American Tests Boarding That Rewards Fliers Without Carry-Ons

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Are you flying American Airlines and don't have carry-on bags that require overhead bin space? You may be among the first to board, as the airline tests a new process.

American Thursday said it's trying out a new boarding procedure on select flights out of Austin, Baltimore, Fort Lauderdale and Washington Dulles International Airport. Passengers without bin bags can board early — but after first class and elite frequent fliers. The test began several weeks ago, according to the airline.

(Read more: Airlines Weighing Fee for Oversize Carry-Ons)

(For NBC Today Show coverage of American's boarding test, click here)

But warning: American's test could be viewed as a way to get more passengers to pay checked bag fees.

Checked bag fees are big business for airlines. In the first three quarters of 2012, U.S. airlines collected more than $2.6 billion in baggage fees — a 3 percent gain from the same period a year earlier, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

American charges $25 for the first checked bag when traveling within the U.S., $35 for the second and a whopping $150 for each additional item. First class, business class and elite frequent fliers are exempt from the fees.

But American said the boarding process test is designed to create a "more convenient travel experience" for fliers and it's not geared toward generating additional baggage fee revenue.

(Read more: American Expands DIY Checked Baggage Tagging, Plans More Locations)

Boarding Process Changes

American also said the test won't impact the preferential boarding perk of Priority Access passengers, namely first class and elite travelers.

After first class and elite frequent fliers, American has four general boarding groups under its current process. And those passengers without large carry-ons requiring overhead bin space will be called to board in between Groups 1 and 2 under the test.

The airline was quick to point out that it's a limited test and travelers shouldn't expect to see a modified boarding process system-wide anytime soon, adding results have yet to be analyzed.

"Should we decide to modify our regular boarding process, we will be informing our people and our customers first," said Andrea Huguely, an American Airlines spokeswoman.