Economy Will Now Board United Flights Before Premium Passengers

United Airlines has trialed various boarding methods in the past. Now, it is trialing a new one. In an attempt to ensure social distancing rules are enforced, United is now going to board passengers by row rather than by group. The method will be in place until at least the end of May.

United Airlines at Denver
United Airlines hopes its new boarding methods will promote social distancing. Photo: Getty

A new order

If you’ve flown with United in the past, you may be aware of the strict groups they use to board passengers. Pre-boarding was reserved for passengers with disabilities, young children, military service members, United Global Services Members, and Premier 1K members. Then, groups from 1 to 5 would board in order with group 1 being Platinum, Premium and Gold members, and group 5 being basic economy travelers.

But now, this has been temporarily changed to allow economy passengers to board before premium passengers. According to Live And Lets Fly, pre-boarding will remain the same, but everyone else will now be boarded by row. This means those sat at the back of the plane will board first. United staff will call five rows at a time to board from back to front.

Economy Will Now Board United Flights Before Premium Passengers
Passengers traveling at the front of the aircraft will board last, despite some ticket prices including extra for priority boarding. Photo: United Airlines

Why the change?

The hope of introducing the new boarding method is to minimize the number of people in the aisle at any one time. If everyone boards in order, there should be no one clogging the aisle and creating a hold-up. This will not only speed up the boarding process but should ensure passengers aren’t stuck together in a small space.

With reduced capacity onboard, this should mean that anyone flying United will be able to maintain a reasonable distance between themselves and other passengers at all times. United has not confirmed if this change will remain in place after social distancing restrictions are lifted. The airline did say that it will “continue to evaluate how best to proceed given the fluidity of the current situation”.

Different boarding methods

This isn’t the first time United has changed its boarding method. When it merged with Continental, it tried to copy Continental’s row by row method of boarding but quickly turned back to its grouping system. Airlines can’t seem to agree on the best way to board a plane.

Speed is a critical factor in boarding; a plane sat on the tarmac is not making any money. However, the fastest method of boarding a plane is very complicated. Technically, if speed is everything, then boarding every other window seat on the right-hand side of the aircraft should happen first. This would be followed by the same process on the left. Then every other middle seat on the right side, then the same on the left, followed by every other aisle seat. Then, with every other row full, you repeat the process for the empty rows.

This method was designed theoretically rather than realistically. With some people arriving early, some late, and groups wanting to stay together, it just isn’t practical. So, if speed won’t keep everyone happy, what’s the next best option? Well, it depends on who you ask.

Dubai Airport social distance
Social distancing measures at airports have also been introduced around the world to prevent the spread of disease. Photo: Emirates

Generally, boarding frequent flyers, gold and platinum card members, first class and business class passengers first keeps most people happy. Many airlines give you the option of paying extra for priority boarding so you can get on first, store your bag near your seat and relax while others fight for space.

In this circumstance, United’s new policy goes against the norm. However, almost everything in aviation at the moment is not a standard procedure. Enforced distancing at airports, medical checks, face masks, and gloves show that a new boarding method is not the only thing to have changed. It won’t be a surprise if other airlines follow United’s approach and change how they board their passengers.

What do you think of the change? Do you think the new boarding method makes sense, or is it just an annoyance? Are you a premium United member, we’d love to hear what you think of the change?