The boarding process will not change for passengers in first class and business class, and the preboarding group will still include people with disabilities, unaccompanied minors, active-duty military and families traveling with children 2 years old and under.
United has tested the WILMA method, which it first tried in 2017, at five airports and found it to be effective at reducing boarding times, according to the internal memo.
To make boarding more efficient, airlines have to cut the time passengers are waiting behind others in the aisle, as well as the time it takes for people to get out of their seats to make room for someone else in their row, according to John Milne, an associate professor of engineering and management at Clarkson University. He called United’s change “a step forward.”
It could go even further, though, he said, based on his research. The boarding groups for each type of seat could also be divided for the front and back halves of the plane, so that people who were in window seats in the back half of the plane would board first. This is known as the “reverse pyramid” method.
Or, airlines could treat each passenger or family traveling together as its own boarding group. In that model, the first person to board would be in a window seat in the back of the airplane, and the next person to board would be in the window seat two rows in front of that person.