Are you tired of seeing ineligible travellers sneak into the priority boarding lane? Qantas’ new group and priority boarding system has that sorted. At the nation’s four busiest domestic airports, passengers are now assigned to one of six boarding groups. Interlopers who come forward before their group is called are now turned away.

The new priority boarding system doesn’t require intervention by Qantas staff. Instead, those who board before their group is called are now rejected – quite literally – by the boarding pass scanner. Rather than the usual green light to pass on through, the scanner turns red and emits a loud buzzing sound. In other words, thou shall not pass!

Personally, boarding domestic flights by group number is something I’ve been hoping to see for a while. After all, Point Hacks made this recommendation to Australia’s domestic airlines last year – and it’s great to see the nation’s largest carrier roll it out. While it’s early days, I’ve already taken a couple of flights that followed the new group boarding process. Here’s how it all went.

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Qantas priority boarding is now by group number

Qantas’ new group and priority boarding process now covers most domestic flights from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Perth. This includes all domestic Boeing 737 and Airbus A330 departures. Travellers are assigned to one of six groups, and boarding is sequential by group number.

Groups one and two are assigned to travellers previously entitled to generic priority boarding. Groups three to six are for all other Economy passengers, depending on their seat number. On the priority front, here’s how high flyers are split.

In other words, premium cabin passengers and top-tier frequent flyers board first. Mid-tier frequent flyers board next, and then everybody else in Economy.

Whether you use a physical or digital boarding pass, you’ll spot your group number alongside the gate number and boarding time. For instance, as a Qantas Platinum / oneworld Emerald member, I’m assigned to group one, whether flying Economy or Business. Group numbers are only displayed when group boarding is in use.

Qantas boarding group one for priority boarding
My recent flight from Sydney to Melbourne was just before the group boarding system was rolled out here.

What happens when you’re travelling with a +1, though? Easy. Qantas assigns the ‘lowest’ (best) group number to all travellers on the same reservation. For instance, on a booking with two passengers – where one has Qantas Platinum status, and the other is Bronze – both travellers are assigned to group one and can use priority boarding.

It’s a new system, so it’s not yet clear whether staff in the lounge can ‘edit’ the group number of a companion. For instance, when travelling with a higher-tier member on a separate booking. If you’ve encountered that scenario, let us know!

At the boarding gate

Here’s how everything works at the gate under Qantas’ new group and priority boarding process. There are still two lanes. One, with signage in black and white, is marked ‘priority’ and for groups 1-2. The other, with signs in red and white, is for groups 3-6.

In a move that may be slightly confusing given the signage, boarding begins exclusively with group one. When group one is boarding, travellers assigned to groups 2-6 aren’t able to board. If they try, the boarding pass scanner will turn them away. I’ve seen this on every flight I’ve taken under Qantas’ new group and priority system.

Some travellers look confused – typically, those assigned to group two who are attempting to board during priority boarding out of habit. Others seem a bit more sheepish or a tad embarrassed, having been ‘detected’ trying to sneak through. It’s early days, but it’s fair to say the travelling public will quickly learn and adapt.

Group boarding on short-haul flights is already commonplace overseas. It’s particularly popular with airlines in North America and Europe. Qantas also isn’t the only carrier to automatically have ineligible passengers rejected by the scanners. I saw the same happening when boarding a Finnair flight recently from Helsinki. There, the boarding gates also have physical barriers – much like a train station – and simply won’t open if your group hasn’t been called yet.

As for Qantas’ approach, I do appreciate Platinum and Business being able to board before Gold. On flights where almost half the plane can be ‘priority’ these days, it makes boarding noticeably faster – and storing cabin bags even easier.

Also read: Should Australian airlines board flights by group number?

Photography by Chris Chamberlin, who travelled at his own expense.

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Qantas domestic priority boarding is now enforced electronically was last modified: June 27th, 2024 by Chris Chamberlin