The boarding process for American Airlines is very similar to most other major airlines, such as United Airlines boarding. Below, I’ll show you how the American Airlines boarding groups work, including things like the boarding order and how to make sure you have room for your carry-on bags.
I’ll then tell you everything you need to know about things like check-in and checked baggage so you’ll know when you can get to the airport and check your bags before your plane closes for boarding.
Table of Contents
How do American Airlines boarding groups work?
American Airlines has a total of nine boarding groups and at the time of boarding each group should be called up individually. Note that it’s possible that each group might not get called up individually.
For example, sometimes agents might lump several groups together. So it’s a good idea to always monitor when you think you should be boarding.
Below are all of the different American Airlines boarding groups and the different types of passengers who will board.
If you are a passenger requiring assistance, such as an unaccompanied minor you’ll be able to board with American Airlines pre-boarding. (If you need to make special travel arrangements, you can make them online or call 800-433-7300.)
Pre-boarding is also where those with ConciergeKey members (the highest elite level) are allowed to board along with Five Star customers. However, those who need assistance getting in their seat should be called before elite members.
Boarding Group 1
First class or two cabin international Business class passengers will board in Group 1. Two cabin business class planes are those aircraft without a “true” first class (i.e, the highest class on the aircraft is business class).
Also, after a recent change, AAdvantage Executive Platinum members will board in this group.
Other passengers who can board with Group 1 are those active duty U.S. military members with military I.D.
Boarding Group 2
Group 2 allows those to board with Platinum Pro or those who have oneworld Emerald elite status. This is also where those business class passengers can board in those three cabin aircraft that do have first class.
Boarding Group 3
Group 3 allows those to board with Platinum or those who have oneworld Sapphire elite status.
Boarding Group 4
Group 4 allows those to board with American Airlines Gold and oneworld Ruby status. It also offer boarding to those with Air Pass and passengers flying Premium Economy.
If you hold the premium Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard you can also board with Group 4. This is the premium AA credit card issued by Citi that comes with Admiral’s Club access and additional AA perks like priority check-in, priority airport screening (where available), in-flight savings, and free checked baggage.
This card also offers a pretty decent sign-up bonus at times so it can be one of the best ways to rack up a lot of AA miles in a hurry.
If you purchased Priority Boarding, you can also board with Group 4. The cost for Priority boarding can be from $9 to $74. Unless you’re flying on a Basic Economy fare, you can buy Priority for your trip on American marketed and operated flights during the following times:
- Check-in on aa.com
- Check-in at an airport kiosk
- Through Reservations before departure.
Boarding Group 5
Group 5 is known as “Preferred Boarding.”
If you are flying Main Cabin Extra, you can board with this group and if you are an eligible corporate traveler you can also board with Group 5. (Main Cabin Extra is essentially economy with extra legroom and perks like complimentary alcohol on board.)
Finally, if you have an eligible AAdvantage credit card like the Aviator Red or the Citi Platinum Select, you’ll get preferred boarding. Cards like the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select also offer you complimentary checked baggage for domestic flights for you and several companions. If you do a lot of flying on American that can save you a lot of money.
In case you’re wondering, here are all of the eligible cards that will get you preferred boarding:
- Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard
- CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard
- Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select American Express Card
- Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select Visa Signature
- AAdvantage Aviator Silver Mastercard
- AAdvantage Aviator Red Mastercard
- AAdvantage Aviator Business Mastercard
Group 5 is great because you shouldn’t have issues with overhead storage space. On a couple of recent flights I took, I had Group 5 boarding, and we had plenty of space in the overhead storage bins — it wasn’t an issue at all.
Boarding Groups 6 through 8
Group 6 consists of Coach Groups and then also Basic Economy on longhaul transoceanic flights. Basic Economy is the class that doesn’t allow you many perks like selecting a seat.
Group 6 boarding is when things start to get a little tricky with overhead storage space. It all depends on certain factors like how many elite travelers there are on your flight. You will often be able to find overhead storage space in Group 6 and even Group 7 but it might not always be right where you’re sitting.
Once you get higher up into Group 8, finding overhead storage space becomes much more difficult and you might have to gate check your bag in some cases.
Boarding Group 9
Group 9 consists of Basic Economy within the U.S., Canada, Mexico & Caribbean. You will be the last to board the plane so as you can probably expect, finding overhead storage space can be very difficult to impossible.
Missing your boarding group
If you are a higher boarding group and you arrive when a later boarding group is boarding you should be able to enter through your lane and bypass their line. For example, let’s say you’re a business class passenger who can board in Group 2.
Now let’s say that you were hanging out in the lounge and lost track of time and now they are calling for Group 5 when you arrive. You should be able to bypass any other groups and simply make your way to the gate agent in that case.
A polite way to do this is to head to the front of your boarding group line and then try to signal to the gate agent that you have a higher boarding group pass. This will allow you to cut the line without potentially causing an unwanted confrontation with other passengers.
Some people argue that you should just join the current line instead of cutting but that is a matter that is open for debate.
Boarding with other groups
If there are other members in your party that you’d like to board with this shouldn’t be a problem as long as you are moving “down.”
For example, if someone with a Group 3 boarding pass wants to board with Group 5 that should be okay. However, if someone with a Group 5 wants to board with Group 3 that would not be allowed.
How early should I get to the airport for American Airlines?
American Airlines states that you should arrive two hours before your flight for a domestic flight and three hours before your flight for an international flight.
That’s usually a pretty good rule of thumb, but I would also recommend to consider whether or not you have to check bags or not. If you’re not checking in bags you can often shave off 15 to 30 minutes for your arrival time.
When can I check in for an American Airlines flight?
If you’re like me and you enjoy getting to the airport early, you’ll probably want to know how early you can check-in for your flight.
You can check-in online or from the app starting 24 hours before and up to 45 minutes before departure (90 minutes for international).
When can I check my bags for American Airlines?
When checking your bags at the airport there are two deadlines you need to know about.
The first is the latest that you can check your bags and the second is the earliest that you can check your bags. By the way, if you are looking for information about American Airlines baggage fees click here.
The latest you can check your bags
To check bags at the airport, you must be there a certain amount of time before scheduled departure.
If you are flying within the United States, you’ll need to check your bags at least 45 minutes prior to departure. If you’re flying to or from destinations outside the U.S., you’ll need to check your bags at least 60 minutes prior to departure.
But note that some airports require you to check your bags even sooner before departure. Check out the rules from the airports below (supplied by American Airlines).
|Check-in before scheduled departure
|Buenos Aires, Argentina
|San Juan, Puerto Rico
|St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
|St. Kitts and Nevis
|St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
Applies only to the Consolidated Rental Car Center
|Tel Aviv, Israel
The earliest you can check your bags
The earliest you can check your bags in will depend on the airport.
Generally, I try to check my bags in no earlier than four hours — this is a common deadline for many airlines and some might even impose a three hour deadline.
If an airline allows you to check bags earlier than 4 hours before departure consider that you are increasing the odds of your baggage getting lost by handing them over way before the airline typically has a standard procedure for them (just something to think about).
You can’t check bags more than 4 hours before departure when flying from the following airports:
- Charleston (CHS)
- Denver (DEN)
- Fort Lauderdale (FLL)
- Honolulu (HNL)
- Kahului (OGG)
- Kansas City (MCI)
- Las Vegas (LAS)
- Orlando (MCO)
- Portland, Oregon (PDX)
- Salt Lake City (SLC)
- Seattle (SEA)
When will American Airlines board the plane?
The time for boarding an American Airlines plane depends on what type of aircraft that you’re flying on.
For the most part, flights will start boarding 30 to 50 minutes before the scheduled departure. Generally, the larger the aircraft or the farther the destination, the sooner the boarding will begin.
Here are some estimated boarding times based on destination via Flyertalk. Keep in mind that these could differ based on your actual flight and boarding could occur earlier.
50 minutes prior to departure
From/To the United States and:
- Middle East
- South American destinations: Asuncion, PY; Brasilia, BR; Belo Horizonte, BR; Curitiba, Br; Buenos Aires, AR; Rio de Janeiro, BR; Sao Paulo, BR; Lima, PE; Montevideo, UY; Porto Alegre, BR; Recife, BR; Salvador, BR; Santiago, CL; Sao Paulo Viracop, BR
45 minutes prior to departure
From/To the United States and:
- Central America
- South American destinations: La Paz, BO; Santa Cruz, BO; Maracaibo, VE; Caracas, VE; Bogota, CO; Cali, CO; Medellin, CO; Guayaquil, EC; Quito, EC
35 minutes prior to departure
Domestic on these aircraft types: A321, A321S, A330, B757, B767, B787, B777
- Within the 48 contiguous states
30 minutes prior to departure
Domestic on these aircraft types: A319, A320, A321T, E190, S80, B737
- Within the 48 contiguous states
After you check your bags and get through security you will need to wait until the plane begins the boarding process. You can find the estimated boarding time on your boarding pass.
Just note that this time is subject to change depending on the status of delays. In addition, it’s always possible that your gate could change as well so always keep your eye on the monitors.
When to arrive at the gate
You need to make sure you arrive at the gate 15 minutes prior to the scheduled departure for flights departing from points within the U.S., Puerto Rico, and Virgin Islands.
For flights departing from points outside the U.S., Puerto Rico, and Virgin Islands, i.e., Canada, Mexico, Europe, Asia, Central/South America, Caribbean, Bahamas, Bermuda, make sure you arrive 30 minutes prior to scheduled departure.
If you are not at the gate at that time, it’s possible that they will give your seat to someone else. The doors close 10 minutes before departure and you will not be allowed to board once the doors close.
Note: In the event you are coming from a connecting flight that was late, keep in mind the flight attendants will hold the door open for you — at least for a short while.
If you are boarding a flight during the pandemic, don’t be surprised if you are asked to maintain 6 feet apart from other passengers while awaiting boarding. In addition, you will likely be required to wear a mask while waiting in the boarding area.
American Airlines Boarding FAQ
You can get priority boarding by having elite status or flying in certain cabins such as business class.
You can also get priority boarding with Group 4 if you have the Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard.
Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select cardmembers get to board with Group 5 which is known as “preferred boarding.”
If you are flying internationally on a two cabin business class aircraft you will be able to board with group one.
There are a total of 10 boarding groups if you include pre-boarding.
You can board with other groups as long as you are boarding with a group that is lower than your initial boarding group.
For example, if you are in Group 5 you can board with Group 6 but not Group 4.
Basic economy will be the very last to board and they will board with Group 9.
If you miss your boarding group, you should still be able to board as soon as you arrive to the boarding area (assuming that you arrive while the gate is still open).
Boarding will usually begin about 30 to 50 minutes prior to the scheduled departure time.
The boarding process with American Airlines is pretty straight forward. There are many ways to get Preferred Boarding (Group 5) and those should allow you to have overhead storage bin space without much issue so I would generally try to get into that group.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and CNBC. Read my bio.