding: The Zombie Apocalypse – How Delta’s Passengers Are Blocking Even More Gates

Since I first wrote about Delta’s Boarding Zones and the Ubiquitous Gate Crowders, I’ve left Delta for Southwest and returned. In my absence, Delta took an already confusing zone boarding system (one that caused most of the gate crowding) and made it even worse… more confusing with even more gate crowding. (Something, I must say, even I didn’t think was possible.)

Of course, walk past any airline’s gates near boarding time and you’ll see most suffer from some form of gate crowding. (By the way, travelers may not be aware that many gate agents refer to customers crowding the gates as “gate lice.” Just thought you’d like to know.)

The gate crowding scale, if there was one, ranges from Southwest Airlines on the low side to Delta on the OMG WTF side. Southwest’s boarding system is sometimes incorrectly referred to as a cattle call. It’s not. It’s orderly and uncongested. Cattle calls are the opposite – something you might see in front of a United or American gate.

If what United and American have are cattle calls, then Delta’s gate crowding can only be called a zombie apocalypse… and it’s all Delta’s fault.

Delta causes the gate crowding in multiple ways. First, they set a ridiculous boarding time of 40 minutes prior to takeoff. A time that almost never holds true. (It’s doubly ridiculous that Delta doesn’t bother to update the scheduled boarding time even when they know it’s going to be missed by 20 minutes or more.) More often than not, when you arrive at your Delta gate at the scheduled boarding time, you’ll notice passengers still getting off the previous flight. (In my experience, most Delta flights start boarding about 25-30 minutes before takeoff.)

With nothing to do for ten to fifteen minutes, the passengers crowd the gate.

Then, because Delta charges for checked luggage, they have a greater percentage of passengers trying to carry multiple bags on the flight than an airline like Southwest (which does not charge for checking a bag). With so many extra carry-ons, every full Delta flight runs out of overheard space during the boarding. Knowing this, passengers panic and want to be certain they’re in the front of the line when their zone is called.

So, they crowd the gate.

Finally, the confusing and wholly inaccurate Delta Boarding Zone system causes the bulk of the gate crowding. Moreover, this system has gotten even worse during the time I was flying on Southwest.

Zone 1, which anyone with any common sense would assume loads first, now is the sixth zone to load in Delta’s convoluted system. (They previously boarded fifth but Delta added a new group ahead of them.) Here’s Delta’s current zone boarding order:

  1. People needing extra time or assistance to get down the jet bridge.
  2. Parents traveling with small children and/or cars seats/strollers.
  3. Active duty military.
  4. The Premium Zone – first class cabin and Diamond Medallions.
  5. The Sky Zone – almost every human who was flown Delta at least once before today.
  6. Zone 1

It’s Delta’s idiotic zone boarding, which insists on calling the 6th group to load “Zone 1” that still causes the bulk of the gate crowding. Why wouldn’t it? If I was holding a Zone 1 boarding pass, wouldn’t it make sense to assume I was in the first group to board?

It would if you were anyone but a Delta executive. (They, by the way, always board with the Premium Group.)

(UPDATE: And… just like that, Delta’s updated their horrendous boarding zone system… again.)