United Airlines Boarding Groups — Everything You Need to Know

United At Gate

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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 their 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.

United Airlines has made several changes to their boarding process recently, and for the average flyer it has been a bit tough to follow. Luckily we’re here to help.

Below we’ll go through all the details of United’s boarding process. You can learn how many boarding groups they have, 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 1-5. Each passenger is assigned to one of these groups for boarding, and there are lines for each group set up at the gate.

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

  • Premier Silver members
  • Star Alliance™ Silver members
  • Customers who have purchased Premier Access® or Priority Boarding
  • United Explorer℠ Card , Club, Presidential Plus, and Awards Credit Card members

Group 3-5

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

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

New Boarding Process

United New Boarding Testing
United’s new boarding procedure involves only 2 lanes instead of the old 5.

The new United process reduces 5 lines to 2.

Group 1 and Group 2 line up to board.

Once they are onboard, Groups 3-5 are called to board through lane 2.

Priority Boarding

United Airlines has recently started selling Priority Boarding for some flights.

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 they get 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 onboard if you don’t purchase the service.

Priority Boarding will start at $9, but pricing will be variable based on the flight booked, date, time of day, and day of the week. In other words, they can charge whatever they want 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 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.

Recommended Chase Cards (Personal)

Recommended Chase Cards (Business)

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 procedure that they use on almost all their flights all over the world. Knowing where you fit into that process can simplify your travel experience.

Even if you understand the current boarding process, however, the new boarding process in testing and the Priority Boarding available for purchase may change the boarding process for your specific flight or situation.

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.

Featured Image courtesy of Shutterstock.com.


How many boarding groups are there on United?

United has 5 numbered boarding groups plus a group of passengers who are eligible to pre-board, for a total of 6 boarding groups.

How does United determine their 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 United Explorer℠ Card, Club, Presidential Plus and Awards Credit Card members.

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 pre-board 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® members can pre-board on United.


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

  2. Scot Hudson · June 24, 2018 · Reply

    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.

    • Jeff Brownson · September 5, 2018 · Reply

      @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.

    • Jeff Brownson · January 22, 2019 · Reply

      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.

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