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British Airways gets class conscious: Cheap seats to board last, starting in December

Key Points
  • British Airways to board passengers paying lower economy fares last.
  • Boarding method is similar to those used for some U.S. airlines' basic economy passengers.
  • Passengers with frequent flier status might not end up in final boarding groups.
Passengers boarding a British Airways Boeing 787 aircraft for a flight to Newark from Heathrow Airport in London, Great Britain.
Waring Abbott | Getty Images

Class divides in air travel are evident long before you board the airplane. Even if you're not paying four-figures for first-class travel that starts with a luxury car pickup, airlines are selling all passengers perks like earlier-boarding, a shorter security line, or one-day airport lounge access.

Meanwhile, passengers traveling on some basic economy fares — big airlines' answer to no-frills budget carriers — don't get a seating assignment before arriving at the airport. They are also last to board the plane.

British Airways is adopting a similar model in its new boarding process. Starting next month, BA passengers who pay the least for their tickets and lack gold or silver frequent flier status, will board in the fourth or fifth boarding groups.

British Airways said the new procedures aim to "speed up the process and make it simpler for customers to understand.

"This method is an evolution of our long-established boarding process and has been used by airlines around the world for a number of years, including by our partners American Airlines, Iberia and Qatar," an airline spokeswoman said.

Travelers who have frequent flier status but are traveling on cheaper tickets that include only hand luggage, may not be forced to board in the last groups, she added. Currently, British Airways' economy class cabins are boarded back to front.

Some travelers took to social media to complain about the new system.

"I wonder if disembarkation will be in the reverse order then?" wrote Martin Lovatt on Twitter, while Jessica Res asked: "What, rich people can't wait? What year is it again?"

Since everyone takes off at the same time, some travelers may brush off the change, although it could intensify competition for overhead bin space.