United Changes Boarding Process - Window to Aisle

United Changes Boarding Process - Window to Aisle

Well file this in the didn't expect to see it actually happen box, United is changing up their boarding process and using a method I thought airlines would never use. Instead of boarding from back to front, United has announced for their man boarding process they will now board from Window to Middle to Aisle. This method is also known as WILMA.

Airlines don't typically like to use the WILMA method as it gives a perceived lower service to those who picked seats closer to the front of the airplane. This of course isn't the case and there was even a Mythbuster's episode that shows boarding from Window to Middle to Aisle increases board time.

Personally I agree that boarding in this way can help speed up the boarding time and get your plane off of the gate faster, and if you're stuck in the Window or Middle seat you won't be asking people who are already sitting at your row to get up while you board to stow your belongings and block the aisle.

What does the new boarding process look like?


  • Customers with disabilities
  • Unaccompanied minors
  • Active military members
  • Global Services members
  • Anyone flying with children 2 or younger
  • Premier 1K members

Group 1

  • Premier Platinum and Gold members
  • Star Alliance Gold members
  • Travelers in United Polaris, United First and United Business cabins

Group 2

  • Premier Silver members
  • Star Alliance Silver members
  • Travelers with Premier Access or priority boarding
  • Select cobranded credit card holders

Group 3

  • Window seats
  • Exit row seats
  • Nonrevenue travelers

Group 4

  • Middle seats

Group 5

  • Aisle seats

Group 6

  • Basic economy customers

Will this work?

That depends how you define the question, it will speed up boarding time, and United says that it will increase their overall Net Promoter Score (NPS). However I'm sure you'll have the odd and end complainer who bought a Aisle seat towards the front of the plane and ended up having to wait for all the Middle and Window seat passengers, along with the Exit row passengers to board.

They probably won't be happy and will probably be the loudest when it comes to the change. I personally do like this method, boarding efficiently is very important in the airline industry. Every minute a plane is on the gate it is taking up a minute that another plane could be loading or unloading.

Overall this could speed up turn times, and at gate constrained airports means they could utilize the gate for the next aircraft more quickly. And overall could also mean that United can utilize their airplanes more frequently if they can cut down on their on gate times.

Unknown factors

What I'm more curious about is if elite passengers will slow down the boarding process. Not every elite member gets an upgrade to first class, so if that passenger boards in Group 1 in an aisle seat how many times will they have to stand up and sit down to allow passengers into the seat while blocking the boarding area. Additionally if you multiply that by 10 or 15 you probably have the same boarding time no matter what.

What will the best seats be?

If you don't have elite status or anything that would qualify you for a higher boarding group, it looks as if having a Window or Exit row seat will be the best. You will board the airplane before Middle and Aisle seat passengers, potentially leading to more overhead bin space and less of a chance for the gate agent to check your bag.

Likewise the aisle seat passenger will probably miss out on overhead bin space by being the last to board and you will have a higher chance of your bag not fitting or having to be located somewhere in the airplane away from you. This is disappointing because on longer flights, especially international flights, I like to pick an aisle seat for the easy access to stand up and stretch and to the bathroom.

Final Thoughts

United seems to think that their passengers will love the new boarding process. They seem confident that will increase their customer satisfaction, sure but I would think they will piss off a lot of aisle seat passengers. The science backs them up and says that boarding using the WILMA method is faster, however in practice it will be interesting to see if customers will accept the new boarding process.