United Airlines has ditched its pandemic era deplaning process that saw passengers called forward to leave the plane by seat row number. The policy was implemented in the first couple of months of the pandemic and was intended to promote social distancing and reduce the risk of spreading the virus by preventing passengers from crowding around one another in the aisle while they waited to deplane.
The Chicago-based airline quietly dropped what had been described as the “very methodical, metered” deplaning process on Tuesday after 16 months.
“The temporary deplaning process was implemented in combination with back-to-front boarding in order to promote social distancing on board the aircraft and in our gate hold rooms,” a spokesperson, who confirmed the policy had been ditched, said on Thursday.
“United has proven the safety of our onboard experience – even when the plane is full – through enhanced cleaning procedures, on-board HEPA filtration and mask requirements, which makes front-to-back deplaning no longer necessary”
The back-to-front boarding process was dropped back in April partly because the original purpose of promoting social distancing had been defeated by customers crowding around the gate area waiting for their row to be called forward.
Passengers will now be free to stand up, retrieve their luggage from the overhead bins and wait in the aisle as soon as the fasten seat belt signs are switched off.
Flight attendants have been told they no longer have to make announcements to deplane passengers in groups or by row number but the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) has urged crew to report any safety concerns over the new policy.
A United spokesperson also confirmed that a pandemic era safety measure that prevented flight attendants from sharing crew rest bunks had also been lifted. The decision was made following updated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance, as well as with consultation with the flight attendant union.
“Crew rest areas go through the same cleaning process / schedule as our cabin seating,” the airline explained in an emailed statement.
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.