Is United Getting Rid of their 5 + Group Boarding Process?

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If you’ve flown United in the past several years, then you’re familiar with their boarding process, where they have signs for each Group to line up in and wait to board, similar to Southwest Airlines.

However, the difference at Southwest is open seating meaning you’re incentivized to line up in order to get a good seat. United is now testing out going back to 2 groups for boarding, instead of the current 5 groups in an effort to increase their on-time performance, which they blame boarding as one of their reasons.


United will use monitors to show which boarding group is being called. Read: no need to crowd the gate before your group is called. The airline is also getting rid of the upgrade list it shows on monitors since passengers are already told they’ve been upgraded beforehand.

United is using the two-line system at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, and it will expand the system at other airports this summer.

United used to use this system but switched to five lanes in 2012. Since then, the airline has introduced restrictive basic economy tickets, which for domestic routes, don’t include access to overhead bins. In theory, that means that those travelers don’t even need to compete for overhead bin space and if gate agents spot them with a large carry-on bag that wouldn’t fit under the seat, they can charge travelers $25 for the gate-handling fee plus the $25 to check the bag.

What’s even more interesting is Delta just rolled out a similar pillar boarding structure in many of their hubs/cities that they serve, where it’s the same concept that you’re suppose to line up and wait to board, yet they have a stellar on-time performance, so I don’t think United should get too excited about this test, but we’ll see.

When it comes to boarding, many premium flyers and frequent fliers don’t want to spend time waiting in lines, whether it’s to spend a few extra minutes in the lounge or in the terminal. As technology improves, I think it would be great for those who have the airline app, to receive a push notification when your group is boarding, then you can head over to the gate and board at that time.

What are your thoughts about pillar boarding in the gate house? Are you a fan of lining up, or do you prefer just to have two lines, one for premium, and one for everyone else? 

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  1. Seriously… do what JetBlue does in Long Beach (and possibly elsewhere). BOARD THROUGH THE BACK OF THE PLANE! It’s not rocket science. It’s been done in Europe and other places.

  2. First &/or Biz should NEVER board LAST. Then elite flyer get onboard only to find overhead bins taken by sly coach pax. Done it and I almost had to gate check my carry-on. Disaster scheme for airline revenue long term.

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