United Airlines has become the latest carrier to resume its pre-pandemic boarding policy after it introduced a back-to-front boarding process last year in an attempt to encourage social distancing. A spokesperson for the Chicago-based airline confirmed that the traditional group boarding policy will come back on April 15 after a near one year hiatus.
In a statement, the airline said that the original purpose of back-to-front boarding had been defeated by customers crowding around the gate area waiting for their row to be called forward.
Problems have been compounded by rapidly rising passenger numbers in recent weeks, as well as the return of passengers who haven’t flown since the start of the pandemic and who only know the traditional group boarding policy.
“Last year United temporarily switched to boarding from the back of the aircraft to the front to improve social distancing during boarding,” a United spokesperson explained. “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.”
The five group boarding process starts with select pre-boarding for customers with disabilities and active military personnel, as well as United 1K passengers, families travelling with infants and Global Services customers before moving from Group one to five.
Group one includes Polaris and First customers and the boarding process ends with Basic Economy passengers in Group five.
For the time being, at least, United intends to keep its ‘front-to-back’ deplaning process which is designed to stop all customers standing up in the aisle at the same time once the plane has reached the gate.
Last month, Southwest confirmed it was abandoning its pandemic boarding policy in favor of its traditional approach because of customer expectations. JetBlue also ditched its own back-to-front boarding policy in March.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.