Saddle up to the gate on your next United flight and you may notice that there’s now a different system in place for loading passengers. Just this week, Chicago-based United Airlines updated its boarding process to rely on fewer boarding lanes, a move that will cut down on congestion and potentially speed up passenger loading.
The new boarding process has been in the works for months. In June, United started experimenting with different boarding procedures in a handful of test gates in Chicago and Houston, two of the busiest hubs in the airline’s network. Now, as of this week, the official new boarding process is finally in place.
Moving forward, the airline will still have five boarding groups but will only use two lanes for boarding. Elite and other priority passengers in group 1 and 2 will load through lane 1, while customers in group 3, 4 and 5 will use lane 2. Those not actively boarding will be asked to remain seated until paged. Chase co-branded credit card holders, according to the blog Wandering Aramean, will board in group 2.
In addition to the new boarding process, United is also launching push notifications for those who have the airline’s mobile app. Those who opt in will be given a push notification when boarding starts, a tool that will be particularly useful if a flight is delayed or if the ground crew decides to load the aircraft early.
This week’s updates come as the latest milestone in a long history of experimentation that United and other airlines have performed around the oft-complicated and congested boarding process. Several years ago, in an effort to better segment the cabin and speed up loading, United started using five lanes to feed through passengers. And while that method successfully segmented passengers in the boarding zone and prepared them for departure, it also created a fair amount of idle, standing passengers and congestion near the gate – especially during delays. The new strategy launched this week helps alleviate that problem.
Indeed, some of United’s peers are already using this simplified process. American Airlines currently boards by zone using only two lanes while Delta Air Lines splits the difference and boards with four. One difference between United and its competitors, however, is that as of this week, top tier or “1K” elite members will be able to pre-board before the official process starts; with most carriers only VIP passengers are given that access.
New boarding lanes and gateside notifications should roll out to airports this week.