Do You Prefer Boarding First Or Last (Somewhere In Between)?

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There are often posts on Facebook about “gate lice” (people who are ready to board and standing by the gate very early – often non-elite members that would board the very last) and many US airlines now have several boarding groups with appropriate signs to get people line up and the boarding process sped up.

Do You Board First Or Last (Or Somewhere in Between)

Personally, I have never understood why people prefer to wait by the gate when the boarding begins rather than being in the lounge and arriving to the gate just before the gate closes.

The other week, I was chatting with one waiter at the Cathay Pacific lounge in London when I was paged. The agent told that I was the only passenger who had not yet boarded. Cathay Pacific closes the gate 10 minutes before scheduled take off and I plan to arrive couple of minutes earlier. They even sent an agent to get me.

On my Malaysian Airlines flight this past Monday to London, I got to the gate only to find out that they had already closed the upper door (I was the last pax) and used the stairs in front of the small First Class cabin to get to the upper deck.

Conclusion

I love hearing “boarding completed” at the gate when they scan my boarding pass. I don’t really care about pre-departure beverages or hot towels and most of the time decline food and beverages during the flights too (I prefer eating before or after the flights and spend the time sleeping on overnight ones).

On the Malaysian flight to London, I ate in the lounge before and was going to have breakfast in the Cathay Pacific First Class lounge at Heathrow T3 while waiting for my BA flight to Barcelona. I do like the satay that they serve on Malaysia Airlines flights, however, and had a few sticks.

There have been quite a few academic studies what would be the most efficient boarding process. Back to front and from windows to aisles. I have never understood why the front of the plane would need or want to board first, sitting and waiting for everyone else to get on board. Most logically it would be the last to board.

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  • Xavier

    When flying economy I always try to board at the very beginning because I love my hand baggage inside my overhead compartments. Business is another story.

    • Len Gattsche

      Agree with you. Nothing more frustrating then putting your overhead luggage away from your seat

    • Chalat

      That’s my one and only reason to board the soonest possible as well. Many times I went up just a couple minutes late after boarding started and the rows where I was still empty, but guess what, the compartment above was filled!?!?! There are also people who boarded first and sit in the middle or the back of the plane BUT put their luggage near the front. That is more amusing to the point of annoyance than the “gatelice” for me.

      I think the issue isn’t the gatelice. The lice only flocks around when there is blood. The fault lies sqaurely with the airline personnel who are supposed to be managing them. I fly SQ at least 3 weeks a month and I am surprised that even the veteran personnel whose faces are already familiar to me are still letting anyone go up just by flashing the boarding pass like fake cop flashing their ID. If they would care to organise the people queuing up before boarding announcement rang, it would have been more effective. Frequent flyers that do not have the priority status will learn that they cannot cheat to get through and newer ones will learn to play by the rule since the start. It’s not always the rotten people who created rotten environment. Sometimes it’s the other way around. Lice are also just trying to survive.

  • Felix

    Hi – this really depends. If I only have my small backpack I don’t care when I board (also prefer to be close to last), but when I have a cabin trolley, I agree with Xavier. Nevertheless on short haul flights I check in at a seat in the last rows, so usually I can put my cabin luggage somewhere in the overhead compartments on the way to my seat … as I said, it depends …

    • Jessica

      I usually board early to get a place for my luggage above my seat. If I am slow to board then I find other people have taken up that space – even if they are sitting further back. I guess I know who does that now. :/

  • Arthur

    In Brazil if you dont bord first in domestic flights changes are that there will be someone at your seat as people dont care to check most of the times.
    Space in the overhead bins is also another factor I always board first. The law here states that senior citzens and mother with children have priority and sometimes this is 50¨% of the plane

    • Holiday_Hero

      ‘mother’ with children or parent with child? Curious if the law states female only.

  • Ramitran

    Usually within the last few persons, well fed and sufficiently drunk from the lounge. Though really appreciate the priority line/queue when have been in transit for 36 hours and just want go to sleep quickly in the plane… Also those priority passes for quick diplomat immigration save a lot of time and are really appreciated when they are given to elite members. Last trip reminders of cattle life in immigration weren’t that exiting.

    • Emmanuel Kalispera

      I have to agree with you regarding chinese travellers.

  • Anthony Marshall

    This strategy is based on non-US experiences – or experience where you don’t have carry-on. In the US over many years now even in business or first, despite having top top status, if you are even in the second half of boarding on some flights, you will not get overhead space – and generally need to check luggage. Indeed one of the most valuable perks of something like GS is pre-boarding in which you can put you your carry-on and settle down and try not to watch other less fortunate having their bags removed from the cabin.

  • STH1984

    For me it depends… If I have carry on luggage that doesn’t fit under the seat in front of me, I’d like to be amongst the first to board the aircraft… I’ve had it happen a number of times that there’s no overhead space available and I had to stow it somewhere in the back; after landing I’d have to wait until the whole aircraft deboarded before I could fetch my luggage…

  • MAIBINS

    I used to think the ideal boarding was when they were calling my name 🙂 . Nowadays though, it’s sometimes difficult to find overhead compartment space if not traveling business class, so I make an effort to board with the early groups. Amazing how things have changed.

  • Peegee

    “Gate lice”???? Could you be a more pretentious douche bag? You keep getting worse.

    No I am not normally one to stand first in the queue. But if others choose to do so, I don’t see why I have to be offensive about it.

    • Gary

      Funny! I was thinking EXACTLY the same thing, while reading the article – “What a douche!” I actually had to scroll back to the top of the article, to verify that it was written by John. I assumed that I had misread the author’s name, and that it was actually written by Sebastian! It reads extremely “Sebastian-esque”
      I agree that way too many people, who end up being in the last boarding group, crowd the gate, and slow the boarding process; but I think the bigger issue here is that John makes it sound like he’s taking his sweet time to board the plan, without taking a whole plane load of people into consideration. Perhaps it’s never occurred to him that the pilot was attempting to push back a little early, in order to avoid being the last, in a long line of planes taxiing to take off. It’s not uncommon that the pilot can avoid a 15 minute or longer delay, if he’s able to push back mere minutes ahead of schedule. During inclement weather there could also be similar limited windows of opportunity to take off, before all takeoffs are paused.
      I was actually very surprised that John wrote this.

      • I could have chosen a better word here. Don’t personally use it but have seen it numerous times in various Facebook groups that I belong to.

    • Gaijinsan

      Gate lice is a pretty common term on Flyertalk as well. It describes the people who have no airline status and board in the last boarding groups blocking access for the people with priority boarding.

      • Robert Kennedy

        I like to board towards the end even though I get priority boarding on many flights. Especially when it economy. It means less time sitting on the plane and more time in lounge. I have never really understood queuing to board a plane with assigned seating. I know people say it is to do with overhead space but I do wonder if there is also an element of people who are so stressed about flying that they feel better being in a queue rather than sitting by the gate e.g. the people who always arrive at the airport 3 hours+ before a short haul flight.

        • Gaijinsan

          I get to the airport with a minimal amount of time as I also get priority security screening with status (most airports). For example United Domestic check in cutoff is usually 45-60 minutes depending on the airport, so I get there about 10 minutes before that. (Usually it’s in conjunction with an international trip so I do have luggage to check, one could get away with far less time with only carry on luggage).

          In the case of wanting to be first on the plane… this goes for domestic First Class or Economy, it’s all due to overhead space. Actually First class on smaller planes is far more competitive for overhead space than economy (if boarding on group 1 or 2). I’d love to say in the lounge longer, but if I need overhead space I have to go a bit earlier to try to jockey for near the front of Group 1 queue. Most domestic routes I fly are E175 or CRJ70… almost zero overhead space in First.

    • BenniHK

      Those ppl ARE the source of chaos when boarding and so deserve this name!

      • Whoops

        I see people from all categories swarming the gates when the agents have CLEARLY called on specific groups to board. I don’t get why people don’t listen and assume that by standing in the way, it will get them on the plane any faster. And yes, sometimes agents are the ones to blame–they need to be more strict about maintaining order.

  • John Galt

    I’m with you. I prefer to board last so I don’t get clubbed in the head by passersby. I flew “cattle class” for 35 years, now that i’m up front there is no need for me to hurry to stow a bag.

  • Joe Zeiss

    >> academic studies<< Back in the late 70s and early 80s (Before they had 1st/Business on all flights- and yes, Im that old) the standard was to board planes from rear to front. Also, back then checked bags were free.

    Yes, I hate "Gate Lice" (but I dont like that term!), but sometimes it is the only way to get on the plane quick enough to get bin space near to your seats. The only thing that I dont like is when you have Business/1st ticket, and cant get to the gate through a wall of people just standing around trying to get on the plane

  • kitsura

    I almost always fly economy because company is too cheap to pay for anything more than premium economy even on 13hr long flights. Since I have no status I prefer to carry on all luggage so I need to get on early to ensure sufficient overhead space.

  • Malcolm

    As a bonus for arriving early at the gate, the crew could tag your carry on with the seat # and have the ramp crew preload your bag. It would save time and hassle especially for ‘height challenged’ folk who can’t reach the bins.

  • Dalton

    At economy fare, always in beggining thus there are space in the bin for my luggage.

  • jason_111

    I was surprised to learn that even in International Business Class I needed to board early so that I could put my carry on bag above my seat. Some people traveling in Business Class bring so much luggage on board that they use up a lot of space. So now, unless I am flying International First Class, I always try to board early just in case a luggage hog is sitting near me.

  • Ebrahim

    I think this is subjective issue .. sometimes when you choose your seat even in business class .. once you get in the aircraft you see that some one taken your seat .. normally I feel shy ( even that I believe I shouldn’t specially with the feel less people ) to ask for my seat unless I have too . so getting early maybe save the embarrassing with other passengers .

    • abby

      you’re afraid to embarrass someone who is poaching your J seat. this overly pc culture is literally the fall of western civilization. good lord. grow a pair ffs.

      • J Verde

        Looking at his name and his sentence structure, do you really think that Ebrahim is a product of an “overly pc” “western civilization”? good lord. grow a brain ffs (and stop watching Fox news)

        • abby

          stereotyping someone much? racist? fascist? ‘a subjective issue’… yes, lord whiteness, Ebrahim lives in a cave. i don’t get my news from MSM, bc i do have a brain. fox is MSM.

  • Definitely. There is nothing nice to extra seating half hour. Long haul flights are enough long. If shorter boarding time before the departure, that’s better.

  • Jamo

    Based on US domestic experience in business class, I always board first due to other business passengers often having way in excess of what is a reasonable amount of carry-on baggage. Too stressful wondering if my single laptop bag will have somewhere to go so it’s much easier to get on first.

    Also in this article John, I don’t think being the last passenger and having your name called in the lounge is at all a good thing. I’d imagine it makes the crew’s life harder for no real reason. Plus it’s not unusual for a captain to try and get off stand a few minutes early at busy airports. I don’t think 2 minutes before boarding closes helps them, operationally.

    Passengers who clog up the gate area before they are asked to board, should be told firmly by the gate staff, to move away from the gate until their group/class has been called. This rarely happens and would solve both the blocking of boarding, and the need for phrases like ‘gate lice’.

    • I was trying to board BA LHR-SCL flight last night (was in first) and got to the gate when the boarding was about to start. There were probably 100+ people on the “Priority” lane.

  • abby

    as with most, depends on what class i’m flying. intl business or first- no worries about where to put my carry-on, so it doesn’t matter much- depends on the lounge. though, when you have a lie flat seat with a lot of room, waiting in your seat isn’t the uncomfortable extra time prison sentence of coach. what i dislike is when in first on US domestic, i’d prefer to board late, but FA’s OFTEN allow anyone to fill the first class overhead bins, leaving nothing for you unless you board early-ish. has happened too many times…

  • J Verde

    As an F/J passenger, it’s never made sense to me, to be boarded first and then wait 20 minutes as the rest of the plane bumps past; I’d much rather spend that time waiting in the lounge. But the few times I’ve boarded late (as an F/J), the only bin space has been several rows back from my seat, and then I’m stuck trying to “swim upstream” to retrieve my bag after landing.

    I’d like to see per-seat designated bin space – at least in First/Business.

    • Len Gattsche

      Agree, I’ve moved other bags to put mine were I sit.

    • The FAs should better police that people flying in economy don’t use first/business class bins. Also, there is a problem that many airlines have really reduced or eliminated the storage units that are often used for crew bags and coats

  • Jeff

    I also like to get on the plane early in Economy so I can put my laptop backback in the overhead. So many non-frequent fliers opt for the lowest fare which requires them to pay extra for checked bags so they bring everything on the plane with them. What happened to one carry on and an extra personal item. I see folks with 4 or 5 items at times and they want to jam it all in the overhead!

  • Mark Fenton

    The reason why I wait close to the gate is two fold…a) I dont travel first like our beloved Seb and 2) It is the ONLY way to get space in overheads before the idiots with bags that are too big plus their hand luggage!…..I book mine in the hold so do not expect to miss out on a space for my hand luggage….I love the look on peoples faces when on packed flights they take large luggage and put in the hold….When will companies actually check the sizes….some are way too big

    • Holiday_Hero

      Come to Europe and prepare to have your huge carry on case measured. The Americans are always perplexed.

      • Mark Fenton

        I live in Europe!

        • Holiday_Hero

          And no-one has ever put your bag in a size bin? Used to be crazy popular in the 00s

      • Gaijinsan

        Depends on the airline, actually most European airlines do not do that, at least not on a regular basis. LCC’s, maybe, but most main line carriers do not.

        The real issue is that many airlines have “weight” restrictions on carry on bags but never ever enforce it. So most passengers around the world (not only Americans) are more accustomed to size restrictions, not weight restrictions.

        • Holiday_Hero

          Yes I think it’s Wow that weigh your bags. I’ve seen easyjet do it too. Ryanair have stopped measuring bags. Although I did see them charge a foreign student for a bag that THEY sell as approved on their own website.

  • Jason

    As a very frequent traveler I aim to board in the last few every time. It did blow up at Dubai when the gate in the first class lounge was abandoned 18 mins before departure and 2 of us were offloaded as we were being paged. Emirates has stoped calling flights in the FC lounge or even looking for PAX. I understand people who do not fly very much eager to get on the plane it is a novelty.

  • Emmanuel Kalispera

    “Personally, I have never understood why people prefer to wait by the gate when the boarding begins rather than being in the lounge and arriving to the gate just before the gate closes.” –> they want to be sure they wont miss the flight.

    • Gaijinsan

      Depends, United closes gates 15 minutes prior to departure in general and are pretty reliable on that. Show up at the gate at T-20 and you’re quite safe… as long as you don’t need overhead bin space. If you want overhead space then you have to queue up. Other countries are different in that respect, depending on how much customers are driven not to check bags for whatever reason. (extra cost in America, theft in South Africa, extremely long wait times in some others, etc).

      • Emmanuel Kalispera

        It is pretty annoying when you get to your seat just to realize that someone has already used your overhead bin. It shouldn’t be allowed, every passenger should only be allowed to put his or her carry-on inside his own overhead bin.

  • Holiday_Hero

    I don’t understand people that are over eager to Q. And gate hogs make flying with a baby even harder. Both getting to the plane with baggage no pram and a wriggly baby and putting baby bag essentials half way down the plane as the bins above are full. There is some satisfaction in waking the same ignorent single men while I treck down to get a bottle nappy or toy with a screaming baby. The no pram after gate, or no luggage under bulkhead seats don’t make things easy either. I can only imagine elderly people with medical needs suffer similar difficulties especially finding their bags with medicine and it’s ironically the fully able and seemingly entitled that surround the boarding gate an hour before take off.

  • Whoops

    I’m confused. YOU refuse free stuff? You show up after boarding has ended, and don’t throw a fit to get points or other compensation because it’s your right to hold up the flight due to your esteemed levels of loyalty with every possible travel service provider? Oh maybe that’s Sebastian I’m thinking of..