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Why are planes boarded front-to-back?
August 18, 2010 8:57 AM   Subscribe

Would boarding planes back-to-front save any time? If yes, why are planes not boarded this way?

I have never experienced a plane boarding back-to-front, but it seems that this would save a significant amount of time because people would not wait in aisles while front rows are filled and people would be able to load luggage nearly at the same time, rather than sequentially.

Is front-to-back boarding used everywhere? If so, why? Have there been any attempts to change this?

Note: Please try to avoid making this about air travel grievances in general.
posted by odinsdream to Travel & Transportation (33 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
The plane-boarding problem was solved by a physicist a year or two ago. Turns out there is no advantage to boarding a plane back-to-front as opposed to front-to-back. The most efficient way, he found, is groups of alternating seats in alternating rows. Even random boarding, interestingly, is more efficient than either back-to-front or front-to-back.
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 9:02 AM on August 18, 2010 [17 favorites]


My guess? People belonging to the airline's "preferred" customer club or whatever want to sit at the front of the plane (or at the front of the coach section) so they can deplane first. They also want to board first. The airline is likely to try to make them happy, even if it's not the most efficient solution. (Note that it's most inconvenient for the people sitting in the back-- those not in the choice seats, and therefore not preferred/frequent flyers.)
posted by supercres at 9:02 AM on August 18, 2010


In theory, I suppose. But I've been on flights that boarded back-to-front, and it didn't seem to take any less time than the version that boards first class/special people, the rows further back seems to. And I've been on flights that board first class/special, then window seats, then aisle seats, and that doesn't seem to take any less time either.
posted by rtha at 9:03 AM on August 18, 2010


From my experiences it's First Class first (because they pay more money) then Back to Front for coach. I don't recall ever flying where they boarded Front to Back (for coach).
posted by tehdiplomat at 9:03 AM on August 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


Not sure what you mean - do you mean loading from the front, but seating passengers in the back first?

A lot of airlines do variants on that already, save courtesy boarding for 1st class and special-needs passengers. Faster boarding = faster turnaround = plane is in the air longer = more $. Airlines consider time-on-the-ground to be lost potential revenue.

Needless to say, loading has gotten far worse since airlines started instituting bag-check fees.

I've never seen loading both the front & the back simultaneously, though that would be awesome. Planes definitely empty faster when they unload from both ends.
posted by swngnmonk at 9:04 AM on August 18, 2010


In my experience, if there is a prescribed boarding order, economy class usually is boarded back-to-front, with the exception of people who pre-board for various reasons. This is done either by explicit calling out of rows, or by the use of boarding "groups" or "zones" that do this in a slightly more opaque way. The latter approach has the advantage that it allows trying to board people with window seats even earlier, saving even more time.

What airline are you flying and at what station that boards front to back?
posted by grouse at 9:04 AM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've never seen loading both the front & the back simultaneously, though that would be awesome.

This is often done in Europe at airports where people climb down stairs to the tarmac rather than using a jetbridge.
posted by grouse at 9:05 AM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Coach *is* usually boarded back-to-front, in my experience.
posted by timeistight at 9:05 AM on August 18, 2010


Wait, I just realized after reading PNTM's link-- most planes I've been on do board back-to-front, with some variation. First, first class, naturally. Then "gold status" flyers, who tend to sit at the front of the coach section. From there, it boards back-to-front.

The problem arises when people tend to hedge their bets and stow carry-ons at the front of the coach section, even though they're sitting at the back. They just take the first empty compartment they see, in case the compartment above them is taken. It's fine if your bag is ahead of you; you can just grab it on the way out. But if it's behind you, it's going to be a pain to grab while everyone is trying to deplane.
posted by supercres at 9:05 AM on August 18, 2010


When I fly Iberia international they always board back to front. Of course their national flights board by first-come, first-served.
posted by JJ86 at 9:09 AM on August 18, 2010


Most US airlines do nominally board coach from back to front.

The problem is that the act of storing luggage takes up more than one row-worth of space.
posted by muddgirl at 9:15 AM on August 18, 2010


Delta definitely uses a Zone system for boarding. As grouse said, making it more opaque allows them to keep the experience consistent for the customers but provides room for experimentation.
posted by smackfu at 9:21 AM on August 18, 2010


Why are planes boarded front-to-back?

I've honestly never seen this.

I have never experienced a plane boarding back-to-front

This is what I've experienced on every flight with assigned seats, modulo first class/business class/elite frequent flyers.
posted by kmz at 9:29 AM on August 18, 2010


All airlines I can think of that I have flown with board 1st class/disabled/need assistance first, then board the rest of the plane back to front. Which airline are you flying with that DOESN'T do this?
posted by modernnomad at 10:11 AM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


For a more definitive statement regarding airline boarding procedures, check out SeatGuru's Guide to Airline Boarding Procedures

IME it can often look like airlnies are using a fairly random process because they let their elites on first. While elites are often clustered in the front (especially on United, where there is the "Economy Plus" section), exit row seats (with greater leg room) are often grabbed by elite flyers. So even if you are in the first non-elite group to board (and have a seat in the back) you may see the front of the plane full, as well as exit rows in the middle of the plane.
posted by QuantumMeruit at 10:21 AM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


So that's 16 airlines, none of which have a policy of front-to-back seating. I'm still really curious as to which airline odinsdream saw this on. And airport, as sometimes individual stations will violate the seating policies, annoying managers and frequent fliers.
posted by grouse at 10:33 AM on August 18, 2010


I think the OP meant "back to front" as in, using a door at the rear of the plane, so one has to walk all the way up the aisle in order to be in the front row. NOT the same thing as the airline personnel calling out the back rows to get on first, since that's still done via a door at the FRONT of the airplane.

My big question about airline travel is why the seats don't all face backwards. It's proven safer in the case of a crash, and should make no difference to the passenger (especially for air travel).
posted by wwartorff at 10:37 AM on August 18, 2010


How would using a different door speed up boarding times?
posted by muddgirl at 10:38 AM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've never seen loading both the front & the back simultaneously, though that would be awesome.

Most large international flights load through more than one door.

You rarely see it in domestic flights, though I have run into it more recently lately. Maybe airlines are stating to take delays seriously now it costs them serious money?
posted by madajb at 10:44 AM on August 18, 2010


You rarely see it in domestic flights, though I have run into it more recently lately. Maybe airlines are stating to take delays seriously now it costs them serious money?

That would be an infrastructure issue. Only a small subset of the gates at airports are equipped to handle the dual jetways. Adding additional capability can be tricky because you have to make sure that this additional gear doesn't interfere with operations at adjacent gates.
posted by mmascolino at 11:27 AM on August 18, 2010


I think the OP meant "back to front" as in, using a door at the rear of the plane, so one has to walk all the way up the aisle in order to be in the front row. NOT the same thing as the airline personnel calling out the back rows to get on first, since that's still done via a door at the FRONT of the airplane.

I am sorry for the confusion. I did not mean using the back door. I meant people walking into the front door, but that the first person on the plane would have a seat assignment in the back of the plane. The last person in the plane would be in the front seats.

So that's 16 airlines, none of which have a policy of front-to-back seating. I'm still really curious as to which airline odinsdream saw this on. And airport, as sometimes individual stations will violate the seating policies, annoying managers and frequent fliers.

Based on this discussion, I've definitely misinterpreted the situation and there must be more back-to-front loading than I realize. I shouldn't have assumed this in my question.
posted by odinsdream at 12:32 PM on August 18, 2010


If we're talking about using a door further to the aft of the plane to board, I have never seen a jetway that connects to a door aft of the wings. (Think about the logistical issues with the engines and other stuff.)

For "multiple door" boardings, we're talking about using the two exits at the front (fore) of the aircraft. The way I've seen this work is that for aircraft with two aisles (i.e., a 747 -- like this United 747-400 configuration), passengers board from the doors at the fore (on the 747-400 linked above, from the doors in front of row 6 and row 9).

IIRC, I've seen boarding schemes where the gate agents steer people to one door or another depending on their seat letter ("Everyone in seats F through K, go through door number 2").

I suspect that boarding through the overwing emergency exits, the exits behind the wings or at the far aft of the aircraft just isn't something that's possible given engine issues and the logistics of jetways.
posted by QuantumMeruit at 12:43 PM on August 18, 2010


You can even board the A380 with three jet bridges.
posted by grouse at 12:52 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Only place I've seen them using the aft doorway was in Thailand, I think, where they were using stair cars rather than jetways, so it just required an additional stair car. It was definitely faster to offload through two doors.
posted by smackfu at 1:47 PM on August 18, 2010


I once had an email dialog with the Pilot, Patrick Smith, about this. He insist all planes are boarded back to front but I'm sure I've witnessed exceptions. (He's written that he suspects loading window-seats first would be faster, but I've never seen that.) Most of my experiience is with United, which loads by boarding groups, and I've never managed to be in the first group, I suspect because I never pay full fare. Over time though I've come to agree with Pilot on this - filtering out the noise, they "do" board back to front (if you ignore the exceptions of First Class, other elites, handicapped and families with children etc etc) - if there's anybody left, they're boarded back to front, an order loosely distributed by seating group.
posted by Rash at 2:23 PM on August 18, 2010


In my experience it's back to front on international flights and windows seats, middle seats and then aisle seats on internal flights. One exception is First/Biz class
posted by WizKid at 2:52 PM on August 18, 2010


WestJet used to board many of their flights through both doors, but don't seem to anymore at airports with jetways, even when the jetways exist to allow it. I have no idea why they stopped, but I wanted to provide that as a counterpoint to the contention that front and rear doors couldn't be used simultaneously. Whatever the reason for stopping, it was fast and nice while it lasted.

They do disembark from both doors at airports without jetways, but I believe they still board using the front door only at those locations. I suspect that's because they don't have the available staff to check tickets in both places, as all but one of the flight attendants have other things they're supposed to be doing during that time, but I'm not sure.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:16 PM on August 18, 2010


JetBlue boards from the front and back doors, simultaneously, when departing from the Syracuse, NY, airport. They also disembark passengers from both doors upon arrival in Syracuse. Not every flight, and I guess some of this is dependent on the weather (because those using the back door must use steps from the plane and then walk outside on the tarmac) and what other factors I don't know. THey actually have the path to and from the backdoor painted on the tarmac.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 8:01 PM on August 18, 2010


That would be an infrastructure issue. Only a small subset of the gates at airports are equipped to handle the dual jetways.

Yeah, I mainly experience it on smaller, commuter flights where the main infrastructure is an extra pair of stairs and some paint to stop people from walking into the propeller.
posted by madajb at 10:43 PM on August 18, 2010


If we're talking about using a door further to the aft of the plane to board, I have never seen a jetway that connects to a door aft of the wings.

They do exist.
The over-the-wing configuration being the weirdest. There are a few of them in Europe for 747s, though I don't know if they actually still use them.
posted by madajb at 10:52 PM on August 18, 2010


Virgin in Australia boards simultaneously through a jetway on the front door and stairs at the back. It's a lot faster. You don't have to take the stairs if you don't want to (even if seated at the rear) but most people do because you get off and on quicker.

Why don't American airlines do this?
posted by dave99 at 6:23 AM on August 19, 2010


JetBlue boards from the front and back doors, simultaneously, when departing from the Syracuse, NY, airport. They also disembark passengers from both doors upon arrival in Syracuse.
I've experienced this in West Palm Beach (PBI) on JetBlue as well. The front door boards/deplanes via the jetway, while the back door uses a set of stairs.
posted by Godbert at 8:39 AM on August 19, 2010


Tag-on for Ryanair-flying Europeans: why does no one go for the rear stairs? If you hustle when the bus pulls up to the plane, you can scramble around the wing and shimmy to the whole half of the plane yourself. The priority boarding thing is meaningless and you can zoom up to the exit rows before the Row 2 peeps have even stowed their bags.
posted by mdonley at 4:30 PM on August 19, 2010


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