Usually most airlines employ the same method with allowing their first class passengers board first, then those requiring special assistance and then those holding elite level with the airlines. At this point each air carrier employs one of several methods for boarding. Each method is supposed to help turnaround the plane and have it off the ground by departure time. Adding to the confusion are airlines allowing economy passengers the privilege to board early at a price.
American Airlines boards by group numbers starting with passengers seated in the rear of the plane. Hawaiian Airlines boards by row numbers starting with the last rows while Southwest Airlines uses an open-boarding system. Airlines do not make easy as these procedures are not clearly advertised. You can call or email the airline before booking your ticket or you can ask the check-in or gate agent at the airport. As many of us realize if you're the last group of passengers to board, the odds are you will have check your bag, stow it under the seat in front you or ask for help to make room for your carry-on which may mean your bag is stowed rows in front or behind you.
An editor of Consumer Reports researched how the largest domestic airlines conduct their boarding and he found it can be complex. Here are the various methods he discovered:
*Method 1. Rear to front, usually by zone.
*Method 2. WILMA (as in window-middle-airline); first window, then middle, then aisle seats board, all rows simultaneously.
*Method 3. WILMA, rear to front, by by zone.
*Method 4. Reverse pyramid: rear window, followed by rear middle, front window, front middle, rear aisle, then front aisle seats.
*Method 5. Random seating, with assigned seats.
*Method 6. Open seating by group, with no assigned seats, the method made famous by Southwest.
*Method 7. Open seating, all passengers simultaneously (better known as "The Mosh Pit")
Click HERE to read the full USA Today article regarding the madness that is airline boarding methods.