United Is Testing New Boarding Procedure

United Airlines is testing a new boarding procedure that it hopes will provide a better customer experience, with less crowding and more efficient boarding. According to the company’s website:

We’re dedicated to providing convenience and comfort throughout your journey with United and are always looking for ways to improve your overall experience. Our customers have told us they want a better experience when boarding, so we’re working to improve the process by testing a new boarding method at various airports across our network.

So, what is the new boarding process?

As always, passengers will be assigned to five different groups, depending on their seat location, ticket type, frequent-flyer status, and so on. But instead of the current five boarding lanes, the new scheme uses only two lanes.

Group 1 and Group 2 passengers will board first, through Lane 1 and Lane 2. When they’re onboard, the remaining groups will be boarded, in order, through Lane 2. Lane 1 will be left open, to accommodate late arrivals from Groups 1 and 2.

The trick here is keeping passengers seated until their group numbers are called, thereby reducing the congestion that inevitably chokes off the entrance to the jetway. If United can successfully encourage or enforce that behavior, the result should be a calmer, less stressful boarding experience. Problem: solved.

On the other hand, it seems to be human nature to want to be first in line, and it’s easy to imagine members of Groups 3 through 5 ignoring gate agents’ requests to remain seated and loitering at the entrance to Lane 2, long before they’ve been called to board. Problem: unsolved.

Reader Reality Check

Does this seem like a tenable solution, or not?

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and almost that long writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

This article first appeared on SmarterTravel.com, where Tim is Editor-at-Large.


  1. Mikey says

    UAL would do better to focus on keeping its engines’ cowlings intact for now. Unless it STRICTLY enforces this “new” procedure, it’ll be worthless. Best way to do that is loudly and publicly send line jumpers back to the end of the line. SWA still seems to have the best procedure, and it’s largely self-enforcing by the customers themselves.

  2. Jack says

    It would work if it could be enforced. We all know though, through the example set with overhead bin enforcement that the flight crews on all airlines will rarely, if ever. enforce the rules. They seem content to just make a showing by telling passengers to get their seat upright on take offs and landings!

  3. geraldj says

    They need to keep the lanes 3-5 as they currently do and add lane 2, all the customers for these lanes will go through one door, lane 1 will use one door, this keeps everyone in separate lanes, not enabled to jump the line.

    Yes ground crew need to enforce the rules and I agree, if you try to enter b/4 your time you should go to the end.

    That should also apply to line 1, when you show up right at boarding time, you need to get in line, not crowd the front of the line and push out the people who have patiently waited for the doors to open

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