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United Is Finally Changing Its Boarding Process, Starting Oct. 26

Passengers will have a different and hopefully smoother experience later this month.

When it comes to air travel, the actual flying part can end up being less frustrating and time-consuming than everything leading up to it—from parking to getting through security. Even when you've made it to the gate, there's one more hoop to jump through: boarding. Multiple airlines have made adjustments to their policies recently, and now, United is the latest to hop on the bandwagon. Read on to find out how United is changing its boarding process, starting Oct. 26.

RELATED: Travelers Are Boycotting Southwest Over New Boarding Change.

One boarding group is being separated into two.

boarding united airlines flight
Ronnie Chua / Shutterstock

Starting Oct. 26, United Airlines is re-introducing a boarding process called "WILMA," which stands for window, middle, and aisle seating.

According to an internal memo provided to Best Life, no changes are being made to preboarding or groups one through three. However, group four—which currently includes passengers in middle and aisle seats—will soon be divided into two boarding groups. Group four will now be reserved for passengers in middle seats, while group five will include those in aisle seats only.

Preboarding still includes customers with disabilities, unaccompanied minors, active military members, Global Services members (United's most elite tier), those flying with children under two, and Premier 1K members (another elite tier).

Group one will continue to be reserved for first and business-class passengers and upper-level members in United's loyalty program (Premier Platinum, Premier Gold, and Star Alliance Gold). Group two will still include other loyalty tiers, those with Premier Access or priority boarding, and those with certain co-branded credit cards. And group three is staying the same as well, including passengers in window seats, exit row seats, and non-revenue passengers (typically traveling staff members).

RELATED: Southwest's Boarding Process Is the Fastest Around—Will Other Airlines Copy It?

An additional group will be added for certain flights.

united gate desk
Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock

You don't need to worry if you're booked in a middle seat (group four) and your partner is booked in an aisle seat (group five). According to the memo, if you're booked on the same economy reservation, you'll both be given "the highest applicable boarding group."

However, if you have a basic economy ticket with no full-size carry-on, you'll always board in group six—an entirely new boarding group. Because basic economy is only available on certain United flights, group six will not be an option every time you travel.

Group six also includes those without a boarding group number on their boarding pass, the memo states.

RELATED: United Is Cutting Flights to 8 Major Cities, Starting Oct. 29

The new process should speed things up.

passengers seated on plane
Awasada Kalayanamit / Shutterstock

While these changes might seem confusing at first, United says that customers will soon see the benefits in the form of shorter boarding times.

According to the memo, boarding times are up by two minutes since 2019, but when the WILMA process was tested at four U.S. airports and one of United's hubs, it was found to be "faster." Per United's calculations, WILMA can help the airline and passengers save up to two minutes per flight.

The airline did not provide specific details on how or why the process is more time efficient, but did state that it yielded higher Net Promoter Scores (which measure customer satisfaction).

This isn't the first time United has boarded this way.

side of united airlines plane
EQRoy / Shutterstock

According to USA Today, the WILMA boarding method isn't entirely new: A previous version was in place until 2017 when the airline introduced basic economy seating.

In a statement to the outlet, a United spokesperson said that the computer system the airline used at that time only allowed five boarding groups. With new technology, they can include additional groups, prompting the change.

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Abby Reinhard
Abby Reinhard is a Senior Editor at Best Life, covering daily news and keeping readers up to date on the latest style advice, travel destinations, and Hollywood happenings. Read more
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