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United Airlines to change its boarding process…AGAIN for 2013

by on Tue January 8, 2013 • 21 Comments

Mergers are confusing, and United’s boarding process is no exception. For the FIFTH time in less than two years United changed its boarding process starting January 9, 2013.

Before, it was a dysfunctional mess of 7 zones (8 really when you count the pre-boarding), and United credit card holders who saw TV ads for priority boarding were given Group 4 of 7. Not exactly meeting expectations and led to lots of confusion at the gate.

So here’s what they’re changing it to:

  • Pre-Boarding: Customers with disabilities, then Global Services and uniformed military personnel
  • Group 1: Global Services, Premier 1K, Premier Platinum, premium cabins
  • Group 2: Premier Gold, Star Gold, Premier Silver, Star Silver, MileagePlus Presidential Plus and Club cardholders, MileagePlus Explorer and Awards cardholders
  • Group 3: Remaining window seats
  • Group 4: Remaining middle seats
  • Group 5: Remaining aisle seats

United Explorer credit card holders will be a little happier – they move up from Group 4 to Group 2.

But Gold and Silver Premier members will be disappointed that they will have no higher priority than someone who holds a $95 per year credit card, while they give United 25,000 – 74,999 miles a year worth of flying.

The Group 2 boarding for the United credit cards makes them appear closer to the ‘priority’ of American and Delta’s credit cards. Their cards offer ‘Group 1’ boarding, but that in reality means the 3rd group or more thanks to other un numbered groups for first class and other premium flyers.

As for the physical boarding itself, United is rolling out priority bypass lanes at most gates. That means Group 1 and Group 2 will each have a lane they can use for priority boarding, and to ‘cut’ the line if they show up late. Groups 3-5 will also have their own lanes to make things less confusing, and more familiar to Southwest flyers.



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21 thoughts on United Airlines to change its boarding process…AGAIN for 2013

  1. Jaspal Arora

    Very helpful…all the times ai travel wondering why my turn is last, i.e. group 5…but now i realize because I prefer aisle.

  2. Dennis Walters

    They say the normal flying public in put into Groups 3 – 5. I’ve flown United and sat at the computer to exactly 24 hr. before check in and I still get Group 5. How do you get into Group 3 or even Group 4? This whole boarding process doesn’t make any sense at all. The rear of the plane should be boarded first up to 1/3 of the plane. Then window seats should be boarded, along with first class/business seating. Then let the rest of the cattle on. I see a lot of people are getting disability cards from their doctors just so they can board first. These people walk and carry themselves better than most other people, but still they’re disabled. Which brings up the point, can I get a fake baby and get into Group 2.
    Just being facetious.

    1. MileCards

      @Dennis – Updated the text in the article, but Group 3 is for people in window seats. So book yourself in one of those and you’ll get that group.

  3. dana

    I just received my mileage plus explorer card (50000 after 1000 spending). 1 month ago I booked an award flight with united, paying the $2.50 fee with my southwest card. Am I eligible for priority boarding just for owning the united card or because I did not use it when I booked my award flight the priority boarding doesn’t apply? I remember I was once boarding Spirit Airlines and they said that people who have their credit card can board first (after business actually) by showing/flashing the card.. does united do the same? Thanks

    1. MileCards

      @dana – The priority boarding is supposed to be linked to your Mileage Plus frequent flyer number. So if you have that entered in your reservation it should show the Group 2 boarding.

    1. MileCards

      @ERCPist – A few years ago some of them did, and used that to generate zones. But now we have the credit cards with boarding priority, and that’s messed up the logic of it.

    2. brianguy

      United is doing that (groups 3, 4, 5 for people with no higher status correspond to window, middle, aisle respectively). it doesn’t work and is much worse than the system it replaced.

      has any airline realized that it makes sense to board the back of the plane first like airlines used to since the beginning of time? not really. maybe US AIrways, but that’s probably going away with the potential AA merger.

  4. FrustratedFlyer

    What does each of the general boarding groups 3 – 5 mean, what are the differences? I’m in group 5 for an upcoming flight and have a window seat. Does that mean I’ll be climbing over people?

    1. MileCards

      @FrustratedFlyer – Unfortunately you are in the last boarding group so that is possible. Bright side is some people without a lot of bags like to board last and not have to sit waiting.

    1. MileCards

      @Lucy – Premium cabins refers to First and Business Class. Unfortunately Economy Plus in itself won’t get you priority boarding.

    1. brianguy

      not really. Gold gets screwed out of a higher priority (when there were 7 groups), stuck with Silver and the $95 a year credit card people (note: free for the first year! you can always cancel after that!).

      they need a minimum of 6 groups to make this even work. UA mismanagement at its HIGHEST.

  5. Alec

    This doesn’t seem much different… they just removed Zone 5, combining it with Zone 4, and also combining Zones 2 and 3.

    I do think there is a downside: Silver and Presidential Plus are combined with Explorer card holders. That’s a bummer.

    There is really almost no benefit now to being Silver… flights are rarely upgraded and Economy Plus seating can’t be obtained until 24 hours before travel. Perhaps I should just downgrade from Presidential Plus to Explorer card and forget about the mileage plus game….

    1. MileCards

      @Alec – You are right – Silver is diluted from what it once was.

      But FYI the boarding process above is just our suggestion — United hasn’t updated it yet. Though it’s clear there are no easy answers with all the credit card priority boarding mixed in.

      1. Alec

        Thanks… I appreciate the comment and the clarification. We’ll see what happens… If United could restore access to Economy Plus seating for Silver members at the time of booking, I’d be a happy camper.

    2. BQRibs

      Silver Elite has gotten to the point it is not worth having. My last flight I got upgraded to Business First at the gate after having to pay for a second piece of checked luggage at check-in. If Continental/United can’t restore 24 hour upgrade for Silver Elite at least upgrade us to Economy Plus 24 hours in advance AND second piece of luggage free.

      So far with this merger I have only seen things getting worse.

  6. Jan Stafford

    The fact that old United was able to board an aircraft in less time with less staffing should be a good indication that the UA boarding process worked better. It is sad the flying public is paying for a decision based on pride.
    A good lesson to be learned is that in a merger the new company should use the best process, not necessarily management’s “favorite” process.

    PS. As bad as this is for the flying public, the employees are reeling when they try to travel. The new system has gone over the deep end. UA had four groups, the new system is reaching 20, and when applied is full of errors.

    This entire process should be simplified and corrected. Passengers need to be respected. Get it together United.


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