An internal memo revealed that United Airlines has rolled out a new boarding system to simplify the process of getting passengers onto the aircraft in a more efficient manner. Starting October 26, United will introduce a new procedure that allows people with a window-seat ticket in economy class to board the plane first. By doing this, United hopes that passengers sitting in the middle and aisle seats will have an easier time getting to their spot without cramming in and stepping over others.
The new boarding system will prioritize window seats and assign passengers to one of seven different boarding groups. United will still use a preboarding system for passengers with disabilities, unaccompanied minors, and active duty military personnel. After those passengers board the plane, first-class and business-class ticket holders will be next. “Window, exit row seats, and nonrevenue passengers” will then be allowed to board the flight, followed by passengers sitting in middle and aisle seats. Finally, the last to board United Airlines flights will be those flying basic economy on domestic flights.
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United strives to save “up to two minutes of boarding time” with its new boarding system. According to experts, the streamlined process could ultimately save the airline money and decrease the chance of flight delays. Scott Keyes, the founder of Going, an online travel membership service, believes that United Airlines is taking a step in the right direction with their latest boarding system. “It is one of those situations where what’s good for the airline would probably also be good for travelers,” he said. He is hopeful that United will inspire other airlines to follow suit, saying, “I think systems that allow airlines to board more efficiently is a win-win.”
Before United’s change in procedure, the airline used the WILMA method, which allows those with window seats to board first, followed by the middle, then aisle. However, that policy changed in 2017 according to United spokesperson Christine Salamone. Since then, the airline has been limited to boarding only five groups. Recent technological advancements have given United the freedom to break up passengers into more boarding groups. “We’re excited to bring WILMA back to provide a smoother boarding process flow that helps get passengers in their seats even faster and saves precious time during our boarding process,” said Salamone.
Airlines have had to adapt to several shifts in the industry since the pandemic in 2020. While air travelers are flying more than ever, business travel continues to decline. This has led to many airlines prioritizing economy passengers when it comes to the boarding process. Keyes noted that while United’s new boarding process may add convenience, several other factors have likely impacted the airline industry in recent years, such as novice travelers. “I think airlines are viewing this as more pressing than what might have been average, 30 minutes of turnaround time pre-pandemic versus maybe 30-35 minutes now with less-experienced travelers,” he said. While United’s new boarding system is still in its early stages, travelers everywhere are optimistic about the process.