updated 6/19/2006 2:44:28 PM ET 2006-06-19T18:44:28

Boarding a Northwest Airlines flight is now a little easier, and faster.

The nation's fifth-largest carrier has done away with row-by-row boarding in coach after discovering that planes filled up faster when passengers could simply get on when they're ready. The change knocked an average of 5 minutes to 10 minutes off boarding times, the airline said.

Northwest still boards special-needs and first-class passengers first, and still uses assigned seats.

Northwest tested the new boarding procedure in several markets on different types of aircraft. "In all cases, it was faster," said spokesman Dean Breest.

It began using the new procedure May 24 in North America and June 7 in Asia. Boarding for its flights in Europe, including its Amsterdam hub, are handled by KLM and so those follow KLM's row-by-row boarding procedure, Breest said.

The change comes at a good time for Northwest. Like most other airlines, its planes are running full during the busy summer travel season, so anything that speeds up boarding will help it run its flights on-time.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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