Many airlines trial different boarding process with the goal to minimize customer wait time and inconvenience at the gate and ensure that the flight would depart on time without incidents. Chicago based United Airlines is introducing a new process dubbed “Better Boarding” starting on September 18, 2018 that it hopes will reduce dwelling time in lineups, improve customer flow and reduce boarding time.
United Airlines – Better Boarding
How It Works
Similar to the process introduced by American Airlines and Air Canada, United Airlines new system will reduce boarding lanes from five to two. Preboarding, Group 1 and Group 2 would use the left lane while Group 3 -5 will use the right lane.
When boarding begins, United Airlines gate agent will pre-board the following groups first followed by general boarding:
- Unaccompanied minors
- Customers with disabilities
- Active members of the military
- United Global Services® members
- Families traveling with children age 2 and younger
- Premier® 1K® members (note that travellers with Premier® 1K® status are now welcomed to pre-board before general boarding).
Group 1 and 2 will be called to board on the left lane when pre-boarding is completed:
- Premier Platinum members
- Premier Gold members (note that travellers with Premier Gold status are now welcomed to board in Group 1)
- Star Alliance™ Gold members
- Customers seated in premium cabins: United Polaris®, United First® and United Business®
- Premier Silver members
- Star Alliance Silver members
- Customers who have purchased Premier Access® or Priority Boarding
- United℠ Explorer, Club, Presidential Plus℠ and Awards Cardmembers
Group 3-5 will be called afterwards and will use the right lane to board. At any time, customers that belong to the previous groups can continue to use the left lane to board.
Groups 3 – 5
- Economy Plus®
- United Economy®
- Basic Economy*
* Customers who have purchased a Basic Economy ticket will be in the last boarding group, except for Premier members, Chase Cardmembers of qualifying cards and Star Alliance Gold members, who will still receive their priority boarding.
Enhanced Technology Implementation
To maximize comfort and reduce gate area crowding, United Airlines also enhanced its display screens to clearly show which group is being boarded to supplement the public announcements being communicated. Additionally, customers who use the airline’s mobile application or subscribed to flight notification will receive communication on when boarding has started.
Will The New System Be A Success?
Boarding is a complex process that requires many moving parts to be functional simultaneously. United Airlines has been introducing new boarding processes regularly for the past three years. From June 2017 to May 2018, the US Department of Transportation reported that the airlines’ on time percentage is 82.85% which is more than 2% higher that the average. While it remains to be seen whether the current incarnation would be successful, here is a list of key considerations airlines should incorporate to measure success:
- Mobilize all social media, print and other communication channels to introduce this new boarding process. It will ensure that both leisure and frequent customers would fully understand the process. Additional staff should be on hand during initial rollout to address questions. Check in kiosks, mobile check in screens and in flight entertainment displays could be modified to show that a new boarding process has been introduced.
- United Airlines and third party gate agents should be trained on the new process and are provided with the right instructions and tools for an effective implementation. Management should seek regular feedback so that stations can share best practices.
- Ensure that all systems are updated to show consistent wording in the digital signages. Mobile applications should be tested to ensure that boarding notifications are sent on a timely basis. Irregular operations should be taken into account on how they would affect communication protocols.
- Basic economy fare customers that need to check their full size hand carry baggages at the gate should be notified and processed before boarding begins.
- A final notification should be sent to those who have not boarded yet to ensure they don’t miss the flight.
For wayfinding purposes, it would be useful for United Airlines to post how far gates are located at key checkpoints (such as after security or terminal train exits) so that customers can better plan their journey to the gate to avoid long lines.
About Larry Leung and Experience The Skies
Larry Leung is the Director of Research and Strategy at Experience The Skies. He is a certified avgeek, a public speaker and a dessert and design enthusiast. Contact him through LinkedIn, Twitter or email.
Experience The Skies is a consulting company based in Toronto, Canada that specializes in the travel industry with focus on the assessment, competitive analysis and development of loyalty programs, technologies, marketing, ancillary revenue solutions. Find out how Experience The Skies can assist in evaluating the entire customer journey from booking to the travel experience by contacting [email protected] or follow other posts on Twitter, Facebook, Flipboard, and Instagram.