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Normally I have frequent flyer status when I board a flight, and I take advantage of it to make sure I'm one of the very first to board, if not the first. That allows me to:

  • Get comfortable, get things out of my bag without disturbing others, etc.

  • Not have to stand in a long queue in the jetbridge (on a large plane, boarding can take ~30 minutes, and this is quite tedious).

  • Find a place for my bag in the overhead locker without worrying that there won't be room and it'll have to be checked (more of an issue on small planes than large ones, although I think it still happens quite rarely in practice).

Are there any advantages to boarding later, or near the end, that I'm missing? (apart from the obvious one of not having to get to the gate quite so early). I never understand why folks wait (although obviously there must be someone at the end!)

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+1 this is a very good question –  user1712 Aug 12 '13 at 20:40
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An extra glass of bubbly in the lounge? (Assuming as a frequent flyer that you have lounge access) –  Gagravarr Aug 12 '13 at 20:59
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I never understand why folk rush and stand in the queue. I have a seat reservation and it's not like I'm going to miss the plane?! –  gerrit Aug 12 '13 at 23:17
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@AndrewFerrier If I join when there are still 10 people in the queue, out of 100 originally, I won't miss the plane, because they won't close the boarding as long as people are queing to get on. And even if I don't, don't they still call people who have checked in but don't turn up? –  gerrit Aug 13 '13 at 19:59
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i guess you are not flying economy. I'd rather stretch my legs a little longer before spending hours on a plane. –  Vitalik Nov 15 '13 at 21:10
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6 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

In addition to other answers, I can think of:

  • A psychological advantage, people who hate flying tend to board late. This somehow makes them feel better.
  • If the plane is not full and you are boarding last, you can sit at any empty seat. Passengers who board early usually sit in their assigned seats to avoid any embarrassments unlike people who board late (they know there's few people left)
  • If you were trying to use some smart ways to be upgraded to B/C or F/C, boarding late is important.
  • If you have an aisle seat (especially in wide bodied airplane) boarding late is better to avoid standing and getting out of the way to let people sit.
  • If you are a paranoid person and you are obsessed about gear collapse, boarding late will decrease the chances of facing a gear collapse situation (gears collapse while the plane is parked, causing the fuselage to hit the ground which might lead to injury).
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I never would have though of the "gear collapsing". A fully-laden plane can land with some force without the gear collapsing. It seems unlikely it would do that just from sheer weight of people, parked at a gate. I think these people need to learn some basic physics :) –  Andrew Ferrier Aug 13 '13 at 19:06
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@andrewFerrier that's why I said psycho ;) –  user1712 Aug 14 '13 at 5:09
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All the answers here are good, marking this one as accepted because it's a good summary of potential reasons. –  Andrew Ferrier Sep 10 '13 at 13:43
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I think you mean "paranoid", not "psycho". –  Andrew Grimm Nov 15 '13 at 12:37
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@AndrewGrimm thanks, fixed. –  user1712 Nov 15 '13 at 19:10
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Ignoring the fact that most airlines make certain people wait until the (near) end based on boarding order, etc...

Planes are small, cramped things, and many people simply don't like sitting on them for a minute longer than they need to. Boarding an extra 5 minutes later means 5 minutes sitting in the more comfortable (!?) seats in the boarding area, in the food court or at the bar, rather than on the plane.

If you're on an aisle seat, boarding later can also mean that you won't need to repeatedly stand up if the people in the window/middle seats arrive after you do, or if they decide they need to get at their bags in the overhead bins, etc.

Depending on the country, the airline and the flight, boarding late can mean difficulty in finding space for your luggage, but for many people that travel with only a single bag that can fit under the seat in front of them, that is not an issue - in fact, if you don't have a bag that needs the overhead bin space then there's not really a lot of point boarding early!

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Hmm, that's precisely one of the reasons I like to board early - to put my bag in the overhead bin. I see putting in under your seat as the penalty you pay for boarding late. Legroom is cramped enough as it is... –  Andrew Ferrier Aug 13 '13 at 19:01
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Similarly, with small children (and if you don't have much to store in overhead bins, which you shouldn't since you need those hands free), you may want to wait till the end so the kids can get some more of the running out of their system. –  Jonas Aug 16 '13 at 8:22
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On RyanAir, there's a sort-of gamble you can take.

Generally, there's no seating assignment, AND they rope off the front 2-3 rows. So about 25 minutes before boarding, everyone is eyeing each other and suddenly someone steps up to queue, and so does half the plane. Everyone wants to be first on to either a) sit with their friends or b) get a window seat (or both). So much so that you can pay for priority boarding (or speedy boarding with EasyJet).

However, I've often been one of the last to board, and at this point, they un-rope off the first rows. It seems to be a speeding-up-the-boarding process thing, whereby there are passengers milling about in the aisle, putting luggage in the racks and so on, and this way rather than have the last few passengers trying to get past to some random seats dotted around, they just let you sit down immediately in these front rows.

The bonus? If you're in row 1 - massive leg room, and if you're in any of these front few rows, you're going to be one of the first off the plane - often a handy advantage for beating the immigration queues or taxi lines upon landing.

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True, but there is also the danger that your hand luggage won't travel with you, meaning you will have to wait for it on the belts (assuming you travel only with hand luggage) –  nsn Nov 14 '13 at 13:20
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One of the main reasons I wait is because I am hoping for an upgrade. Until the flight "closes", the gate staff don't know how many upgrades they have to give away. All that unpacking and settling in will be wasted if you're going to move up front.

The other reason I might be one of the last to board is that I have been waiting in the airline lounge rather than at the gate. If you time it well the boarding line has died down as has the line in the jetway, and the whole thing is nearly pleasant. Occasionally if I arrive and see a giant line to board, and presumably a giant line in the jetway, I will sit in the gate area and take advantage of "power and ping" for a few more minutes. And once I waited till the very last second to board a flight that I knew had no inseat power because I had made a connection and landed with all my devices out of power, and sat at the gate charging everything until the gate agents told me I could wait no longer and I finally boarded.

Finally some people are last to board because they came from another flight or had to clear standby or whatnot. Or they just came to the airport late. I know a guy who likes to say "if you don't miss one flight a year, you're spending too much time in airports."

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how do you use boarding late to achieve an upgrade? Just asking as you get your boarding pass scanned? –  Mark Mayo Aug 13 '13 at 16:08
    
no, you request one online that doesn't go through automatically, or you ask at the gate, and then they say "we will process upgrades when the flight closes" so you sit and wait until they start calling names. –  Kate Gregory Aug 13 '13 at 16:14
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@KateGregory, I guess the airlines I travel don't tend to process upgrades in that way. I tend to fly AA/BA, and in my experiences, upgrades are processed at the latest before anyone gets on. In the rare case that didn't happen, I guess I'd be happy to move. I don't travel domestic in NA much though, with its intense upgrade culture... –  Andrew Ferrier Aug 13 '13 at 19:03
    
The thing is, you don't know how many business class seats there are to give away until you know whether the people who are supposed to be sitting in them will be. Someone who's paying for business can change onto or off the flight right until it "closes" - about 20 minutes before it leaves. Only then can they give away the upgrades. Furthermore, a high-status flyer can request the upgrade 25 minutes before departure and be higher up the priority list for the limited upgrades than lower status flyers who asked earlier. Only once it's closed can the upgrades start to be handed out. –  Kate Gregory Nov 15 '13 at 21:17
    
"If you don't miss one flight a year, you're spending too much time in airports." Um, I haven't missed a flight in the last ever, largely achieved by spending no time at all in airports. (I have missed a ferry or two, mind you, and innumerable trains.) –  TRiG Nov 20 '13 at 13:51
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When I am travelling, and especially if I do not have to stack much in the bins, I often wait a bit to board late, even though I am already at the gate, for several reasons.

  1. Planes are not comfortable. I am tall for international standards, and the seats at the gate are far more relaxed than the plane seats.

  2. People taking their time to stack there stuff in the overhead bins annoy me. Boarding could be so much more efficient (like entering/exiting the train).

  3. The time goes quicker outside of the plane :)

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1. Understood. 2. Exactly, that's why I get on first :) 3. Maybe. I guess that's personal pref! –  Andrew Ferrier Aug 13 '13 at 19:00
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Not only must there be someone at the end, there can only be one person going first and a handful who don't experience queuing in any serious way. The rest is going to stand in the queue no matter what.

Consequently, for those of us who don't have status or aren't generally so quick that we find ourselves boarding immediately, the choice is not between being first and waiting. Realistically, it's between, on the one hand, rushing only to find oneself slightly ahead in the queue and standing anyway and, on the other hand, waiting in your airport seat while the most pushy people fight each other for no reason and boarding comfortably afterward.

This is especially bad with budget airlines, even when they assign seats, and some people might have got used to avoid boarding immediately and then carry that habit over to long-haul flights with legacy carriers.

Seen that way, the question could also be why do people bother with trying to board early at all? The answer, for me at least, is that there is still a bit of excitement and anxiety to miss the plane and that I find it difficult to just stay seated and focus on something else until the very end of the procedure.

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+1 for "waiting in your airport seat while the most pushy people fight each other for no reason and boarding comfortably afterward" -- that sums it up for me. –  McGarnagle Nov 15 '13 at 23:16
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