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FORT WORTH, Texas — In a quest to speed up the boarding process, American Airlines is letting passengers board sooner if they travel lightly.

The airline said Thursday that 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 the change will allow flights to take off sooner, helping the airline improve its on-time performance.

Airline officials say boarding times have increased in the last few years. The airlines have created this problem by cutting back flights, which makes planes more crowded, and also charging fees for checking baggage, which encourages passengers to haul their luggage on board.

American tested the new boarding procedure at seven airports and began applying it to all flights Thursday.

Passengers carrying just a personal item such as a purse, backpack or computer bag that fits under the seat will board right after Group 1 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, although they’ll have to retrieve their bag at baggage claim after they land.