United has become the latest airline to tweak the way it calls passengers to board its planes.
In a change that’s rolling out to United gates nationwide on Tuesday, the carrier says it’s streamlining its boarding process.
With that, United joins American and Delta in making changes to the boarding call since early 2017.
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At United, gone are the five boarding lines used in the previous process. In is a new two-lane, color-coded process that will handle a staggered boarding call.
The lanes will be numbered “1” and “2.” Beyond that, lane 1 is the “blue” lane while lane 2 is “green.”
When it’s time to board, United will call pre-boarding that's open to its top-tier “Premier 1K” and “Global Services” frequent-flyers, active military, customers with disabilities and families with children ages 2 and younger. They'll board via lane 1.
Next comes Group 1, which includes first- and business-class customers plus Platinum- and Gold-level frequent-flyers. Group 1 also boards through lane 1, while Group 2 lines up in lane 2.
Group 2 boards once the Group 1 queue clears. Who is in Group 2? Silver-level frequent-fliers and certain United credit-card holders and customers who’ve purchased United’s priority access or boarding privileges.
Travelers in Groups 3, 4 and 5 will be asked to remain seated while the first two groups line up and board.
After Group 1 and Group 2 have boarded, Groups 3 through 5 will board through the green-colored Lane 2. They’ll be called by number, starting with 3 and ending at 5. Group 5 will include most Basic Economy customers.
Members of Group 1 and 2 who are still arriving to the gate area will priority board via the blue-colored Lane 1.
United says it’s implementing the boarding change after “testing a variety of boarding concepts” since last fall. The new system has been in affect at Los Angeles International Airport since February and will now roll out to all United locations beginning Tuesday.
United’s changes hint at the struggle airlines have had in creating a boarding process that doesn't stress out customers. Even with precisely delineated groups and queues, many travelers still feel compelled to stand in line to hold their spot.
Both American and Delta rolled out similar changes in early 2017.
Southwest, of course, has its own type of system since it has no assigned seats. It calls for fliers in its “A” group to line up at their corresponding pillars, which display numbers indicating where passengers should stand. As the “A” group boards, Southwest repeats the process for the “B” and “C” groups until all passengers have boarded.
That system, enacted in 2007, was meant to address crowding in the gate areas as customers queued up to be first on the plane. The move didn’t eliminate pre-boarding line-ups, but it did add order to the process.
“Airlines now have so many different tiers of boarding groups, between their different levels of elite-status members and their co-branded credit card customers and others," Henry Harteveldt, an airline analyst and founder of San Francisco-based Atmosphere Research, told USA TODAY's Today in the Sky blog at the time. “The result is frustration, crowding, unpleasantness and stress. Nobody is winning here.”
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United said customer feedback helped push it to come up with a new system.
"The boarding process was one of the top areas customers told us they wanted improved,” Sarah Murphy, United’s vice president of Global Operations Strategy, Planning and Design, said in a statement. “We listened to customers and employees as we tested a variety of processes on thousands of flights until we found a better boarding process that results in less time spent waiting in lines, improved communication and a better way to recognize our Premier customers while balancing out the number of passengers in each boarding group.”
One big challenge that could remain for United is how its elite-level frequent-flyers will sort themselves out in the updated process.
When a large number of United’s elite customers are flying on a single flight, it's been a frequent complaint in recent years that it would seem as though half the plane (or more) boarded in the first two groups. Whether elite customers now filter more evenly into the updated boarding groups on such flights remains to be seen.
Stay tuned …
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