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British Airways trialling ‘personalised boarding times’ at Heathrow Terminal 5

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British Airways is trialling a new ‘personalised boarding system’ at Terminal 5 on selected routes.

If you are travelling to Bridgetown, Dallas Fort Worth or Mumbai before 28th November you will be invited to take part.

How does personalised boarding work?

The idea is that you will be given an exact time, to the minute, when you can board the aircraft. There is no need to turn up at the boarding gate before your allocated time.

The main beneficiaries here will, of course, be passengers with lounge access who can remain in the lounge until 2-3 minutes before their allocated slot (unless it’s a B or C gate ….).

You will receive a text message from British Airways when online check-in opens for your flight, encouraging you to register for the trial. You will also be able to register at the check-in desk by scanning a QR code.

Here’s a typical screenshot you will see on your device:

As you can see, boarding for this flight is due to start at 15:47. However, the passenger is told to arrive at exactly 15:49 when they will have a boarding slot.

At the appointed time, the green tick appears in your device. Any delays to boarding times are notified by SMS message.

Will this trial work?

Let’s just say that you can see the flaws.

It won’t work well for anyone on a B or C gate unless they are aware of how long it takes to reach the satellite terminal.

Anyone with lounge access already has, in theory, ‘board when you want’. You would be in Group 1 in most cases and, if you turn up when Group 1 had already been called, you can walk straight to the front via the (by then) empty priority boarding line.

More importantly, for passengers without lounge access, the only quiet place to sit in Terminal 5 is down by their gate. As more and more shops have been created, the seating areas in Terminal 5 have shunk – or been turned into dedicated seating for those buying something from Pret etc. If this plan is to keep people from congregating in the gate areas, the solution lies elsewhere.

That said, there is clearly some benefit here if it works well. The bottom line is that you need to be happy that BA will keep you informed about boarding delays and that it will send out notifications at the right time. Once the confidence is there, people will start to use and trust the system more.

If the trial goes well, British Airways will extend it to more routes later in 2021.

Comments (92)

  • The Savage Squirrel says:

    The strong urge (even desperation) of nearly everyone to board a long-haul aeroplane first rather than last is a never-ending mystery to me.

    • Blair says:

      Some single froends have told me they have found families or couples in their seat when they board late, expecting the later arrival to suck it up and take their seat instead. I actually had that once in long haul business myself. A group of 3 decided to park up in row 1 where the bulkhead footwells are larger. I was having none of it.

    • Hulk says:

      Probably tired and pissed off waiting at the gate longer than anticipated, keen to get hand luggage storage space near their seat. The whole process from leaving home to getting to your airline seat is not really pleasant and it’s tiresome

    • TM says:

      Only worth it if you are getting some pre-departure champagne. Otherwise, I have learnt that the best time to board is last

  • Prins Polo says:

    This whole boarding by time thing sounds to me like trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.

  • Ricport says:

    What would be far more helpful is if they would assign gates for flights days in advance like they do in the U.S. Have never understood why you can know what gate your next flight is at ORD, ATL, LAX, JFK and virtually all other major airports in the U.S., but the Europeans insist on the chaotic last-minute dash caused by last-minute gate assignments.

    • Rhys says:

      Keeps you in the retail area of T5A.

      If you’re flying long haul you’re virtually guaranteed to be going from B or C so can chill in the lounge there.

      • kitten says:

        Long walk back though if your flight is late or something and ends up on an A gate

      • Rob says:

        The staff know the gate, it just doesn’t get shown. If you ask at check-in even 3 hours before departure they can tell you if it is on a B or C.

    • RussellH says:

      It is a Great British “Thing”.
      Every other European railway I have travelled with prints departure and arrival posters telling people which platform the trains arrive and depart from – typically valid for ~6 months.
      UK Railways have always preferred to keep people in the dark about their departure platform until just a few minutes before departure, so that as many people as possible panic and worry and generally have as unpleasant a start to their journey as can be arranged.
      European airlines have obviously realised that this is a far superior way of doing things.

    • Track says:

      Yup, Rhys is right.

      If you happen to ask lounge dragon or sometimes checkin agent, they have gate information before it appears on public screen.

      • Nick says:

        Do you have any idea how often gates are changed before departure?! Almost every flight gets moved at least 3 times… pre-assigned gates at Heathrow would be an absolute nightmare. Or would you prefer to wait an extra hour because something else got delayed and was stuck on stand later than it should have been?

        In the US it’s easier because airlines rent whole gates from terminal operators and can use them however they want. In Europe we don’t have this model, it’s all shared-user models.

        • Bagoly says:

          But BA has the whole of T5 to itself!
          For other terminals your point is valid.

          • ChrisC says:

            Well apart from the IB and AA flights it does.

            All it takes is for a flight to be delayed and that means the next arrival and departure would be delayed if it had to stick to that gate number.

            Far better to have the flexibility of movement.

            I was on an arrival from INV once and because of problems with other flights using the domestic gates it was quicker for BA to send a couple of buses than have us sit on the plane waiting for “our” gate.

            And I’ve been at JFK and ORD where there have been last minute gate changes by AA to deal with irrops.

  • James Harper says:

    I wonder what contingency plans are in place for people who never get a message to board and who turn up to find ‘gate closed’ because we know it will happen. This is BA IT we are talking about.

    • Catalan says:

      You knew your flight departure time when you booked your ticket, no? Therefore go to the gate no later than 20 minutes before departure and await further instruction. Your allotted time time on your device is your boarding time, not your ‘turn up at the gate time’.

      • James Harper says:

        Indeed but flights get delayed and equally, if everyone turns up at the gate anyway what is the point of the personal boarding time message? If you are sitting in the lounge, you would expect the message to arrive in a timely fashion, if it doesn’t come will you move? Some will, some won’t.

        BA here are finding a solution to something that isn’t currently a problem but in doing that they will create countless problems. Their IT is not to be trusted.

    • Blair says:

      Yes I similarly wonder this about first class lounges that offer an attendant to escort you to the gate at boarding time. If they forget about you, do you just flap around panicking and leave the lounge alone? (yes in my case)

  • Gerg says:

    Why do you keep mentioning B gates. The lounge in B is even closer and more convenient to the gates than the lounges in A.

  • Coco says:

    Based on their usual boarding time accuracy I just don’t see how this will work.

  • ADS says:

    When I flew out of T5 last week, the iPhone app notification that boarding was open couldn’t even provide the gate number (“please check the information screen for your gate number”) … maybe BA should fix that first before trying this !

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