Delta has an unknown program to take some stress out of flying - but you probably can't use it
The sound of the airport gate agent's voice has an extraordinary ability to get people to immediately congregate.
Even though almost all airlines board their planes using a "zone" system, people crowd around the gate at boarding time like the front door of a Best Buy on Black Friday.
Unfortunately, it doesn't get much better from there. One by one, passengers file past the gate to scan their boarding pass only to be confronted by a line in the jet bridge.
As passengers slowly make their way on board with their luggage in hand looking for their seats and overhead bin space, the line in the jetway grows longer and more frustrating.
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Go to virtually any busy airport gate and you'll see a similar scene.
The congestion has only gotten worse in recent years with the advent of checked baggage fees that has compelled the growth in the number and size of carry-on luggage.
Delta Air Lines has a program to alleviate some of the stress around this, for some travelers. It's called Early Valet, and in a nutshell it allows gate agents to pre-board carry-on luggage into the overhead bins above a customer's assigned seat 45 minutes before the flight.
In other words, those customers won't have to worry about dragging bags down the isle only to find that there's no space near their seat.
The best part is that it is free, and on a volunteer basis.
Why you can't use it
The airline only does this with six to nine bags per flight, and it has no plans to add more.
That's because it is meant for families traveling with children, the elderly, and people with disabilities.
Delta explained that the point is to help out the passengers who generally require the most time and the greatest amount of assistance to board. In theory that's helpful to everyone - and the program so far has shown to speed up the boarding process a little (by an average of one and a half minutes per flight).
Delta's been offering the service on its narrow-body airliners where space is more restricted and the need to manage overhead bin space is at a premium.
Still, if you are a traveling parent or know you'll need help getting on the plane - its worth asking. The service was first instituted last year during the busy summer travel season at major hubs, and Delta plans to bring it back this year.
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