While others have done a good job of visually redesigning the tired airline boarding pass, I’m proposing something more fundamental.

Most airlines today will close the plane’s door 10-15 minutes prior to the stated departure time. So the departure time is actually a wheels push-back time. This point, while important to the airline’s logistics, is meaningless to passengers, as they care about three basic things for this part of their trip:

  1. Where am I supposed to be?
  2. When am I supposed to be there?
  3. Where can I get some coffee?

Ok, so maybe the last one only occasionally applies. But let’s talk about number 2 for a second.

We already have a time when we need to get to the airport, based on domestic or international travel (and if you’re checking bags). But we don’t really know when we absolutely, positively need to be at the gate because that requires calculation and is often written in fine print (the 10-15 minute rule, depending on the airline).

So, airlines, instead of putting the departure time on booking and reservation pages, email confirmations, and boarding passes, put the time the plane’s door is going to close. That’s the time your customers need. The other time, the departure time, is solely internal to your own operations. Don’t burden your customers with this extraneous (and misleading) information.

Yes, airlines put a “boarding time” on the boarding pass as an indication for when to be at the gate. But frequent flyers also realize the first 15 minutes of this period is “pre-boarding”, after which 80% of the plane loads. Pre-boarding is thus characterized by the gate area being filled with people randomly standing around waiting, possibly angling for a better spot in a to-be-formed line, and blocking the path of others. In this way, airlines disincentivize people from being there in the first place because it’s such a clusterfuck.

United has tried to create lanes (and thus, order) based on loading zones which work reasonably well in larger gate area airports like Denver, and not as well at older airports like Washington Dulles. It’s probably better than nothing though.