The basic idea is that folks with just an underseat laptop bag or purse can shuffle in quickly and sit down, and then everyone else will get on and start wrangling bags into the compartments. That way, in theory, you won't have as many people stuck waiting in the aisle while others are fussing with the compartment doors.
It makes sense, but it underscores the extent to which airlines are tying themselves in knots with different priorities.
It seems to me that managers need to step back, take a deep breath, and decide what their overall objective with the boarding scheme is. Do they want it to be as efficient as possible, or do they want to degrade average efficiency in order to optimally serve their high-volume elite customers?
The linked AP article notes an interesting loophole:
The airline said that it will let passengers check a carry-on bag at the gate at no charge. That means savvy travelers will be able to move up in the boarding order and avoid checked-bag fees — $25 for the first bag, $35 for a second on flights within the U.S. — although they'll have to retrieve their bag at baggage claim after they land.
Chris Lopinto, president of ExpertFlyer.com, said the key could be American's offer to check bags at the gate for free. It won't appeal to business travelers on a schedule, who don't dare check a bag — ever.
"But that loophole would be great for people who don't care about checking a bag or have a lot of people in their party," Lopinto said. "If you're a family of four and American is going to gate-check your bags, that can save you $100 (versus checking the bags) and you can board earlier."
Jami Counter of travel website TripAdvisor said American's free gate-checking offer was so attractive that it could reduce the amount American makes from checked-baggage fees.
"Why would you ever pay a baggage fee if you can gate-check your bag for free?" he said. "That's a loophole you could drive a truck through. I see that being tightened."
Counter said passengers might swamp gate agents with requests to check their bag for free. "Now their two-minute savings just turned into a 15-minute delay," he said.
I generally check a bag when I fly, but I also tend to be flying internationally so I don't end up paying a fee. So this is interesting.