United Airlines Adjusts Its Boarding Process and Adds Group 6

by Anthony Losanno
United 787

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Boarding a United Airlines flight is a lot like charging into the opening of a retail store on Black Friday. There is jockeying for position, pushing forward, and usually some level of chaos. I have not seen any other carrier have more disorder when it comes to boarding a plane and it takes longer than other airlines as well (on average an additional two minutes). United hopes to change this by reverting back to an old boarding order and adding a new boarding group to the mix.

Beginning on October 26th, United will shift to boarding using the acronym WILMA, which stands for window, middle, aisle. The acronym doesn’t make much sense to me, but call it whatever you want if it speeds up boarding. This will not change the preboarding order or the group numbers for those with elite status or credit card benefits. Here is the new order (with changes highlighted):

  • Customers with disabilities or needing extra time down the jetway
  • Unaccompanied minors
  • Active duty military members
  • Global Services
  • Families traveling with children under the age of two
  • Premier 1K
  • Group 1: United Polaris Business, United First, United Business, Premier Platinum, Premier Gold, Star Alliance Gold
  • Group 2: Premier Silver, Star Alliance Silver, Chase United cardholders, passengers who paid for Premier Access
  • Group 3: Window seats, exit row seats, non-rev passengers
  • Group 4: Middle seats (this used to be middle and aisle seats)
  • Group 5: Aisle seats (this used to be Basic Economy passengers)
  • Group 6: Basic Economy passengers (this used to be Group 5) 

All members of a party traveling together may board with the highest priority in the group. United has been quietly testing this boarding process at one hub and four other domestic airports. It has found that its Net Promoter Scores (NPS) improved using it.

Anthony’s Take: Boarding a United flight is nerve-wracking. Even preboarding induces a sense of panic. I’m not sure that this will solve this feeling, but it might speed up boarding times.

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