Should US military be allowed to board before first class?

What could be more fun than a bit of Wednesday evening controversy? Rumor has it that the new United will be adopting a different boarding process starting May 11, which seems to mostly be based on the previous Continental system. Now, based on this FlyerTalk thread you’d think it’s a life or death issue, which I don’t see it as. I firmly believe that the plane will leave the gate regardless of how the plane is boarded, though I will say that I find United’s process to be a bit more efficient. That being said, I’m not losing sleep either way.

One of the more controversial aspects of the boarding process, however, is that US military members will be able to board before first class. Among Americans, very few people are questioning that, and those that are questioning it are being called names. From a patriotic standpoint I can certainly see the point of boarding military first (though is it necessary that they board before first class, as opposed to with first class?). At the same time, I think FlyerTalk member fastair raises some very valid points about regional patriotism in this post.

So what say you? For an international airline, should active military be invited to board before first class, with first class, or with whatever boarding group they naturally fall into?

Filed Under: Travel
  1. Who does it hurt? I mean really. How many military are on the average flight? 1, 2? It costs no one anything and makes them feel appreciated.

  2. As a member of the military, I don’t care when I board as long as I have a seat. However, sometimes an upgrade to First Class is a nice “thank you” gesture from the airline. Two other things people should keep in mind when military personnel are offered “extracurricular treatment:”

    1) They are probably returning from Iraq or Afgahnistan on a rotator flight (a flight that is managed by the lowest bidder, deduce from that what you will!), so an upgrade is always welcomed compared to uncomfortably being squeezed into a rotator flight returning from war.
    2) The Government is required to buy fully refundable tickets when flying commercial. They aren’t hunting for cheap seats or deal.

    And then, I could always wave the flag, because no matter what our “chosen profession” is, we’re still sacrificing for you and yours 🙂

  3. Who really cares except for people that require constant stroking of their egos. In the past few years that CO has been boarding this way I have boarded maybe 2 uniformed military men.

  4. I think they should board right after first class, but before everyone else. They have a ton of carryons usually that need to be put overhead.

    I remember I was on a flight with about 5 military personnel on it. First class was pretty empty so the FAs upgraded all of them for free. I”m sure this happens all the time for you more frequent fliers, but it really made an impression on me.

  5. For domestic flights, I think it’s a nice touch to let them board before first class. Our military guys are way underpaid for the job they do and the risks they take.

    For international flights, though, it’s a different story.

  6. Let them stand in line like the rest of us! They’re supposed to be in fighting shape. That’s their job, isn’t it? If anything, they ought to stand around and board last!

  7. I personally don’t have a problem with military boarding first. Howeva, I do also agree with fastair that this seems like a move pandering to the public’s patriotism (alliteration unintentional). Imagine if LH had a policy that all German military could board first. Odd.

    Also, if the switch to the CO boarding order is true, I’m mostly unhappy about it. While I would appreciate the blue carpet access as a 1P, it would also mean more gate lice as everyone and their mothers (GS, 1K, 1P, 2P, all the CO elites) line up on the carpet 20 minutes before boarding so they’re not 50th in line and possibly losing out on overhead bin space. It’s gonna get even crazier, I tell ya.

    Also, if it’s really true that families with small kids board BEFORE elites, I have a problem with that (as a father of 2 kids who would qualify for that benefit). The last time I flew CO with my family, families boarded AFTER elites, but before everyone else. That could be retained. Why not before elites? Because not everyone is as efficient as me and my wife (and yes, we are efficient and keep out of the aisles).

  8. As a retired military member I am torn on this one. While it is a nice gesture, I guess that it seems that airlines are pandering to a kind of cheap patriotic gesture.

    @Ann – military members are not as under-paid as you think that they are. An E-6 with 10 years on separate rations, has a total compensation package that when compared to civilian pay is somewhere near 110K. Not to bad for someone without any college education and as little as 4-6 weeks of technical training.

  9. I’m in favor, in fact, I prefer the “all uniformed military first” category, not just US Mil.

    Since I work in DC quite often, it is common for me to see members of different countries’ services having breakfast together in the free-breakfast area. Imagine if they then took a flight together and the US Mil boarded first and the guest Mil boarded later or even last. That’s no way to treat a guest in our country.

    That said, I’ve heard CO GAs say, “All uniformed US Mil,” or “All US Mil in uniform or with ID” or “All uniformed Mil”. It makes me wonder what the real policy actually is, and why GA training isn’t consistent.

  10. It’s a shame the military personnel of the Vietnam era weren’t treated at least half as nice. They certainly weren’t treated as American “heros” even thought over 50,000 made the ultimate sacrifice. Glad to see times have changed!

  11. Fastair ought to be ashamed of himself. Those in the military have shown loyalty far beyond anyone who is part of a rewards program.

  12. As a non-US citizen, I have been watching the country’s shift towards security, militarism, and control with dismay.

    More than the specific policy, the fact that this topic is essentially out of bounds on the pain of being labelled unpatriotic, is concerning.

  13. I’ll stay out of the military boarding discussion. I do find it ironic that the boarding first issue comes down to ONE thing. OVERHEAD space!

    People made fun of Southwest’s boarding process and called it a cattle call but it just seems like all of the airlines are about the same now, although they may be segregated by class.

    The first class DYKWIA people tend to mostly try to finagle their way one board so they can stuff excess luggage in the overhead bins. Hey it is suppose to be one CARRY ON sized bag and one personal item, NOT two pieces of luggage. And a significant number of women purses now are the sized of a small overnight bag. Argh.

    Sometimes I think the worst thing that has happened is the reward programs, especially the free upgrades for elites. Now everyone stresses over getting the upgrade they think they are entitled to and get PO when they don’t get them.

    I’ll get to observe this on my flights tomorrow heading over the London.

    (If it matters, I’m CP on US Airways although most of my life I was nothing 🙂 )

  14. I think it’s a great idea and really can’t understand why anyone would care. Whether you agree with the war or not the troops deserve our respect for what they do.

  15. I have only read fastairs post on ft, so I may come back but heres how I feel.

    @ peter, and sfogate. Yes who cares is right. Who cares if they stand in line luke everybody else.

    @ other ben. I am sorry but I am an elite far more important to the airline, than non elite passagers military included.

    I guess I just dont see why military members should board ahead of first class, more job as in sales does not allow me any extra treatment. I guess the arguement that lives are being put on the line doesnt do it for me.

    I earned benfits with UA, and deserve the extra trearment I get, plain and simple.

    I fully support and thank every member of our military. But you just like me, no better, no worse. If you havent earned what i have then you shouldnt be given it by default.

  16. We’ve traditionally been a country of citizen soldiers and have always shunned anything that smacks of military elitism or preference. So this sort of bothers me from that angle. At the same time, there is a practical aspect since so many active-duty service people have loads of carry-ons and this might speed up the boarding process. There may also be a PR angle for the airline here. But I have a hard time reading “patriotism” into any of this–pro or con.

  17. I hate UA’s zones. Back to front has always made the most sense to me. That way you don’t end up with some yahoo in row 11 blocking the aisle for 5 minutes while the traffic backs up out the door.

  18. Ben — I know you are busy, but go back and read the full thread. This really isn’t about military boarding first, last, or in the middle. It’s about CO yet again declaring that they are superior to United — everything they do is right, and everything UA does is wrong. The attitude of some of their employees is amazing. I’ve even had CO agents on the Plat line tell me how much better they are than their UA counterparts! Seriously.

  19. It’s very true that many members of our military make important sacrifices and work in what can be very dangerous jobs. I understand the motivation behind wanting to see them board first, a la “someone should buy those guys a beer.” Someone most certainly should.

    However, if we’re going to go that route: what about firemen? What about policemen? Doctors? First responders? Teachers? etc. etc…

    Basically, if you want to turn the elite boarding process from “silly perks for privileged jerks” (and I say that as a privileged jerk) into “boarding order based on how good of a person you are”*, then why stop with the military?

    *or “boarding order based on how many brownie points the airlines earn by superficially praising your chosen career while still sending you through the nude-o-scope, confiscating your full-sized bottle of shampoo, patting you down like a criminal, and refusing to board your checked bags if you’re running late”, all things I’ve seen done to UNIFORMED military personnel.

  20. How you American allow yourselves to be brainwashed into think these people are “heroes” is beyond me, especially after how the people who were DRAFTED for Vietnam were treated.

    Current military personnels VOLUNTEER to murder innocent civilians in order to protect American oil interests, and get paid a crap load for the “risks”.

    Boarding before first class, and even free upgrades, you’ve gotta be kidding me.

  21. I could go either way on this one. I like being one of the first on board, as it is nice to just get settled and get bags in the overhead compartments before everyone else. I think optimally they board with the Premiers, that way they get on plenty early, but the elites get on a little earlier.

  22. Just a matter of time until Jewnited starts selling Military Boarding upgrades at the check-in Kiosk to anyone wearing a fatigue hat. If you purchase it (for $29, given the new Continental imprint), you will be exempt from TSA screening and offered your meal choice in advance of Global Service members. Shhhhhh but could you believe Uncle sam is Only *Silver?…

  23. As a current servicemember, I think for those traveling in uniform, fine, but not really necessary otherwise. A nice gesture, but United has been good to us overall. When I redeployed from Iraq a few years ago, it was on a United charter out of Kuwait and the crew was just fantastic. And for a good while, they were giving us Economy Plus on official travel, as well as free drinks on occasion.

  24. @ Carl
    Have you ever had a civilian offer you his FC seat? (I did this once on a short/ LGA-DCA shuttle segment) and the guy couldn’t have been more appreciative- yet refused. Regardless, I told the FA to send him back a few mini’s on me. I really admire those who have the courage to serve, cause I sure as hell don’t.

  25. What about non-American F class international traveler? The American military has nothing to do with them, yet their right, which they paid for it, is robbed by the airline, as a gesture of American patriotism.

  26. It’s simple, these guys are putting their lives on the line to fight for your right to freely say whatever you want. Is it really a big deal to thank them for that by letting them board before you? Oh, the horror?

    Not to take anything away from police officers, fire fighters, teachers, etc. – but these people are not fighting for the freedoms you enjoy, even though they do admirable jobs. I don’t think boarding first is for people who do admirable jobs, it’s a specific thank you to the people of the military who allow this country to be free.

  27. @JRL that little “Jewnited” comment of yours should get you banged out. It’s out of line and HIGHLY offensive.

    As an AA ExPlat with a 100% upgrade clearance rate for the year as well as being the proud son and nephew of Vietnam Veterans and also have friends and family serving in war zones and throughout the world I can’t believe this is even an issue.

    Are they taking your seat? No! Is your upgrade not going to clear because of them? No! Let uniformed military board first. It is the absolute smallest token of thanks and appreciation that we can possibly give them and it’s free!

    Maybe I was raised differently because of what my father and my uncles went through after Vietnam.

  28. I agree with Sam. I feel bad for those kids sent to die for large corporations to countries they have never heard of before, fighting in fabricated, pointless wars… but the rest is totally true.

  29. As a private company, UAL has both the right to conduct its business as it chooses within the law, and a duty to maximize value for its shareholders.
    There is no meaningful direct expense associated with boarding policy, so the Question is: on aggregate, does the display of patriotism positively influence consumer buying decisions more so than the inconvenience for elite/F flyers negatively influences them?

    Haven’t seen any data, but my hunch would be the latter outweighs the former, since the price elastic average consumer is unlikely to change a buying decision based on a carrier’s display of support for the military, while the relatively price inelastic F flyer could be likely to move his business elsewhere based on perceived treatment by the carrier.

  30. I personally hate the faux patriotism that is displayed in this country. I would be much happier if the troops were being deployed locally. Boarding procedure are airlines domain, if they think this good business sense more power to them. All I care about is getting on the plane in my assigned seat and it leaving on time.

  31. Does this apply to only active Military members or do retirees and reservists get to board first? Do they have to be in uniform or just show their military id?

  32. Let’s be clear: this has nothing to do with providing something nice for the *servicemen*, but rather is just a cheap show of patriotism in the hope of getting more business from non-military travelers. If an airline wanted to help the military men and women, they could always have the gate staff offer upgrades, or let those in uniform know privately that “hey, you have a lot of baggage, feel free to board with the first class passengers so you’ll have room to store your gear.”

    Actually, that type of “quiet”, more appropriate treatment (especially for an international airline!) strikes me as much more common outside the South, whereas particularly in airports like Houston and Dallas, the patriotism theater is over the top.

  33. Not to demean the sacrifice that many in the military make, but it not just them that should be receiving special treatment. Police men and fire men to name two other professions risk their lives for the public. Shouldn’t they get the same treatment? Obviously the airline can’t classify everyone according to their professions, so maybe we should just stick to the fairest system – everyone boards according to their fare class or elite level.

  34. Most service members are allowed to wear civilian attire while traveling.Unless there is sand on the other end of that ticket don’t turn the boarding area into a personal ticker tape parade and just take your seat when its time to board like the rest of us.

  35. @Tom – You are a pretty funny character buddy. Yes, we are in fighting shape but that doesn’t have anything to do with the price of tea in China. People like yourself make me, and the rest of my fellow veterans, feel proud that we defend idiots like yourself.

    @Danny – Might I add the reason you were able to earn those extra benefits from an airline is because of the military who is defending freedom daily.

    To me, it doesn’t matter either way if I board first or not. Families with small children should board first in my eyes, not the gentlemen in the suit who walks around the airport with a rich swagger and acts like his sh*t doesn’t stink.

    Let’s face it people, we do fight for the country, but it shouldn’t give us any right to have extra benefits over other Americans. It’s called selfless service for a reason. I honestly do not like receiving benefits from being military, it is my career and no different than the average working American. The only reason I commented here is because I couldn’t believe the bull that some of you actually post on here. It seems as if you don’t like members of the military. Just remember the sacrifice that was made throughout history for you to be able to kiss your kids goodnight and sleep safely.

  36. They should not board with any preference. They are doing a job that they chose to do. Why not let the brain surgeons that patch them up all day long board first!

  37. My son is Navy and passes on early boarding, he’s a modest kid; after giving it some thought, I told him to reconsider. I travel frequently for business, usually alone, so I scope out military early boarders because it’s nice to know the best person to for help if anything gets sketchy. It occurred to me, perhaps flight personnel take note of who military passengers are for the same reason. I reframed it to my son it could be a way for the flight crew to identify the best passengers who could help in an emergency, he said he’d reconsider early boarding. Framed as a thank-your-for-your-service perk is considerate of the airlines, but I really think scouting able-bodied, service-minded passengers just might be factor.

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