In an effort to combat lengthy boarding times, United Airlines is changing its approach to passenger embarkation. From 26 October 2023, United passengers booked to travel in economy class window seats will board before others.
First and business class customers will be boarded as they always have, as will those who fall into “pre-boarding”, such as flyers who require special assistance, unaccompanied minors, members of the military on active duty, and families making trips with children aged up to two years old.
WILMA saves two minutes per flight
Group 4 passengers will be the ones who notice a difference. From this week on, a boarding protocol dubbed WILMA, an acronym for “window, middle, aisle”, will now be implemented. Boarding window passengers first, middle passengers second, and aisle customers afterwards, a process that has been around for years, has been shown in tests carried out at four domestic U.S. airports and one international hub, to save up to two minutes of boarding time, according to Chicago-based United.
Two minutes saved per flight might seem like a drop in the ocean but can make the difference between an aircraft meeting its take-off slot and not – and, given the current U.S. aviation crisis, anything that can contribute to more efficient scheduling is likely to be welcomed.
Recruitment problems or scheduling?
The U.S. aviation sector has recently faced huge scheduling issues and delays, causing customers to complain about cancellations and disruption more than any other factor in the last decade, the U.S. Public Interest Group has found after analysing complaints to the Department of Transportation.
Some of the sector’s woes are due to a shortfall of around 32,000 commercial pilots, mechanics and air traffic controllers, according to CBS News who scrutinised FAA, Department of Transportation and Department of Labor data. But Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is also investigating whether unrealistic airline schedules are to blame.
If an airline is knowingly flying an unrealistic schedule, there are going to be consequences.Pete Buttigieg, US Transportation Secretary
“If an airline is knowingly flying an unrealistic schedule, there are going to be consequences,” Buttigieg has said. “We take that very seriously because when you sell a ticket to a paying customer and you make a profit off of that, you better be ready to do everything in your power to service that ticket. And we’re also going to hold you responsible for what happens if you can’t.”
Last week United announced $1.14 billion (around 950 million euros) in earnings for 2023’s third quarter, but the profit outlook is less promising for rest of the year. The carrier’s adjusted profit forecasts are down on Wall Street estimates between 29 cents and 59 cents per share, as a result of soaring jet fuel prices and the Israel-Hamas war and its impact on flights.