United Airlines Boarding Groups — Everything You Need To Know

United Boarding Area

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Update: Due to COVID-19, United requires all passengers and crew to wear a mask throughout their flight. Masks will be provided at no cost if customers need them.

Nothing can start your trip off on the wrong foot quite like a confusing and frustrating boarding process before you even get on the plane. Airlines, however, don’t seem to recognize this issue. Either that, or it’s not a major priority!

Every airline has its own boarding process. They are all different, they sometimes make little sense, and if you don’t travel regularly, you may have trouble understanding what’s going on when it’s time to board your flight.

Let’s go through all the details of United’s boarding process. You can learn how many boarding groups it has, which passengers belong in which groups, and how to make getting from the gate onto the plane as easy and stress-free as possible.

United Boarding Groups

United uses 6 groups for boarding: Pre-Boarding and numbered Groups 1 to 5. Each passenger is assigned to one of these groups for boarding, and there are 2 lanes for boarding set up at the gate.

Group 1 and Group 2 line up to board first — Group 1 at the blue lane and Group 2 at the green lane. Once they are on board, Groups 3 to 5 are called to board through the green lane.

United Boarding Group Process
United’s boarding procedure involves 2 lanes to expedite boarding. Image Credit: United

If you qualify for certain pre-boarding or membership categories, you can board ahead of your assigned group. In all cases, you can board with the first group you qualify for.


  • Unaccompanied minors
  • Customers with disabilities
  • Uniformed members of the U.S. military
  • Families traveling with children age 2 and younger
  • United Global Services members
  • Premier 1K members

Group 1

Group 2

Groups 3 to 5

  • Economy Plus passengers
  • United Economy passengers
  • Basic Economy passengers*

*Basic Economy passengers with elite status, a Chase United credit card, or Star Alliance status board according to their regular group.

Priority Boarding

Priority Boarding is marketed to those passengers who do not have any other elite status or card membership, and it would allow them to board ahead of their assigned group. Passengers who purchase Priority Boarding will be able to board with Group 2.

United says that this is a good opportunity for passengers to make sure there will be a place for their carry-on bag since space often runs out by the time it gets to Group 4 and 5. Critics say that this is a way for United to effectively charge for carry-on bags.

As it is a fairly new option, it remains to be seen how popular Priority Boarding will be and whether it will, in fact, make it more difficult to get your carry-on bag on board if you don’t purchase the service.

Priority Boarding starts at $15, but pricing varies based on the flight booked, date, time of day, and day of the week. In other words, United can charge whatever it wants for the service. Hopefully, pricing will remain rather low.

Hot Tip: For an overview of other add-ons and fees, check out our in-depth review of United Airlines

How To Build Up Your United MileagePlus Miles Balance

If you’re like us at Upgraded Points, you prefer to use miles and points to pay for your flights instead of cash. If you want to fly with United, you will want to earn some MileagePlus miles.

The quickest way to build up your United MileagePlus balance is with credit cards — either using huge sign-up bonuses or through your daily spending.

To get United miles, you can either earn them directly with one of the co-branded United cards from Chase (for example, the United Explorer card), or you can earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points and transfer them 1:1 to United MileagePlus. The latter is certainly our preferred method, as Chase points are easy to earn and you can transfer them to many different partners, not just United.

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Remember that these cards are all issued by Chase, so they fall under the 5/24 rule. You need to pay attention to that when you are planning to apply.

Final Thoughts

No matter how complex a boarding process is, it’s usually fairly easy to follow if you know what to expect before you get to the gate.

United Airlines has a detailed 2-lane procedure that it uses on almost all of its flights all over the world. Knowing where you fit into that process can simplify your travel experience.

To best prepare for your flight, be sure to familiarize yourself with all of the possible procedures we’ve gone over here. That way, no matter what happens, you will be ready to go and be on the plane with ease.

The information regarding the United Club℠ Card, United Club℠ Business Card, United MileagePlus® Awards Card, United℠ Presidential Plus℠ Card, and Chase Freedom Unlimited® card was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer. 

Frequently asked questions

How many boarding groups are there on United?

United has 6 boarding groups: 5 numbered boarding groups and a group of passengers who are eligible to preboard.

How does United determine its boarding groups?

Pre-boarding is available to qualified passengers. Groups 1 and 2 are made up of passengers with elite status in MileagePlus and partner programs, as well as those passengers seated in premium cabins. Group 2 also includes United co-branded credit card members and passengers who have purchased Priority Boarding.

Group 3 includes passengers in window seats. Group 4 includes passengers in middle seats. Group 5 includes passengers in aisle seats and all Basic Economy passengers.

Are United Airlines flights assigned seating?

Yes, United Airlines flights are assigned seating. You can choose your seat when you book your flight or at any time up until check-in.

Who is Group 1 on United?

Group 1 on United includes Premier 1K members, Premier Platinum members, and Premium cabin passengers seated in United Polaris first class, United Polaris business class, United First, or United Business.

Who is Group 2 on United?

Group 2 on United includes Premier Gold members, Star Alliance Gold members, Premier Silver members, Star Alliance Silver members, customers who have purchased Premier Access, as well as cardholders of specific United credit cards.

Who is Group 3 on United?

Group 3 on United includes passengers seated in a window seat in Economy Plus or United Economy.

Who is Group 4 on United?

Group 4 on United includes passengers seated in a middle seat in Economy Plus or United Economy.

Who is Group 5 on United?

Group 5 on United includes passengers seated in an aisle seat in Economy Plus or United Economy.

Who can preboard on United?

Unaccompanied minors, customers with disabilities, uniformed members of the U.S. military, families traveling with children age 2 and younger, and United Global Services and Premier 1K members can preboard on United.

Jeff Brownson

About Jeff Brownson

Since discovering miles and points in 2010, Jeff has traveled to over 35 countries, flying in first class, business class, and sometimes even in coach. Whether he’s staying in a hostel dorm, or in a luxury suite at a 5 star hotel, Jeff is constantly looking for the best deal to make travel as close to free as possible.

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Disclaimer: Any comments listed below are not from the bank advertiser, nor have they been reviewed or approved by them. No responsibility will be taken by the bank advertiser for these comments.


  1. So basically they are “inventing” the American Airlines boarding process where everyone just crowds the gate 🙂


  2. Scot Hudson June 24, 2018

    My wife and I annually travel to the US from the UK, more often or not with Unites Airlines. The boarding process can be a lottery, as witnessed with multiple trips in the last 2 weeks, where I observed customers from Group 4 consistently boarding in Group 3 by placing their thumb over the Grouping No. on their boarding pass. My wife and I were Group 4 and consistently found that there was little to no overhead storage available, annoying given we had paid for Economy Plus tickets.
    Also can I ask why UK customers cannot apply for the Mileage Plus Explorer Card? We hold the current Mileage Plus Card, as issued by MBNA within the UK, it doesn’t seem unreasonable that all United Customers qualify for all advantages when using the same airline given MBNA act as the airline credit card issuers within the United Kingdom.


  3. This is wrong, Platinum is still just group 2… Basically this garbage airline charges you a ton of money to give you the opportunity to get treated like crap on a delayed flight. Just hit Platinum and it legitimately comes with no useful perks that gold doesn’t have unless some reading you are booking the tickets for 8 additional people on your account… United is the worst, I hate that I am stuck flying with them so much.


    • @brady Sorry you are unhappy with United and don’t have many other options. I’m not sure where you are getting the information that Platinum boards with Group 2. According to the official policy for United, Platinum is part of Group 1 boarding. This is not to say that every gate agent knows and follows the proper procedure. Unfortunately, you may have just had bad luck with your boarding agents.


  4. Hey Jeff, so I’m a pilot for Air Wisconsin, they are under United Express. We use our standby quite a bit but sometimes see tickets pop up when we are in our standby portal and just buy them at a fraction of the standard cost, for the first time my girlfriend tried basic economy and was placed in group 3, the lady that issued her ticket said that since she’s in group 3 she should be able to have a carry on, but she didn’t have one for the flight, she forgot to ask the gate agent to see if this was indeed accurate. From reading I saw that basic economy should board in group 5. Any idea why she was placed in 3 and if she is placed in 3 that she could have a carry on even though she’s basic economy? Also she was sitting in a middle seat.


    • Hi David. Unfortunately, I’m not quite sure what happened with this booking. United states that passengers who purchase Basic Economy tickets will be in the last boarding group, which would be Group 5. My only thought is that because you were booking through the employee portal, the boarding group may be improved. I don’t know for a fact that this is the case since I don’t have access to that portal, but I can’t think of another reason she would have ended up in Group 3.

      As far as the carry-on question, I will give you a solid maybe. Basic Economy tickets are not entitled to carry-on bags, no matter what group they board with. If her boarding pass still said Basic Economy, the gate agents could have stopped her if she tried to board with a bag. However, if Basic Economy was missing from her boarding pass when she was given Group 3 boarding, she probably would have been ok. Also, since Basic Economy passengers are usually in Group 5, it is quite possible that the gate agents would not have noticed if she took a carry-on with her in Group 3. Sorry that I couldn’t be more clear in my answers, but United doesn’t give me any access to their internal booking procedures (I wish they did!). Your best bet may be to contact your benefits office and ask how the booking and boarding process works for tickets booked through the portal.


  5. I am a frequent flyer and member of AA Conceirge Key. Flying 1st class from IAD to BOS. Surprised that there is no real early boarding for 1st Class. There were at least 50 people in Group 1. Hard to find space for my bag; why pay so much more?


    • Hey Tim. I’m not sure what you mean with this comment. Were you flying AA or UA? Your status on AA wouldn’t have anything to do with a UA flight. If on UA, their Group 1 includes several passenger groups, but it would be surprising to see it be 50 people unless the gate agents combined Groups 1-2 or something like that. Also, can you clarify what you paid so much more for?


  6. If I’m traveling with 2 kids, what group will we board if we will have, window, middle and aisle seats? I can’t send them to board alone.


    • Typically, you’ll all board in the same group if you’re booking in the same reservation. Unless you booked tickets separately, you’ll all have the same boarding group.


  7. Hello Jeff.

    I am Platinum member so I board in group 1 but I always travel with companions that make different reservations and they are group 3 or 4. My question is can they board with me in group 1 and if they can how many passengers can board with me? Thank you for your time.


    • Hey German,

      Unfortunately, this is not allowed. If you’d like companions to board with you, they’ll need to be booked on the same reservation. Thanks for reading!


  8. What if you use Chase Ultimate Rewards Points to purchase a ticket, but you’re a United Explorer card holder, do you still get Group 2 boarding?


    • Hi Tiffany. Yes, you should get Group 2 boarding. You need to make sure your frequent flyer number is on the reservation, however. Chase can add your frequent flyer number or you can use your United record locator number on the United web site to bring up your reservation and add your MileagePlus number.


  9. Mary Sullivan February 10, 2020

    So where does international premium economy board? They don’t seem to be included in any group discussed here.


  10. I just booked a first class ticket from IAH to SAN, interestingly they are offering me to purchase priority boarding… A little confused here, shouldn’t I be in group 1 anyway?


  11. Booked First Class on Dreamliner LAX-EWR but boarding pass says Group 2.


  12. I am travelling with an infant. How do I go about pre-boarding? Do I request it at check-in or at the gate?


    • Hi Johanna,

      You will automatically be eligible for pre-boarding, no need to request it. When they call for pre-boarding over the PA you may board with your child. Safe travels!


  13. Cecilia Ray October 8, 2021

    I see that the calculator said my check in bag from IAH to CUN will be $30-35. Why does my fare options say “1st checked bag per passenger is $70” with an Economy ticket?


    • Hi Cecilia,

      I’m not sure why it would be showing you 2 separate prices? Have you contacted the United customer service team directly to find out which charge is accurate?


  14. Hey Jeff/Jarrod!
    The boarding groups chart is missing some factors. Premier members with United branded credit cards board with group 1 even at silver status and certainly once achieving gold+.
    Samantha H


  15. Hello,

    Say that you have 50K status with Air Canada’s Aeroplan which qualifies you for Star Alliance Gold but are flying on United Airlines and wish to credit the flight to your MileagePlus number for whatever reason. Can you show your Star Alliance Gold card and board in Group 2 if that isn’t the Group Number printed on the boarding card? Or, would you absolutely have to have your Aeroplan account listed on the reservation instead of MileagePlan to board with Group 2?

    Thank you.


    • Hi Ryan,

      To my knowledge, you would need to have your Air Canada number linked to the reservation in order to take advantage of your Star Alliance Gold benefits.


Any thoughts or questions? Comment below!

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