Figuring out the boarding process for airlines is not always the easiest task because there are so many different types of boarding groups (and sub-groups).
Between pre-boarding and all the elite level passengers, it can be tough to keep tabs on when you need to line up at the gate.
But we’ve got you covered.
In this article, I will break down all of the United Airlines boarding groups and explain to you exactly how the boarding process works including how to avoid getting stuck in the dreaded Group 4 or Group 5 boarding groups.
I will also show you what to expect in terms of things like leg room with the different types of aircraft you might be flying in.
How many boarding groups does United have?
United Airlines has a total of five official boarding groups (plus pre-boarding):
- Pre-boarding (Top tier elites, Military, Disabilities, etc.)
- Group 1 (Business class and first class, upper elite levels)
- Group 2 (Lower elite levels, United credit card holders)
- Group 3 (Economy passengers)
- Group 4 (Economy passengers)
- Group 5 (Basic Economy)
Keep reading below to find out who exactly qualifies for each of these boarding groups.
How soon to arrive before boarding a United flight?
The general rule of thumb is to arrive two hours before departure on a domestic flight and three hours before departure on an international flight.
If you are an experienced traveler or are familiar with the airport and wait times of course you can arrive even sooner than that, especially if you have TSA Pre-Check and/or CLEAR.
Once you get to the airport, the first thing you want to do is confirm the boarding time and gate.
You can usually find the estimated boarding time on your boarding pass. Just note that this time is subject to change depending on the status of delays.
In addition, it’s always possible that your gate could change as well so always keep your eye on the flight monitors located throughout the airport and lounges.
For a lot of flights, you can utilize the United Airlines app and set up push notifications for when boarding begins. Of course, it would still be wise to keep an eye on the time yourself just in case you don’t receive the push notification.
The planes usually start to board about 35 to 50 minutes prior to departure depending on the size of the aircraft. For example, a 737 may begin to board 35 minutes before departure but a 757 will be closer to 50 minutes.
I like to arrive at the gate about 15 minutes prior to the estimated boarding time.
However, if you are flying on a large aircraft and you want to get close to the front of the line you might have to arrive even sooner than 15 minutes before boarding.
Related: How Early Should You Get to the Airport?
How does United Airlines boarding process work?
Once you arrive at the gate to board you should see signs telling you where you need to lineup.
Groups 1 and 2 will be able to line up but United may ask for groups three through five to have a seat until those groups are called at a later time.
Group 1 will board through the blue lane and Group 2 will board through the green lane (as you can see in the photo below).
The remaining Groups 3 to 5 will then board through the green lane when called.
If you are in Group 1 or 2 and show up late, you can always enter through the blue lane and bypass the line of other passengers.
A good practice is to simply walk up to the front of the blue lane and then wait for the agent to motion for you to come forward.
This can avoid situations where other passengers feel like you have rudely cut them off.
Related: What Happens if You Miss Your United Airlines Flight?
Tip: Use the free app WalletFlo to help you travel the world for free by finding the best travel credit cards and promotions!
What order does United board its planes?
I will go into detail about each boarding group below but once again here is a summary of the order of United boarding groups per United’s website.
- Pre-boarding (Top tier elites, Military, Disabilities, etc.)
- Group 1 (Business class and first class, mid elite levels)
- Group 2 (Lower elite levels, United credit card holders)
- Groups 3 – 5 (Economy passengers)
Unaccompanied minors are children who are 5 to 14 years old and traveling without a parent, legal guardian or someone who is at least 18 years old. There are special rules regarding traveling as an unaccompanied minor and you can read more about those here.
Customers with disabilities
If you have a visible disability (such as being in a wheel chair, on crutches, etc.), you will be able to board without questions.
But if your disability is not as apparent, you should speak to a gate agent about getting priority boarding.
Remember that preboarding is something you self identify for so a gate agent should be very careful about pushing back on your reasoning for needing preboarding.
Typically, the gate agent should make an announcement about boarding with a disability but they may not. However, those with disabilities should be called before elite members, members of the military, passengers with small children, etc.
Related: Guide to Visiting Airports & Flying with Vision Impairments.
Active members of the military
United Airlines does not require active members of the military to be in their military uniform.
Related: check out all of the benefits military members can take advantage of when flying.
United Global Services members
United Global Services is the top elite status for United Airlines.
It is somewhat mysterious in that you have to get invited to join this status. The requirements have a lot to do with the amount of money that you spend and the types of airfare that you book. You can read more about United Global Services and the requirements for it here.
Families traveling with children age 2 and younger
If you are traveling with children two years or younger, you can also get pre-boarding.
Premier 1K members
Premier 1K is the second highest elite membership level. This elite level is not an invite only status and can be earned by meeting the following requirements:
|Premier level||PQF and PQP Requirement|
|Premier Silver||12 PQF and 4,000 PQP or 5,000 PQP|
|Premier Gold||24 PQF and 8,000 PQP or 10,000 PQP|
|Premier Platinum||36 PQF and 12,000 PQP or 15,000 PQP|
|Premier 1K||54 PQF and 18,000 PQP or 24,000 PQP|
Group 1 caters to the mid-level elite members and also to anybody flying first class, business class, or Polaris.
Premier Platinum members
Platinum is the elite level just under 1K.
Premier Gold members
Premier Gold is the level just under Platinum.
Star Alliance Gold members
Star Alliance Gold status is the higher level of Star Alliance status and you will receive this if you are a United Premier Gold member. This status is useful because it comes with lounge perks.
Customers seated in premium cabins: United Polaris, United First and United Business
If you are flying in the front of the plane (United Polaris, United First, and United Business) then you will be able to board with Group One.
If you are flying on a large aircraft like the Dreamliner the line in Group 1 can get quite long so you may want to arrive extra early to the gate if you want to be the first to board. To find out more about the United first class experience click here.
Group Two is for the lower-elite members and also for certain customers who have co-branded cards or who have purchased priority boarding perks. This line can be pretty long sometimes, too.
Premier Silver members
United Premier Silver is the lowest level of the status with United Airlines. This status can easily be achieved and you can even get it with Marriott status. Click here to read more about United Silver status.
Star Alliance Silver members
Star Alliance Silver status is the lowest level of Star Alliance status and you will receive this if you are a United Premier Silver member.
Customers who have purchased Premier Access or Priority Boarding
Even if you don’t have elite status and you are not flying business class or first class you can still get upgraded to priority boarding by purchasing it or by purchasing Premier Access.
Priority boarding prices start at $15 and whether or not it’s worth it just depends on how much you value getting on board earlier.
If you choose to purchase Premier Access, in addition to Priority Boarding, you’ll also enjoy the convenience of dedicated airport check-in lines and exclusive security lanes, where available. Read more about purchasing Premier Access.
United Explorer, Club, Presidential Plus and Awards Cardmembers
If you are a United cobranded cardholder for the Explorer Card, United Club Card, or Presidential Plus Card you can also get priority boarding.
I am a big fan of the Explorer card because it offers some great benefits like free checked baggage (even on international flights), priority boarding, increased award inventory, and you also get two free day passes to United Club lounges each year. And on top of that the Explorer card often comes with a great welcome bonus.
- Related Reading: Best Credit Cards for United Airlines Miles
Tip: Check out the free app WalletFlo so that you can optimize your credit card spend by seeing the best card to use! You can also track credits, annual fees, and get notifications when you’re eligible for the best cards!
Groups 3, 4, and 5
Groups 3 through 5 don’t line up until the others have begin boarding and it consists of pretty much everybody in economy class. The secret to getting a Group 3 vs Group 4 or Group 5 boarding group is to pick the right type of seat.
Economy passengers who choose a window seat should get Group 3, passengers who pick a middle or aisle seat should get Group 4, and passengers who choose Basic Economy will get Group 5.
This order is optimized so that passengers don’t have to trample over each other and I confirmed with a United representative that they were still utilizing this order as of late 2022.
Economy Plus will get Group 3 although the United rep I spoke with said it’s possible for them to also get Group 4.
Economy plus is the slightly more expensive version of economy that allows you to have more leg room.
The prices for upgrading to economy plus will vary depending on the location of the seat and the duration of the route.
If you have United elite status you will often get bumped up from economy to economy plus. (This is the case even with the lowest level of status.)
Traditional economy tickets will board before basic economy.
If you purchased a basic economy ticket you will be the last to board.
Basic economy tickets are the cheapest type of tickets and they do not come with privileges such as bringing on a free carry on or being able to select a seat.
These are not very ideal for families traveling who would like to stick together on the plane but if you are just trying to find the cheapest way to get from point A to point B this could be a good option.
There is an exception to note here. Premier members, Chase Cardmembers of qualifying cards and Star Alliance Gold members, will still receive their priority boarding.
Related: United Airlines Basic Economy vs Economy (Key Differences)
Bringing on a carry-on
If you are in the first few groups, you shouldn’t have any issues bringing on a carry-on to the aircraft but if you are boarding at the end, such as in Group 4 or Group 5 it’s possible that you might not have enough room for your carry-on in the over head bins.
In that case, you’ll need to gate check your bag. (Read here for more about what type of luggage you can bring on to the plane).
Related: Airline Overhead Storage Bin Etiquette Guide
Choosing a seat on United Airlines
The seats are assigned on United airlines. So unlike the Southwest boarding process, you’ll have a seat dedicated to you. You can choose your seat whenever you purchase your ticket or at the time of check-in.
United seating details (seating chart)
Below is what you can expect in terms of leg room and seats with different United aircraft.
Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner
- Business: 6’6″ pitch; 20.6″ width
- Economy Plus: 35″ pitch; 17.3″ width
- Economy: 30″ pitch; 16.3″ to 17.3″
Boeing 777-200 (777)
- Business: 6’4″ to 6’6″ pitch; 18.8″ to 22″ width
- Economy Plus: 34″ pitch; 18.1″ width
- Economy: 31″ pitch; 17.2″ to 18.1″ width
Boeing 777-300ER (77W)
- Business/Polaris: 6’6″ pitch; 18.8″ to 22″ width
- United Premium Plus: 38″ pitch; 18.5″ width
- Economy Plus: 34″ pitch; 17.05″ width
- Economy: 31″ pitch; 17.05″ width
- Business: 38″ pitch;
- Economy Plus: 34″ to 38″ pitch;
- Economy: 30″ pitch;
Boeing 737-800 (738)
- Business: 37″ pitch; 20.5″ width
- Economy Plus: 34″ pitch; 16.3″ to 17.3″ width
- Economy: 30″ pitch; 16.3″ to 17.3″ width
Airbus 320 (320)
- Business: 39″ pitch; 19″ width
- Economy Plus: 35″ pitch; 17″ width
- Economy: 30″ pitch; 17″ width
There are several other different types of aircraft and also different versions of those planes. So if you want to check out a complete list of all of those click here.
United boarding FAQ
Pre-boarding (Top tier elites, Military, Disabilities, etc.)
Group 1 (Business class in first class, upper elite levels)
Group 2 (Lower elite levels, United credit card holders)
Group 3 (Economy window passengers)
Group 4 (Economy aisle/middle passengers)
Group 5 (Basic Economy)
You can get priority boarding by having elite status with United or by holding certain credit cards such as the Chase United Explorer card. You can also get priority boarding by flying in a premium cabin such as business class.
Your boarding time should be printed on your boarding pass. You can also use the United app.
Just be aware that boarding times are subject to change so always verify the boarding time by looking at the flight monitors at the airport.
Active military members can board during pre-boarding. They are not required to be in uniform.
Families traveling with children ages two or younger can board during pre-boarding.
Silver members will board with Group 2.
Chase United Explorer cardmembers will get to board with group two.
It’s very easy to get priority boarding with United so that you board within the first two groups. In fact, it’s so easy that many times you’ll find that these lines are very long. If you’re not able to get a boarding position in the first two groups, consider choosing a window seat so that you can board the plane in Group 3 and stay away from the basic economy tickets that will have you boarding last.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.
There’s one other way that I know of to get higher priority. My employer has negotiated with United to get special rates and anyone traveling United in Economy automatically gets priority zone 3. While not everyone has an employer whose employees travel enough to warrant such contracts, the relevance here is that those in zones 4 or 5 may find the aisle seats already occupied by one of us who got priority boarding thanks to our employer’s largesse.
When you have priority zone 3, do you board with group 3? My employer also pays for this but I’ve been forced to check my bags even in group 3 a couple of times now which is becoming quite a hassle when I just need to get in and out of the airport.