Delta Air Lines Boarding Zones — Everything You Need to Know

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Airlines love to make the boarding process distinctly theirs by doing things their own way, so having a clear picture of the boarding procedures of every airline you fly can be a bit of a challenge.

Delta Air Lines has always been a little bit different. You can even see it in their name, where they use two words instead of the single word “Airlines” that pretty much everyone else uses.

When it comes to boarding, they do things a little differently too. Their groups may have names or numbers, depending on where in the process they fall.

They use terms like Sky Priority and Medallion throughout boarding. But don’t worry — once you understand what they are talking about, it’s really not that hard.

Understanding Delta’s boarding procedures won’t be as tough as you might think. We know the terms, we understand the procedures, and we’re going to make sure that you do too.

Come along with us as we look at the details of the Delta Air Lines boarding process, and you’ll be ready to go and comfortably board your flight the next time you fly with them.

Delta Air Lines Boarding Zones

It seems that Delta Air Lines couldn’t quite decide how they wanted to organize their aircraft boarding procedures. Or perhaps they just wanted to use some fancy words to make their higher tier customers feel more special.

Either way, they ended up with a mix of 8 numbered and named boarding groups, along with pre-boarding for certain customers and early boarding for others. Confusing, right?

We can only assume this leads to some cranky passengers who have boarding zone 1, but see 6 different groups of people get on the plane ahead of them.

Here are the details of who is eligible to board the plane in each of the groups that Delta uses, so you’ll know what to expect. You’ll never be that cranky passenger wondering why you aren’t on board yet!

Pre-Boarding

Delta One

First Class or Delta Premium Select

  • First class customers
  • Delta Premium Select customers
  • Diamond Medallion® Members (if aircraft does not have a Delta One cabin)

Early Boarding

  • Passengers traveling with car seats or strollers

Delta Comfort+®

  • Delta Comfort+ customers

Sky Priority®

  • Platinum Medallion Members
  • Gold Medallion Members
  • Flying Blue Platinum and Gold members
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Gold members
  • Virgin Australia Platinum and Gold members
  • GOL Smiles Diamond members
  • SkyTeam Elite Plus members

Main Cabin 1

  • Silver Medallion Members
  • Delta Corporate travelers
  • Priority Boarding Trip Extra customers
  • Gold, Platinum, and Reserve Delta SkyMiles credit cardmembers
  • Flying Blue Silver members
  • Virgin Australia Velocity Silver members
  • GOL Smiles Gold members
  • Sky Team Elite members

Main Cabin 2

  • Main cabin passengers

Main Cabin 3

  • Main cabin passengers booked in T, X, and V fare codes

Basic Economy

  • Basic economy passengers (fare code E)

Boarding Notes

It should be noted that when departing AMS and CDG on Delta flights, Silver Medallion Members will not have their own priority boarding group. This is due to the boarding policies of Air France-KLM, which operates at these 2 airports as their main hubs.

Although this rule is oddly specific and it doesn’t make much sense that a different airline’s boarding policy changes what Delta Air Lines is doing at these 2 airports, we thought you should know in case it applies to you.

Apparently, Delta feels that the passengers who regularly travel with Air France-KLM from AMS and CDG need to have some consistency in their lives and have adjusted their boarding procedures to help with that.

Priority Boarding

Delta Boarding Gates
Having a co-branded Delta American Express card that gives you priority boarding will get you onboard with plenty of time to stow your bags and get comfortable before takeoff. No more standing around stressing at the gate about when you should be boarding the plane. Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

Delta Air Lines allows customers to purchase priority boarding for any flight operated by Delta or Delta Connection. The cost is $15 per flight, and it is one of the “Trip Extras” that Delta makes available to passengers.

Priority boarding, as well as the other available Trip Extras, can be purchased when booking your flight, through the FlyDelta app after booking, online when managing your trips, or at check-in.

Once purchased, priority boarding will give you Main Cabin 1 boarding for your flight. It will be printed on your boarding pass, and you will be eligible to board when Main Cabin 1 is called.

Hot Tip: As a reminder — including Pre-Boarding and Early Boarding, Main Cabin 1 is actually the seventh group of passengers who are able to board the plane.

After you have purchased Priority Boarding for a flight, it is tied to that specific flight and is non-refundable and non-transferable. That means that if you choose to change your flight at a later time, whether online, over the phone, or at the airport, you will forfeit the Priority Boarding pass that you have purchased.

In addition, cardholders of Gold, Platinum, or Reserve Delta SkyMiles credit cards will automatically receive Main Cabin 1 priority boarding as long as their SkyMiles numbers are on their reservations.

This benefit applies to the basic cardholder, and is not available to additional authorized users on the card account. Up to 9 passengers traveling on the same reservation as the basic cardmember will be given Main Cabin 1 priority boarding as well

Bottom Line: Although you will still be behind premium cabin passengers and upper-level elites, purchasing priority boarding will get you on the plane at the same time as the lower-level elite passengers and before the rest of the main cabin passengers. So it might be worth the $15 cost if you want to make sure there’s space for your bag in the overhead bin near your seat.

How to Boost Your Delta SkyMiles Balance

There are plenty of ways to earn lots of Delta Air Lines SkyMiles so you can put your new-found boarding knowledge to use on your next award flight.

Flying paid flights on Delta and their airline partners is probably the most obvious way, but you can earn a serious amount of miles (including Medallion Elite Qualifying miles) with their co-branded American Express cards too.

Depending on the level of benefits you are looking for, the number of Elite Qualifying miles you are looking to earn, and the annual fee you are willing to pay, there is sure to be a card that is right for you.

Delta and American Express even offer co-branded business cards so you can earn SkyMiles with all of your spending, whether it be for home or for work.

Recommended Delta Cards

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Final Thoughts

Delta Air Lines is an airline that people seem to love or hate, though it’s not because of the slightly confusing boarding procedure we’ve outlined. With a little explanation, this boarding process isn’t difficult to understand at all.

What people like about Delta is that the inflight experience is one of the best available for domestic U.S. carriers. Comfortable seats and friendly staff can go along way when comparing to airlines like United and American.

The SkyMiles loyalty program, on the other hand, has gotten a bad reputation over the past several years. Things like changes and devaluations with no notice and doing away with award charts completely have made it very difficult to set a goal and save up for an award flight.

Luckily, things seem to be turning around for the SkyMiles program. They didn’t give us back award charts, but there are often low-level awards available when searching for a flight.

In addition, Delta Air Lines has been running several different award sales lately, with discounted award flights available to places like the Caribbean, Central America, Europe, and Asia.

As the SkyMiles program continues to improve (which we certainly hope it will), we are going to be more and more likely to find ourselves boarding Delta Air Lines flights.

Use the information we’ve provided above to understand the details of the boarding procedure, and you will be able to comfortably board your flight without any stress. You might also want to hop over and check out our general airline review on all things Delta!

See you at the gate soon!


FAQ

How many boarding groups are there on Delta?

Delta Air Lines uses 6 different boarding zones for their flights. These include Premium boarding, Sky Priority boarding, and 4 numbered boarding zones. In addition, certain passengers needing special assistance or traveling with small children are allowed to pre-board.

Are Delta Air Lines flights assigned seating?

Yes, Delta Air Lines uses assigned seating for their flights. Seat assignments can be easily selected when booking or at check-in, and can also be assigned or changed by gate agents at the airport.

Who is allowed to pre-board on Delta?

Customers needing assistance or additional time to board, including families with car seats or strollers, and active duty U.S. military personnel with ID are allowed to pre-board Delta flights.

Who is in the Premium boarding zone on Delta?

The Premium boarding zone on Delta flights includes Delta One customers, first class customers, Delta Premium Select customers, and Diamond Medallion members.

Who is in the Sky Priority boarding zone on Delta?

The Sky Priority boarding zone on Delta includes Platinum Medallion members, Gold Medallion members, Delta Comfort+ customers, Flying Blue Platinum and Gold members, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Gold members, Virgin Australia Platinum and Gold members, GOL Smiles Diamond members, and SkyTeam Elite Plus members.

Who is in zone 1 on Delta?

Boarding zone 1 on Delta includes Silver Medallion members, Delta Corporate Travelers, Priority Boarding Trip Extra customers, Gold, Platinum, and Reserve Delta SkyMiles credit cardmembers, Flying Blue Silver members, Virgin Australia Velocity Silver members, GOL Smiles Gold members, Sky Team Elite members, and Crossover Rewards SPG Platinum members.

Who is in zone 2 on Delta?

Boarding zone 2 on Delta includes main cabin passengers who do not have any elite status and do not hold one of the premium co-branded credit cards.

Who is in zone 3 on Delta?

Boarding zone 3 on Delta includes main cabin passengers who are booked in T, X, and V fares and do not have any elite status or hold a co-branded credit card.

Who is in zone 4 on Delta?

Boarding zone 4 on Delta includes basic economy passengers (fare code E).

Jeff Brownson

About Jeff Brownson

Since discovering miles and points in 2010, Jeff has traveled to over 35 countries, flying in first class, business class, and sometimes even in coach. Whether he’s staying in a hostel dorm, or in a luxury suite at a 5 star hotel, Jeff is constantly looking for the best deal to make travel as close to free as possible.

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13 comments

  1. Eric English · February 7, 2019 · Reply

    This article is no longer accurate. I’ve flown Delta every week for the past month, and they have tweaked their system a bit for 2019. They still pre-board first, and board first class next. After that, there is a separate group for comfort plus customers, then there are zones called “main cabin” 1, 2, 3 and 4.

    • Jeff Brownson · February 8, 2019 · Reply

      Hey Eric, thanks for the head’s up. I was traveling a lot towards the end of the year and somehow completely missed that they were changing things around. I’ve updated the post according to their new official policies, which are pretty close to what you’ve seen in practice the last few weeks. Thanks again!

  2. THO DANG · February 23, 2019 · Reply

    Hi Jeff. You have car seats or strollers listed under both pre-boarding and early boarding. I am traveling with my 4-year-old and his stroller and wondering where we will board with the recent changes. Also, do I have to pay using my Delta card to get the earlier boarding or just for including my SkyMiles account number when I purchase the tickets? Thanks.

    • Stephen Au · February 24, 2019 · Reply

      Hey Tho,

      As far as your stroller goes, you will be in the pre-boarding group, which actually boards way before first class and the sort. You do not need to pay using your Delta card. However, you and your child must be on the same reservation.

  3. When do you board if you book a basic fare, but are an Delta Amex card holder?

    • Hi John – which Delta credit card do you own? (Please be specific!)

      • Eva Oropesa · April 28, 2019 · Reply

        I have the same question. Where do you sit if you buy a basic economy fare with the Delta Gold Amex card and are given Main 1 Priority Boarding? In the Main 1 area? Just confused because supposedly you are given a seat assignment at check in and don’t know if it will be in Zone 1. But then you have this Main 1 zone boarding benefit. Please clear this up for us? TIA..
        Eva

        • Christine Krzyszton · May 1, 2019 · Reply

          Hello Eva. I can understand your confusion. You will board when Main Cabin 1 Priority boarding is called because you have the Delta Gold Amex card. You will then sit in the assigned seat you received at check in, regardless of which area of the plane it is located. I hope this clarifies the issue.

  4. William Childers · May 2, 2019 · Reply

    Actually, Zone 4 is now being called “Basic,” it doesn’t even have a number. In today’s slang, “Basic” is a derogatory term. The agents seem unwilling to even say it out loud. I think Delta is trying to render the experience of flying without paying extra to belong to a “privileged” group as unpleasant as possible, to pressure us into coughing up more dough.

  5. Paula Gant · May 8, 2019 · Reply

    I was wondering… I am Active Duty Military. Can my traveling companion who is not active duty, board with me? I did purchase the ticket with my Delta SkyMiles Credit Card.

    • Hi Paula, in most situations, benefits afforded to active duty military personnel only apply to the active duty person themselves. Every once in a while, they apply to individuals traveling with the active duty military person, IF their ticket was also purchased on the same itinerary as the active duty individual.

      Additionally, some airlines require the active duty individual to be in uniform (we’re seeing some 2018 news reports stating United stopped this policy, allowing all active duty to board regardless of if they are in uniform or not) or show other proof of status in order to take advantage of the benefit.

      Since we’re not United, we can’t comment with 100% certainty on if your travel companion will be able to board with you. We suggest calling United’s customer service line at 1-800-864-8331… they should be able to help you out with the most accurate information!

  6. Shirley McBride · September 27, 2019 · Reply

    The last time I flew internationally (I believe with Delta), there was a Delta staff who asked if we had purchased priority pass, to which I said “No”. She further indicated that I could register for a card that would give priority boarding not only in Canada and the US, but internationally as well. Please provide any information that you can on this, as we will be traveling to the British Isles in the near future.

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