United Airlines will board passengers by window, middle, then aisle seats


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A United Airlines jetliner lifts off from a runway at Denver International Airport on June 10, 2020. United says it will start boarding passengers in economy class with window seats first starting next week in an effort to speed up boarding times.

David Zalubowski/AP

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David Zalubowski/AP

A United Airlines jetliner lifts off from a runway at Denver International Airport on June 10, 2020. United says it will start boarding passengers in economy class with window seats first starting next week in an effort to speed up boarding times.

David Zalubowski/AP

Minutes count when you’re trying to move hundreds of thousands of airline passengers every day. So United Airlines is switching up its boarding policy in hopes of speeding things up at the airport.

Starting Oct. 26, basic economy ticket holders, window seat passengers will board first, then those in middle seats, followed by people in aisle seats. The change is estimated to cut boarding time by up to two minutes, United told NPR Thursday.

The process for pre-boarding groups, such as unaccompanied minors, people with disabilities, families with small children and active-duty military members, won’t change. The process also remains unchanged for boarding groups one through three (group three typically includes those with window seats and exit row seats).

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But group four will now be reserved for passengers with middle seats and group five will be exclusively for those with aisle seats. The revision applies to U.S. domestic flights and flights from the U.S. to the Caribbean, Canada and some Central and South American cities.

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United is adding a sixth boarding group for domestic flights and flights to the Caribbean and Central America for basic economy customers who don’t have a group number on their boarding pass.

United said its boarding times have gone up by up to two minutes since 2019. It tested the new policy, known as WILMA, at five airports and found that it was faster.