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I’ve tried Qantas’ new approach to boarding – here’s the problem

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Group boarding is coming, but will frequent flyers get the short end of the stick?

Qantas wants to speed up boarding for flights by introducing "group boarding" on many of its domestic flights.

"Group Boarding is designed to minimise the time our customers spend waiting to board and allows them to get settled more quickly," Qantas domestic CEO Markus Svensson said.

Anything that makes getting onto a crowded flight less stressful gets a tick from me.

Other airlines do this overseas and Qantas already uses it for some international flights, but just how well will this work in reality? Let's take a look.

How will Qantas group boarding work?

Qantas boarding gate
Qantas is introducing group boarding for domestic flights in four cities initially:

  • Brisbane from 3 June
  • Perth from 10 June
  • Melbourne from 17 June
  • Sydney from 25 June

It will only apply to flights on Boeing 737 and Airbus A330, though that accounts for the majority of Qantas' domestic operations already.

Your boarding group will be shown on your boarding pass, whether it's in-app or printed. When a group is scheduled to board, it will be announced at the gate.

Qantas boarding pass

Group 1 will board first, followed by Group 2, Group 3 and so on to Group 6. Approaches may vary by flight and whether there are rear stairs, but typically flights will board the back rows first to avoid crowding at the front of the plane.

Crucially, the boarding pass scanners know about the group indicated on your ticket. If you try to scan before it's your group, the scanner will beep and you'll be turned away and told to wait your turn.

Will Qantas frequent flyers get special treatment?

Qantas hasn't made any announcements about how status will affect how quickly you get to board. It also says it expects to adjust the process over time.

That said, I understand that Business, Platinum and Platinum 1 passengers will be in Group 1, while Gold passengers will be in Group 2. That means they'll be able to board early regardless of where they're seated, and potentially nab some precious overhead cabin luggage space.

Merely being in Qantas Frequent Flyer won't nab you any extra privileges. And that's understandable, given that Qantas Frequent Flyer has over 14 million members.

That also means that the current Gold-and-above priority queues are likely to disappear for flights from these cities.

How well will group boarding actually work for Qantas?

Qantas planes

Group boarding might be new on domestic flights, but Qantas does use it on some international flights.

I flew Sydney-London on Qantas last month, and boarding by groups was already a feature.

It's a good idea in theory, but it can be messed up by inadequate communication.

For instance, on my return leg from Singapore, the crew forgot to announce that Gold and Platinum frequent flyers could board at their leisure, leading to some disgruntled passengers.

Qantas partners American Airlines and British Airways have long used this approach.

Observationally, the biggest problem is that folks constantly ignore the announcements and try to board anyway.

From that perspective, having the scanners not work until your group is allowed to board is useful.

Ultimately, the main reason for getting on board early is so you can claim space for your carry-on.

So I hope this approach also sees Qantas crack down on folks boarding with multiple oversize bags.

That really will make a difference to getting away in time.

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Image: Finder/Photographer: Angus Kidman

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