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Passengers traveling light can board sooner

| Friday, May 17, 2013, 6:51 p.m.

If you're traveling light, you can board earlier on American Airlines.

People carrying just a personal item that fits under the seat — no rolling suitcases — will be allowed to board before most other passengers.

American said that the change will speed up the boarding process, helping the airline improve its on-time performance.

Airlines have been seeing a buildup in boarding times since they began charging fees for checked baggage as more people fight for limited space in overhead bins.

American tested the new boarding procedure at several airports earlier this year and began applying it to all flights May 16. Passengers carrying just a personal item — a purse, backpack or computer bag that will fit under the seat — will board right after premium passengers.

The airline said that it will let passengers check a carry-on bag at the gate at no charge. That means savvy travelers will be able to move up in the boarding order and avoid checked-bag fees — $25 for the first bag, $35 for a second on flights within the United States — although they'll have to retrieve their bag at baggage claim after they land.

Kevin Doeksen, director of customer planning for American, said the difference is about two minutes per flight, “which doesn't sound like much, but it adds up throughout the day,” he said.

David Koenig is the AP airlines writer.

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