On Sunday I had another flight on Alaska Airlines flying home from San Francisco to Seattle. To anyone who travels regularly with Alaska, it should be no surprise that the flight boarded early. How early I don’t know because I wasn’t there, but they were making “last call” announcements and the departure area was a ghost town just 8 minutes after the scheduled boarding time. I’ve seen this same scenario even when I show up right on time.
Early boarding of an aircraft isn’t necessarily a problem. If the plane is there and it means you can ensure on on-time departure, then go ahead and put people on it. One of my frustrations when I flew United Airlines was that they would have an empty plane just sitting there and yet the agents couldn’t get their act together and start boarding on time.
I Understand Why, But…
But all decisions lead to downstream consequences. In this case, anyone who showed up at or around the normal, published boarding time like I did had to gate check their bag. There turned out to be several spots available in the overhead bins when the doors closed, but the gate agents wouldn’t know that because they boarded passengers so early that there was a line of 25 people in the jetway.
After we were seated one of the flight attendants made an announcement that they were hoping for an early departure. It didn’t happen. We left right on time. For all I know there were one or two last-minute passengers who were not aware that the departure time had changed (/sarcasm). I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one of these early boarding calls lead to a comparably early departure.
My Whiny First World Problem
What it comes down to is this:
- Alaska Airlines wants to board ~15 minutes before their own published boarding time.
- Because they put people on the plane early, they start gate checking bags early.
- I show up on time and have to gate check my bag.
- I spend ~15 minutes extra at the carousel waiting for my bag.
Someone somewhere is still going to have to check their bag. I get that. Partly this is an argument about why that someone shouldn’t be me. It seems like a situation that would disproportionately affect Alaska’s most frequent customers — the ones with priority boarding and lounge access. They’re not waiting around at the gate, ready to board at a moment’s notice. They’re not expecting to have to fight for overhead bin space as the last people to board.
I don’t actually mind boarding 45 minutes or an hour before departure. I just wish Alaska would schedule the boarding time earlier to match. My wife will tell you, most of my tiffs start when an airline (or any company) says one thing and does another, not because I have an issue with the policy itself. Be honest from the start and I can plan around almost anything.