The Airline Boarding Process

On Chimera Travel’s Facebook page, I asked for questions about travels that baffled my fans. A great one about the airplane boarding process came up, and I wanted to answer it.

The questions was: “Why is it that airlines board front to back? Seems like it would make more sense to board the back first…”

First off, I agree – it seems so silly to be climbing over people to board. While airlines are always a conundrum and their methods can’t be entirely figured out, I’m going to answer the best as I can. Here are some insights into the airline boarding process that might help explain.

1. First and business class always board first, along with elite/premier/whatever term they use for the higher level of flyer miles programs. Then military in uniform. While First and Business are at the front of the plane of course, and generally those elite/premier/etc members get to upgrade or get preferred seats, so they’re also near the front. So you’re already walking through a goo number of people. There active military in uniform could be sitting anywhere on the place, so you may be walking past them too.

2. There are “choice” or “premium” seats on many flights that people in coach can pay for to get slightly more leg room and slightly wider seats. If you ever go to choose your seat and you see options in coach that say you must pay $45 or whatever to choose that seat, these are them. In addition to a bit more wiggle room, they also always get a “zone 2” boarding, and usually these seats are towards the front of the plane and on the aisle or window – because who pays an extra $65 to sit in the middle seat by the bathroom at the back. So these are more people you’re walking past to get to your seat.

3. Generally, airlines actually try to board from the outside in, not from the front to back or back to front. Meaning that window seats board first, then middle, then aisle (designated by the zone on your boarding pass). This means that someone sitting in a window seat in row 5 may board before someone sitting in the aisle in row 20. The theory being that people don’t have to climb over the people in the aisle to get to the window seat. However, people often like to take their sweet time to get situated when they board, so those window seaters are standing in the aisle, trying to shove what should be a checked bag into the overhead compartment, and those aislers boarding after them have to try to move around them, which we all know doesn’t work with an aisle that’s less barely the width of a moderately sized human.

I hope this helps answer your question. My personal suggestion – pay the extra $45-$65, especially on a long flight, and get the “choice” seat. You board in zone two, which means not only are you not pushing past as many people, but if you have a roller board or larger carryon bag, you’re more or less guaranteed space in the overhead bin, unless it’s a commuter flight that just doesn’t accommodate that size bag.


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