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United trolls Southwest's boarding process in unusual ad campaign

Nov. 03, 2022
4 min read
Southwest plane landing
United trolls Southwest's boarding process in unusual ad campaign
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United Airlines wants to help you avoid Southwest Airlines' dreaded "C" boarding group.

Yes, you read that correctly.

The Chicago-based carrier is launching an unusual ad campaign Thursday, offering up courtesy reminders to Southwest passengers to remember to check in 24 hours before their flights in order to snatch a more desirable boarding group.

Travelers can go to NotGroupC.com and get a call from United in time for the check-in window.

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"Hello, United Airlines here, reminding you to check in for your Southwest flight, so you don't end up in boarding group C," the call says, a recording of which was provided to TPG ahead of the campaign's launch. "For your next flight, think about giving United a fly — we let you choose your seat in advance."

Southwest is unique among U.S. carriers in that it does not assign seats.

Instead, it assigns boarding numbers in three separate groups: A, B and C, based on the order in which passengers check in. Travelers then line up in the gate area according to their boarding group and number.

More: Everything you need to know about the best seats on Southwest Airlines

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There are some ways to avoid the dreaded C group, such as having Southwest status or purchasing a Business Select fare or EarlyBird check-in.

However, United would like to add its new, tongue-in-cheek reminder service — what it calls a "Courte-C call" — to that toolbox.

“We’re sounding a lighthearted alarm to remind travelers who may not choose United that there’s an easier way to travel,” Maggie Schmerin, United's managing director of advertising and social media, said in a statement.

“Ideally, next time these travelers are flying, they don’t need a 24-hour notice to check in because they’ve chosen to fly with United, where customers can select their seat in advance and therefore avoid the consequences of ending up in the competition’s Boarding Group C.”

One of United's new digital ads. UNITED AIRLINES

The new digital campaign is going live in three key markets where United competes aggressively against Southwest. Travelers based in Houston, Denver and Chicago will see the ads on their computer screens and smartphones.

Across Houston's two airports, United had a 56% domestic market share in July, which is the most recent government traffic data available, while Southwest had a 26% domestic market share. United only operates at George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), while Southwest is primarily at Willam P. Hobby Airport (HOU), with some flights at IAH.

At Denver International Airport (DEN), United had a 46% domestic market share, while Southwest had a 29% domestic market share in July.

Across the two airports in Chicago, United had a 36% domestic market share, while Southwest had a 27% market share. United only operates at O'Hare International Airport (ORD), while Southwest counts Midway International Airport (MDW) as one of its busiest bases but still offers a number of flights from ORD.

In recent years it's been unusual — but not unheard of — for airlines to attack one another by name in advertising. In 2021, United launched another campaign in Denver going after Southwest. One ad read, "United: Nonstop to Hawaii's beaches. Southwest: Some stops to Hawaii's beaches."

More: What is United Airlines' elite status worth in 2022?

For all of United's ribbing of Southwest and its boarding process, selecting seats on United is not always free, especially if a traveler purchases a basic economy fare or lacks Premier status.

Travelers who purchase basic economy — United's cheapest fares — are able to purchase a seat assignment. If they don't, they'll be automatically assigned a seat, which can include less desirable middle seats — the same types of seats that Group C passengers often have to choose from.

United also designates many of its more desirable seats to be "preferred seats." These seats are often window and aisle seats and tend to be closer to the front of the cabin. While these are free for Premier members to select, if you lack United status, you'll shell out some money for them — even if you didn't purchase basic economy.

However, even if United isn't the most perfect airline to go after Southwest's boarding process, it's hard to deny that this unusual, direct campaign is quite entertaining.

Featured image by JUSTIN SULLIVAN/GETTY IMAGES
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Apply for American Express® Gold Card
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Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
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Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
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    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees