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I’ll be flying United tomorrow, and I just received a notice to expect an ‘enhanced boarding experience’ at Houston Intercontinental. At select gates at Houston Intercontinental, as well as Los Angeles and Chicago O’Hare, United is testing a new “simplified” boarding process. I remember when they changed to the current five group boarding process in 2013, which was simplified down from seven groups prior to that time. I believe this new test has been going on for a little while already, but this is the first time I have officially encountered it.
This new test reportedly eliminates that need to line up before your group is called if you are in Groups 3 – 5. Currently, the United process doesn’t look all that different than Southwest with everyone lining up in their various groups well in advance of actually getting on the plane, because, bin space.
After the first two priority boarding groups, United is going to board the plane with customers sitting in window seats first and then middle and aisle seats. Presumably Basic Economy is still last in Group 5. To my knowledge, this grouping of 1 and 2 based on first class and elite/credit card status, 3 and 4 based on whether you are in a window, middle, or aisle seat, and ending with Basic Economy, is the same process they have in place already.
The only real difference I am noticing in this boarding test and current procedures is that Groups 3, 4, and 5 will not line-up at their assigned numbers in advance, and instead will board through the Group 2 lane when called. Since people will still be anxious to get their carry-on onboard in an overhead bin before they all fill, maybe now we will just see everyone lined up together up together in one big blob!
United says they are making this change in order to have less crowding and fewer lines at the gate area. They also state that there will be improved digital displays sharing boarding information about the flight.
Given space constraints at many gates, it is a little ridiculous having an entire plane full of people line-up in various lines before getting onboard, though those that want to be as early in their group as possible (ahem, my husband), will continue to loiter near the boarding gate, only now without an official spot to do so in Groups 3 – 5. You can avoid being in Groups 3 – 5 simply by having a co-branded United credit card. Personally, I’m just happy that United brought back priority family boarding in 2016 and continues to have one of the best family boarding policies of the US airlines.
What airline has your favorite boarding procedure? Do you like the idea of United minimizing the pre-boarding line-up process for the later boarding groups?
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