United’s new boarding process is pathetic!

Earlier this month, United (UA) changed the boarding process on its aircrafts. The old system was so easy! First the red carpet boarding for Global Services/1K followed by Premier Executive and Star Alliance Gold members. The rest of the passengers boarded by zones: Zone 1 catered to all remaining elites; zone 2, 3 and 4 were for passengers in window, middle and aisle seats respectively.United Boarding.jpg

I have yet to see a consistent order with the new boarding process. However, the general order is as follows:

  • Military (supposedly only those in uniform; but I have seen non-uniformed personnel boarding the aircraft too);
  • Families with small children;
  • Global Services/1K/Continental Presidential Platinum/Platinum/First and Business Class passengers;
  • Star Alliance Gold, Premier Executive, Premier, Star Alliance Silver;
  • Remaining passengers are boarded by seat numbers from ‘back to front’.

I have seen plenty of variants of this order. In Los Angeles (LAX) last week, all elites including Star Alliance Silver and 1K were asked to board together. A huge commotion ensued. In another case at Chicago (ORD), Star Alliance Silvers were not given any preference at all over non-elite passengers!

Personally, I feel this new method has more cons than pros. I liked UA giving preference to military and families over other passengers. On-duty military personnel are certainly more valuable than elites. And I love boarding after the ruckus created by families settles down. Nevertheless, calling all elites to board together is a nightmare on elite heavy routes! Moreover, boarding by seat number means that by the time the front seat passengers board, their overhead bins are already full with the luggage of other passengers. The commotion this creates takes time to settle down. It would be great if UA modified this procedure to incorporate the simplicity of the earlier boarding process.

Have you experienced the new boarding procedure? Do you think it is actually better than the old process?

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  1. I’m a United 1K, the new boarding process sucks. Vast numbers allowed during the ‘elite’ portion which results in jams and chaos. United had gone to its zone system after using the same row-based system that the CO people have instituted. Row-based boarding is much slower than zones. United did it this way after much research. Another example of how CO is bringing bad practice to United.

  2. Moreover, boarding by seat number means that by the time the front seat passengers board, their overhead bins are already full with the luggage of other passengers. The commotion this creates takes time to settle down

    What difference does that make compared to the zone system? If the over head bin space is not enough for all pax, it’s not enough for all pax, regardless of boarding order.

  3. “Moreover, boarding by seat number means that by the time the front seat passengers board, their overhead bins are already full with the luggage of other passengers.” – does it matter, if the overhead bins are taken by other passengers from the back of the plane, or those from window and middle seats??? In either case you have to be among the first passengers to board to be sure of an overhead bin.

    Isn’t the problem rather the unwillingness of airlines to enforce carry on limitations? If they did, it wouldn’t make any difference as to when you board.

  4. new procedure is very disappointing; I thought UA had more common sense.

  5. @UCC the difference probably comes from passengers not stowing their personal item under their seat. The passengers at the back think there is plenty of space in the overhead bins and stack their personal items in the bins not above their seats. In the previous system, it would have been awkward as every seat would have at least one person ‘guarding’ their overhead bin.

    @ Mike very true. But passengers have never really complied with all the rules 🙂 And I do not really want another line for checking carry-on bag sizes

  6. As a military member, I think it is fantastic. It’s also worth noting that the Navy and Marine Corps are not authorized to travel in uniform, so leniency is appreciated.

  7. I completely agree that new boarding process is complete shambles. To board every elite member including those from Star partners together essentially means you are boarding (especially at hubs) half the plane:hardly efficient.

    Why military first?!

    With no disrespect meant to members of the armed services, your job is not an entitlement for better treatment everywhere. Granted you do provide a service to the nation, but it is extremely problematic that we honour the military on every level of society. Why aren’t teachers or firemen honored in the same fashion?

  8. @Kevin, I respect your opinion about Military personnel. I am biased because I come from a Military family, but I have to disagree with you. I am all in favor of military personnel (in uniform) being allowed to board first. (I always challenge anyone who objects to go spend a day ‘over there’ 😉 )

  9. The ones that really lose on this boarding process are Premier Executives. I used to hover on the NON-red carpet side several minutes before boarding so I could board immediately after the GS/1k and First/Business Class boarding. Now there is no place to hover because all of the elites parade through the Red Carpet (which is going to become a Blue Carpet) but NOT all at the same time (unless they mess it up as they did at LAX on Friday when ALL elites/First class were boarded at the same time). It worked very well before. GS/1k/First can wait by the red carpet (where they board at the SAME time), Premier Execs could wait on the other side. Also, I served 20 years in the military and think that IN UNIFORM military personnel should be given preference (we are a nation at war after all) but not those in civilian attire. The person that said that Navy people can’t travel in uniform is incorrect. I have seen plenty of Naval personnel in uniform in the last two weeks. (Marines may be different, but it should not be opened up to everyone with an active duty or reserve ID).

  10. This is what I heard came from United (I can’t find verification on united.com or elsewhere):
    “We’ve been listening to your feedback about the recent boarding changes and starting June 8, we’ll return to boarding by zones on United-operated flights. Continental-operated flights will continue to board from the rear to the front, but in the near future, will also begin zone boarding. We will still allow uniformed military to board first followed by Premier/Elite customers premium boarding with a tiered approach.”

  11. ORD is the worst. This is getting to the point of being absolutely ridiculous. 1k doesn’t mean anything anymore. It used to be that you could board at anytime during the boarding process and have the red carpet line all to yourself. That way even if you’re not at the gate during the1st minute of boarding and miss the 1k call, you will continue to get priority over everyone else. For some incomprehensible reason, EVERYONE now boards throughthe red carpet (whIch apparently now is blue-don’t get me started on the utterly laughable state of the merger) and you now stand in line behind everyone and their mother if you miss the 1k call. United has absolutely clinched the title of worst managed airline. Jeff Smisek maybe instead of gloating over te fact that you’ve managed to repaint hundreds of aircraft and co-located facilities, you need to look at keeping your frequent flyers happy. If I wasn’t so mired in the muck that is United, I would switch loyalties o Delta in a heartbeat. Atleast their hub DTW is a sight less depressing.

  12. I am a star alliance silver member. I really do like th new boarding process. However, I am used to traveling w/ CO.

  13. @Tom, I completely agree!!! PremExecs totally get screwed and the whole process makes it worse for all elites. It is such a nightmare to board now. I emailed United and told them and got the following response. If we all email them, maybe they’ll change it back!

    “I understand you feel our updated boarding process is awful. I apologize for the inconveniences you have experienced.

    As with any business, we invite and monitor our customers’ feedback
    since we are committed to refining every aspect of our service and
    providing a pleasant, hassle-free travel experience. Toward that goal, your comments will be forwarded to our airport management teams for review as we are continually evaluating our performance which impacts your choice of airline and our ability to earn your future business.”

  14. I’m surprised by how little of the discussion focuses on how the airlines brought this upon themselves. As a former consultant, I am hypothesizing that some consultant came in and told the airlines that they are missing out on revenue by not charging more for bags checked. Maybe so. But the unintended consequence, which should have been anticipated, has been that passengers are even more reluctant to check bags and so carry on more. This leads to delays in boarding, and bad feelings on the part of the passengers who are forced to check their carry on at the gate when the overhead space gets filled. Overall, I think this move on the part of airlines backfired. Yes, they get incremental revenue for checked bags. But they also saddled themselves with further delays and unahppy passengers.

  15. Jeff, could not agree with you more. Anyone boarding a plane has to look no further than the size of bags people try to ‘carry’ on-board to see how this charging for bags policy has backfired and made it hell for everyone.

  16. I think the boarding process is terrible, with all the different “catagories”…but what I hate more is all the luggage people carry on and try to shove in the overhead bins. I blame the baggage fee for this, people are trying to avoid it. Then the flight attendents are telling people to get seated so we can leave the gate, but they have to lug bags up and down the isles looking to a spare bin to shove it in….so, either repeal the luggage fee, or enforce the carry on rules.

  17. I just got back after my first experience of the new boarding system.


    I’m a one pass gold and just got a new job that will have me traveling a lot more. The way the boarding was handled on today’s flight means there is no advantage to my status and therefore no read for loyalty.

    When they announced military, families and handicapped about 40 people boarded and none were in uniform.

    By the time group 2 boarded there was no overhead space in the front of the plane and since I was in the first row of coach I had to walk several rows back to put my backpack up top. Obviously this was an issue when I tried to disembark!

    Gold status rarely gets you an upgrade these days so the ONLY advantage used to be early boarding and overhead bin space above your seat near the front of the plane. Looks like I shouldn’t bother trying to favor United when booking flights in future!

  18. I have been a loyal continental passenger for years and typically carry star silver status. My last two flights have had me board with the final group “remaining passengers”. At this point I see no reason to remain loyal to the new company. Ate golds board in group one but star silver pushed to the back?

  19. Matt, I share your feelings. I think you should send an email to United Customer Service telling how you feel to them. There are also threads in the FlyerTalk and Milepoint forums on the same. United tracks threads on both sites. If enough people complain,they may listen.

  20. I agree with the new boarding! It is terrible. I am now a United customer but only because of the merger from Continental and so far I am terribly disappointed with United.

  21. @ Kevin

    Because military personnel dodge bullets and bombs and make it possible for you do have the freedom to be a complete douchebag. That’s why…

  22. @Navyveteran Thanks for serving! I am all for the men and women in uniform getting to board first.

  23. The new United is terrible. I believe United prior to the merger was an excellent airline, the web site was great, the boarding process was efficient, orderly and helped premier travelers. The interior of the planes were well maintained and the economy plus seating is what I liked the most. Why did United have to take on all the bad habits of Continental, an inferior airline. When Delta acquired Northwest, it was Northwest that did not survive. Why do we have to get stuck with all the bad of Continental. I recently changed my flight from Newark to Chicago from United to Continental. Security took an hour, the boarding process was a complete shambles, the plane did not have economy plus and looked very old in the interior. Furthermore, there was DirectTv which one had to pay for, who wants that? On top of it, I did not get mileage credit for the flight. PLEASE, PLEASE bring back the old United. If this does not happen soon, I am switching to American.

  24. @ChicagoTraveler, seemed like you have had a bad time with United. I am curious, why did you not earn any miles? There has been no change to the program that I am aware of that gives zero miles on a ticket (except award travel). As per the aircraft, UA is upgrading all the Continental planes to include E+. Will take time. I am not defending UA in any way. I loved the old United too.

  25. Flying every several weeks, the boarding process for Untied (per a typo in a recent official mailing from the airline), I have found the boarding process continues to become more baffling every time. I am a Continental Gold Member and have no clue as to how the system works and when i have asked the clerks and attendants, they either roll their eyes and wave their hands at me, saying we dont know…. or read from a sheet of paper that makes no sense..and they roll their eyes again. Last week my boarding pass indicated I would board in group 3 but I had been upgraded to First Class. Then the attendant would not let me board with the first class passengers. So I am supposed to feel somehow guilty that I was upgraded? I did earn the miles that got me the upgrade. So what is up with this..I had thought initially that boarding might be connected to total points earned….but evidently it isnt. Then the other explanations i am seeing here dont make much sense. Again this most recent flight was not boarded according to reverse order of rows either as far as i could tell. What is clear is that boarding now takes much longer and is more chaotic.

  26. They are indeed Untied.

    If your boarding pass says “Premier Access” you can board anytime, regardless of elite level. That’s what the website indicates, too.
    I can’t find any published policy about boarding procedures, but yesterday’s departure of UA 1605 IAH-LAX was a nightmare. Obviously, there is no consistency and if you make any noise they will let you board whenever you want, pissing off other pax, or they may call security and have you arrested. Officially, there were 8 groups to be boarded per announcements. First were Premiers, then group 2, which I think was non-premier first class passengers. Then people with small kids or “needing extra time”. That’s when they rolled several people to their aisle seats, who later had to struggle to stand up to let the window and center people take their seats. Then groups 3 through 8 were called at about 5-minute intervals, and evidently those numbers are given automatically based on the seat assignments, beginning from the rear and outside-in (windows first, etc). What a ridiculous and chaotic system. I had 9C and was in group 8. By the time it was called there was a long line in the jetway and it took forever to actually board, not to mention the overhead space was full, so they had to check carry-ons, causing further delay and aggravation. The stream of people getting on behind me probably took another 15 minutes. And people already in their aisle seats on practically every row had to step into the aisle to let others take their seats. Then, they urged us to make sure we were all on the right flight!

    The plane was jammed and staffed with flight attendant “candidates”, who were sweet, but clueless. Supposedly, it was a brand new 757 with no frills and collapsing tray tables. The loud woman right behind me kept complaining that her air vent wasn’t working and wanted the FA to tell the pilot what a terrible plane it was.

    The gate agent and the senior FA both announced “Conti—-er, United flight 1605”. IMO, they have combined the worst policies of both carriers to create a monstrous UNICON. Bravo, Jeff Smisek. Unfortunately, the slogan “The Only Way to Fly” is literal for Houston, as their monopoly rules.

  27. The process is terrible no one understands it , i had gate agents at jfk boarding 1st passengers by thegroup numbers on their tickets ranging from 1 to 3 . I recently flew through philly,lax, orlando , newark and JFK. Each process was different, and when you asked the agents to explain the new process no one could articulate the process or reasoning well , let alone the correct answer . I will be flying other airlines for now, not worth the hassle.

  28. I for one am tired of all the Special boarding. If you are traveling first class fine you paid a lot more, get on first. If you have small children let them get settled. Then board from the front to the back so your overhead luggage doesn’t have to be 5 rows behind where you are sitting. Then for those inconsiderate passengers if there is enough room overhead after everyone is on board then you can put your precious bag at your feet up there. I get tired of having only 2 passengers seated in my complete row and row in front and already the overhead is full! The attendants really should make sure the passengers continue to their row and then stow their baggage. I’ve sat in the back and the overhead bins are empty although the seats are taken since these privileged passengers don’t want to be inconvenienced. They only think of themselves. Boarding these days is nothing short of a nightmare!

  29. what a relief to see similar sentiments.

    Boarding has become a zoo. I get that I only fly 60K a year and have nothing on the 1Ks and GS, but between the lost upgrades and mess of a boarding process, I FEEL COMPLETELY DECENTIVIZED from keeping any loyalty.

    The merger has left nothing but disappointment in it wake. Remember when you could call customer service and got a human, not an automated machine that says that they’re experiencing higher than normal volume…EVERY TIME you called? Regardless that you’re calling on the premier gold “special number.” Or when they dissembled the process to request mileage credit online from Star Alliance partners, and required you to dump your request into the black hole of a PO Box? Or when they killed the well-designed United website and replaced it with the visually appalling and hard-to-navigate Continental one?

    All this said, I’m not even sure why I continue to fly United this year.

  30. I am a world business traveler and non American, have a vacation home in usa and love America, but as a signifcantly bigger than 100K+ star alliance gold member, United is the worst, worst, worst by far no question for everything if you are not at the top of their list, they only care about their own 100K united clients and that is not me saying that a ground manager, ie United head at a big airport told me that, you SA clients are not a priority is what he said. Geoff and his team have completely botched this whole merger thing, any other SA top tier member is second class, if you board any other SA airline world wide you are treated like gold, not at united.

  31. I could not agree more. I think SA needs a third Elite level beyond Gold for the 100k milers & up.

  32. Just flew United for the first time in years and now know why I’ll never fly with them again – boarding was pathetic, flight was pathetic, service ditto, every little part of the flight was ditto. They nee a lot of help!

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