WHO GOES IN FIRST? Most air­lines board pre­mium pas­sen­gers — first/ busi­ness class and elite fre­quent fly­ers — ahead of those trav­el­ling in econ­omy class

The East African - - MAGAZINE - Michael Otieno, Spe­cial Cor­re­spon­dent

Bri­tish Air­ways has made a pol­icy change re­gard­ing its board­ing pro­ce­dures that could see it fly into un­charted skies. In this new pro­ce­dure, how much you paid for your air ticket will de­ter­mine when you are boarded. So those trav­el­ling on highly dis­counted and pro­mo­tional fares will be boarded last.

This an­nounce­ment, though not the first of its kind by an air­line, was met with both out­rage and ju­bi­la­tion. The air­line has now been ac­cused of “sham­ing” the poor.

Many peo­ple are on the look­out for the low­est fare. How­ever, the air­line in­dus­try is run on Pareto’s prin­ci­ple, which states that 20 per cent of cus­tomers ac­count for over 80 per cent of rev­enues.

These 20 per cent are usu­ally the few who travel in busi­ness class or an­other few who even if al­ways on econ­omy class, fly so fre­quently dur­ing the year that they spend a sig­nif­i­cant amount on the air­line.

Air­lines know that the 20 per cent are will­ing to spend ex­tra for some comfort and pam­per­ing, and are also sen­si­tive to recog­ni­tion and prestige.

Now the cheapest busi­ness class fare is of­ten higher than the most ex­pen­sive econ­omy class fare.

You can imag­ine pay­ing a fare that is the equiv­a­lent of three peo­ple’s fare com­bined and not be­ing ac­corded the treat­ment that matches what you spent.

Hence, most air­lines board pre­mium pas­sen­gers — first/busi­ness class and elite fre­quent fly­ers — ahead of those trav­el­ling in econ­omy class.

What makes the BA pro­ce­dure an out­rage in some quar­ters is that the econ­omy class pas­sen­gers are go­ing to be fur­ther seg­mented and boarded on the ba­sis of fare paid.

Already be­ing called “the walk of shame” by a sec­tion of com­men­ta­tors and at­trib­uted to “Bri­tish snob­bery,” the new pol­icy change has already been ef­fected by other air­lines around the world.

What hap­pens with most of our air­lines in the re­gion, and es­pe­cially where they have many pas­sen­gers on a flight, is seg­re­ga­tion based on seat­ing po­si­tion.

At check-in, air­line ground staff giv­ing passes can seat the pas­sen­ger more to the back, mid­dle or front sec­tion of the air­craft.

That kind of seg­re­ga­tion helps with ef­fi­ciency in the board­ing process par­tic­u­larly where large air­craft or high pas­sen­ger num­bers are in play. This hap­pens a lot on Kenya Air­ways.

An ad­mirable thing with Ethiopian Air­lines is that they will al­ways board pas­sen­gers with chil­dren or in­fants first — re­gard­less of class of travel— along­side their elite pas­sen­gers.

I find the de­sire to be boarded first mis­placed, as all pas­sen­gers will board even­tu­ally and take­off is at the same time for all. No one arrives ear­lier be­cause they were boarded first.

Some fly­ers will use the seat se­lec­tion func­tion dur­ing the tick­et­ing process to pick out seats closer to the front of the econ­omy class cabin.

This of course works well with the as­sump­tion that after first and busi­ness class the next rows to board the air­craft are the ones right be­hind the cur­tain di­vider.

How­ever, the plan may not work in in­stances where the air­line chooses to start board­ing the air­craft from the rows at the back.

Worse, some pas­sen­gers with seats in the rear­most sec­tions of the air­craft put their hand lug­gage in the overbins right at the front.

Some pas­sen­gers who oc­cupy the first rows of econ­omy class dash into busi­ness class dur­ing dis­em­barka­tion to ride with the elite in the spe­cial bus.

Air­lines usu­ally know how many first or busi­ness class pas­sen­gers they have, so ex­pect to be held at the stairs of the air­craft un­til the “cat­tle class” bus comes.

If pri­or­ity board­ing is so im­por­tant to you, you could buy a first or busi­ness class ticket or pick a spe­cific air­line and fly so fre­quently that you make it onto the elite sta­tus of their fre­quent flyer pro­gramme.

Just don’t buy the cheapest tick­ets on of­fer and ex­pect pri­or­ity treat­ment.

Michael Otieno an avi­a­tion con­sul­tant based in Nairobi. Twit­ter: @mosa­fariz; Email: me@mi chaelo­

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