Airline boarding procedures

One thing that I enjoy doing when I fly is comparing the operational procedures of different airlines and how they deal with different situations. In the past few weeks I’ve flown on quite a few different legs on Delta and Virgin Australia, both domestically and internationally and one thing I’ve noticed regards boarding.

For some odd reason, Delta boards its aircraft front to back, so I’m wondering if this is normal for carriers in America? Virgin Australia do the opposite, and generally in Australia there is a practise (with the exception of QANTAS) of boarding from both the front and rear exits. (For domestic flights on 737s/A320s etc.). This is think is much more efficient, because this morning my flight to Sydney was almost completely boarded after the gate just being open for 10 minutes, whereas in America it took much longer for a comparably sized aircraft.

I was just wondering if anyone in the US has any insight on whether other American carriers board front to back etc.? And what’s it like in your portion of the world?


Yes every American carrier i have been on is front to back even with assigned seats. I suspect its due to overhead space and they want farther up people to get priority. It would load faster back to front i suspect.

I’ve actually seen that video before and totally forgot about it, so thanks for bringing it back to my attention. That’s really interesting. Though for sure, boarding from front to back has to be even slower right?

This is definitely where I think Australian carriers got it right, in terms of issuing one boarding call for their stalwart domestic flights, but use both rear and front. So if you’re in rows 1-14, you board from the front, and rows 15-30 board from the back. It works really well from what I’ve seen. Do carriers in Europe do this?

@Thorozar that’s true, but you can still easily give priority boarding to passengers in higher classes or Y+ classes like Delta Comfort+.

here in Europe, I don’t think we do at least not in the uk.

United boards front to back with a couple caveats; group 1 is first/business class and their higher status levels (GS, 1K, & Plat) sitting in Economy class, group 2 is their lower status levels (Gold & Silver) and United credit card holders sitting in Economy, group 3 is Economy passengers with a window seat, group 4 is Economy passengers with a middle seat, and finally group 5 is Economy passengers with an aisle seat.

One recent change to this has been the addition of United’s Basic Economy fare, which doesn’t allow for bags in the overhead bins, among other things. Group 5 is now only for Basic Economy passengers (with no status) no matter which seat you have. So the Economy window, middle, and aisle seats are now all boarded in groups 3 & 4.

Single aisle planes are only boarded through the door at the front, with the exception of the 757 which has a door between the First and Economy classes that everyone boards through. Twin aisle planes have always been hit or miss for me, seems more dependent on the airport and/or gate. More times than not I’ve always boarded through a single jet bridge attached to the front door where everyone has to walk through the First and Business cabins to get to Economy cabin. Rarely has it been split between the front and mid door. I recall once where I went on through a Business only door at the front (they boarded with two jet bridges) only to have to get off through a single jet bridge at the middle of the plane shared with the Economy class.

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In Europe some of the major flag carriers use alternative boarding methods but as for smaller and budget airline like Thomson Ryanair easyjet wizz etc etc it’s a friend for all as the airlines only guarantee the first ninety people have their hand luggage in the overhead bins if your after the ninetieth person your bag goes in the hold. (It’s all a ploy too sell priority boarding.)

FYI, the Mythbusters tested this before Vox made their video, and they confirmed that the back-to-front was the slowest. FFA (free for all) is indeed the fastest, but in terms of pleasantness, it’s the worst. The team found that the WILMA method and Reverse Pyramid method to be the balance in time and comfort.

However, on a side note on the boarding of passengers, isn’t it also dependent on the turnaround services operating time as well? I.e. refueling time, time to load/unload baggage and cargo, maintenance check, etc.

EDIT: If I may add to this point, this could be simulated in-game through the different boarding time used by the airlines, though they should add this way down in the development stage, as it adds little feature.

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Thanks for the in depth breakdown, I take it you fly United regularly? I think it does go to show that you can board alternatively while still rewarding your frequent flyers.

@ReV0LT that is true to some extent, but it’s still ideal to have everyone on board as fast as possible because it gives them the most flexibility. Yeah I agree boarding procedure doesn’t add much to the game from the perspective of the airport owner, but perhaps airlines might request a certain amount of queue lines at the gate. That’s about the only way I could see it having a tangible effect to in game experience though.

Also, in some ways, Virgin Australia’s boarding procedure is actually free for all, they just split it into two zones (front and back) which board at the same time. It’s just because both doors are in use it happens even faster, but it avoids people having to wait in the front of the cabin for others when they actually need to get to the back.

The problem with, IMHO is that if the boarding is done too quivkly, then the passengers would wait longer until the plane is ready, which would add discomfort. However, if turnaround is too quick, they would waste additional resources on boarding.

I live somewhat close to United’s main hub (Chicago) so always had more flight options available compared to the other airlines. Once I got to know the ins and outs (and status) I’ve never considered anyone else.

Yeah as a FF I valued the earlier boarding pretty high as I always had a hard case full of cameras that went in the overhead. Was pretty much always guaranteed space over your seat. Only exception would be some of the mainline (hub to hub) flights out of SFO where the upgrade list is over a 100 people. Basically meant over half the plane was boarding in group 1 and 2.

Ah I completely empathise with that. I’m a violinist so my instrument can’t be gate checked, so getting on early for me whenever I can is a must. I don’t quite fly regularly enough yet to have sufficient frequent flyer status though. Loyalty programs really do work I find, I was sceptical at first but even though I don’t yet have sufficient status, I find myself happily paying more to fly regularly with the same carrier.

@ReV0LT I find that rarely to ever be the case of being boarding but waiting on turnaround. It’s usually just waiting on some last bags, especially with domestic flights, turnaround tends to be pretty quick.

Maybe a part of the US boarding technique is security, cause it’s far less strict here in Aus. It would be great to see front and rear boarding in game though!

JetBlue boards back to front, with premium economy and mint getting priority boarding, so no, not all US airlines do it like that. I can’t imagine its efficient either.

In India, majority of flights are operated by Low Cost Carriers, most of the boarding is through bus to the remote stand and stairs/ramps accessing front and rear doors of the aircraft.
So the plane is split in half (front half of rows entering from front door, rear half through rear door), and in each half, there is random boarding.

A new record breaker in boarding time?

That’s true actually, they’re are generally much more rigorous with their security (I just got back from a trip there a few days ago). Front and rear boarding would be nice though, but I think that’d come with remote stands. Which part of Australia are you from?

@sjsr99 yeah that’s more what I’m used to. I was just really surprised when Delta did the opposite.

@vikhattangady well it is efficient, after all the last time I flew with that method the whole plane was boarded in less than 10 minutes.

I have had a few stopover flights on the Airline, the total time spent at the stand is 30 minutes. That includes deboarding of passengers for whom that is the final destination, unloading of their luggage, a quick cleaning of the plane (while through booked passengers are still in their seats), boarding of new passengers, loading of their luggage.
Land, taxi, 30 minutes, taxi, takeoff.
The motto of the Airline, “On time is a wonderful thing”.
They live by it

Wow, that’s very impressive. Which airline are we talking about?

I find operational differences between airlines so fascinating. For example, Delta uses the term ‘rough air’ in all its announcements instead of turbulence.

This is Indigo. Currently the largest airline in India.

Other examples of their excellence include the use of ramps for boarding instead of stairs.

Also, at check in, they use just a baggage drop counter, and staff members check you in and issue your boarding pass while you are waiting in the queue (using a hand held device that looks like a big brother of a card swiping machine)

Oooh very innovative! I’ve come across the ramps a few times before, they’re great I think, makes it easy for everyone.

I’ve never seen handheld devices for issuing boarding passes before. But the self-check and bagdrop is very common in Australia now. Particularly with QANTAS, Air New Zealand etc. And Terminal 4 at Melbourne airport is entirely self service check-in, apparently the first of its kind in the APAC region.

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