Is making airline passengers with the cheapest tickets board last a step too far?

Angus Kidman 23 November 2017

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British Airways is about to make life tougher for bargain travellers.

Latest trap to watch out for if you're a perennial seeker of cheap airline fares (like me): British Airways is introducing a new approach that penalises passengers with cheaper tickets.

From December 12, BA flights within Europe will be assigned a group number between 1 and 5, which determines when you board. Group 5, the last to board, will be assigned to the cheapest tickets, which on BA is often passengers who have opted for a hand luggage-only ticket. In practice, that means if you can't fit that hand luggage under your seat, you'll struggle to find overhead space for it.

Despite firing up much outrage on Twitter, it's hardly a new approach. US airlines, for instance, have long grouped passengers prior to boarding. While much of that grouping relates to where you're sitting (planes with a single entrance fill faster if you board the back rows first), high tier frequent flyers have always been allowed to board ahead of everyone else. That's also the case on local premium carriers Qantas and Virgin.

There are plenty of other variations on this approach already in the market. Many no-frills carriers let you pay extra to be amongst the first to board. Tigerair's Queue Jump springs to mind, and I'll admit to often coughing up the $3 for that one. Paying to board first can be particularly helpful with an airline like Ryanair that doesn't assign seating: first on means the widest choice of seats.

It's also standard practice to offer more points if you buy a more expensive fare. Again, that makes sense: the airline rewarding passengers who've spent more.

Airlines are free to set boarding policies, and passengers need to learn to adapt. As I noted earlier this week, if you know you're not supposed to have more than 7kg of hand luggage, there's no excuse for being shocked when it's weighed.

For all that, British Airways has long promoted itself as a full-service airline, not a cheapskate crammer. Getting a less-than-full-service offering does feel a little off, even on the cheapest fares. But that's the reality of flying in a highly competitive market.

Angus Kidman's Findings column looks at new developments and research that help you save money, make wise decisions and enjoy your life more. It appears regularly on finder.com.au.

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