Boarding Procedures (UA)

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Boarding Procedures on United Airlines

Boarding is usually split into two main categories: red carpet boarding, and general (blue carpet) boarding. General boarding is further split into seating areas to differentiate Mileage Plus elites, those sitting in aisle, center, and window seats.


Officially, United does not allow any preboarding for passengers with "special needs" such as infants, reduced mobility, etc. Gate agents have been known to bend this rule for passengers who inquire at the gate, or in rare cases announce preboarding. In most cases, United has stated that passengers requiring additional boarding time (e.g. families with infants) may board with Seating Area 2 if they have higher-numbered seating areas. Pre-boarding is generally allowed for passengers requiring UA staff assistance (e.g. disabled passengers requiring aisle chairs).

Red carpet boarding

Global Services and 1K members of Mileage Plus, as well as passengers seated in United First and United Business are permitted to board via a separate lane, designated by its red carpet. When the plane is ready to board, gate agents will make an initial call for those eligible to use red carpet boarding. All passengers using red carpet boarding will be boarded before general boarding begins. There is no ranking or prioritization of passengers within red carpet boarding; passengers are boarded in the order they are standing in the line. Thus, a United Business passenger may board before a United First passenger, if they were first in line. Similarly, a Mileage Plus 1K member may board before a Global Services member, if the 1K member was in line first.

An additional benefit of red carpet boarding is that if a passenger is not present when red carpet boarding is initially announced, any red carpet eligible passenger may enter the red carpet line at any time during boarding. The gate agent will stop general boarding and allow the red carpet passenger to board. This allows those eligible for red carpet boarding to make tighter connections or spend extra time in the airport lounge, without being the last person to board the plane.

Some airports with small United Airlines presences, or sole United Express operations (no mainline flights) may not offer red carpet boarding.

United now follows Continentals procedure of boarding (1) people traveling with children under the age of 4 and those with special needs (2) IN UNIFORM military personnel (3) First Class Business Class and 1K and Continental Presidential on the red carpet (which is to soon be replaced with a blue carpet). (4) Premier Executive Premier Star Alliance Gold and Silver on the RED CARPET (previously these were boarded on the other side). THEN they begin to board from the back of the plane. ZONE numbers are now gone. UPDATE: United will revert back to zone boarding on June 8, 2011.

Premier Executive & Star Alliance Gold boarding

As of November 12, 2008, Premier Executive (1P) members of Mileage Plus and all other Star Alliance Gold-level members are permitted to board after the "red carpet" boarding but prior to general boarding.

General boarding

General boarding begins after red carpet boarding and 1P/Star Gold boarding are complete. General boarding is split into four "seating areas" to optimize the boarding process. Each passenger is assigned a seating area which is prominently displayed on the boarding pass. Within a single seating area, there is no ranking or priority; boarding is based on passengers' order in the boarding line.

General boarding may be interrupted at any time by the arrival of a passenger who is eligible for red carpet boarding. The gate agent will suspend general boarding to allow the red carpet passenger to board.

Seating area 1

Seating area 1 consists of all Mileage Plus Premier and Premier Associate members, as well as passengers with Star Alliance Silver-level status. These elites are included in seating area 1 regardless of the location of their actual seat, and there is no effort to board in "back-to-front" order.

Seating area 2

Seating area 2 consists of all window seat assignments. There is no effort to board in "back-to-front" order.

Seating area 3

Seating area 3 consists of all center seat assignments. There is no effort to board in "back-to-front" order.

Seating area 4

Seating area 4 consists of all aisle seat assignments. There is no effort to board in "back-to-front" order.

Groups traveling together

Groups traveling together are generally allowed to board with the earliest seating area any member of the group is assigned. For example, a Mileage Plus member assigned to seating area 1 and their companion may board together with area 1, even if the companion is seated in area 2, 3, or 4. A 1K member with access to red-carpet boarding may bring traveling companions into the red carpet boarding line, regardless of their status, within reason.