The airline will resume its pre-pandemic boarding process.

By Jessica Poitevien
April 13, 2021
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When the pandemic first hit, the seemingly ironclad practices of the travel industry changed to meet the new safety needs of travelers and employees. Airlines, in particular, limited capacity on planes, blocked middle seats, eliminated change fees, and more. Now, as the world slowly inches toward some semblance of normalcy, many airlines are also reverting back to their pre-pandemic policies.

The latest air carrier to make a change of this kind is United Airlines. The company recently announced that as of April 15, 2021, its flights will no longer board from back to front. Instead, flights will resume United's Better Boarding technique, described as a five-group, two-lane boarding system.

United Airlines plane
Credit: Courtesy of United Airlines

"Last year, United temporarily switched to boarding from the back of the aircraft to the front to improve social distancing," Maddie King, a United Airlines spokeswoman, said in a statement shared with Travel + Leisure. "Now that more customers are returning, this can result in customers gathering in the gate area to wait near the boarding door for their row to be called. This gathering defeats the social distancing purpose of back-to-front boarding."

King also emphasized that this change doesn't come at the expense of passenger safety.

"United has proven the safety of our travel experience — even when the plane is full — through cleaning, onboard HEPA air filtration, and mask requirements. Nothing about United's CleanPlus commitment or mask requirement is changing," she said.

As part of the Better Boarding process, groups will be called one at a time and funnel through two lanes to have their tickets scanned. Passengers can use the United app or opt in for text messages to receive an alert when boarding has begun, eliminating the need to crowd at the gate.

"We know from recent surveys that an orderly boarding experience is one of the things our customers value the most," King said, also explaining why the company decided to return to its usual boarding practices.

Despite the change, King also notes: "To be clear, our policies are guided by our partners at the Cleveland Clinic and Clorox."

Jessica Poitevien is a Travel + Leisure contributor currently based in South Florida, but she's always on the lookout for her next adventure. Besides traveling, she loves baking, talking to strangers, and taking long walks on the beach. Follow her adventures on Instagram.