United's pre-pandemic boarding groups will return this week
As with most U.S. airlines, United modified its boarding procedures early during the pandemic, loading flyers from the back of the plane to the front, with the hopes of boosting distance wherever possible.
This week, as Live and Let's Fly points out, the carrier will once again be boarding flyers based on their assigned number. Passengers are assigned to one of five boarding groups — Group 1 through 5 — depending on their elite status, cabin and the fare they purchased.
United Global Services and Premier 1K members can pre-board, along with select travelers, including customers with disabilities, families with children age two and younger, and active-duty military. Group 1 consists of Platinum and Gold elites and business and first-class flyers, followed by Silver and select co-branded cardholders in Group 2, and all economy flyers in Groups 3 through 5, who board based on their fare type and their location on the plane.
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As a spokesperson explained to TPG:
On April 15, we will resume our Better Boarding — our five-group, two-lane boarding process. Last year United temporarily switched to boarding from the back of the aircraft to the front to improve social distancing during boarding. Now that more customers are returning, this can result in customers gathering in the gate area to wait near the boarding door for their row to be called. This gathering defeats the social distancing purpose of back-to-front boarding. We know from recent customer surveys that an orderly boarding experience is one of the things our customers value the most.
While social distancing practices are still helpful in limiting the spread of COVID-19, masks are even more effective, and are now mandated by law in all airports and onboard all planes in the United States. With confusion around back-to-front boarding leading to crowding at the gate, returning to a more familiar group process could actually lead to fewer people gathering, as United points out.
More: United unveils 26 new point-to-point routes from Midwest, East Coast
Ultimately, a return to pre-pandemic processes is likely to be a continuing trend. United is hardly the first carrier to return to boarding groups. Last month, JetBlue returned to its pre-pandemic boarding process, while Southwest followed a few weeks later, moving from its temporary 10-person groups to its pre-pandemic 30-flyer clusters.