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Window vs. aisle: United Airlines WILMA boarding pits passengers against each other

By Jake Beardslee · October 27, 2023

In brief…

  • United implemented a new WILMA boarding system for economy passengers
  • Under WILMA, window seats board first, then middle, then aisle seats
  • Many customers expressed anger over the new system on social media
  • United says WILMA speeds up boarding, but critics argue it's unfair
United Airlines' new WILMA boarding system for economy passengers is garnering significant backlash on social media, even as the airline says it makes the process faster.  MarcelX42 / Wikimedia

United Airlines has implemented a controversial new boarding procedure for economy passengers known as WILMA (window, middle, aisle). The system, which was previously used until 2017, involves economy passengers boarding in groups based on their seat assignments.

Under WILMA, passengers with window seats board first, followed by those in the middle seats, and finally those in the aisle seats. United says this method “helps ease congestion of the plane’s aisles and ultimately speeds up the time it takes for all fliers to take their seats.”

However, many customers are unhappy with the new system. As Ross Smith stated on X, “With this approach, window seat passengers will have first dibs on overhead bins. Unless the gate personnel strictly enforce the 2 item rule, I predict some interesting dialogue and disruptions to occur during boarding.”

Critics argue that boarding from the back of the plane would make more sense. Others say WILMA means they will now board separately from their travel companions booked in the same row. Some customers called for United to limit carry-on bags to make the system fairer.

But not all feedback was negative. One person commented on a “Today Show” TikTok about the new boarding system: “I travel two times a month and I hate having to wait for aisle people to get up for my window seat.”

WILMA only applies to economy travelers. First class boards first, followed by business class in group 2. The new system has 6 boarding groups total, plus preboarding for disabled passengers and others.