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Once everyone have boarded an airplane the stewardesses usually go through the cabin and make a headcount to confirm that the right number of people are on board. But what would happen if the count fails and either there are too many or too few people? Would the airplane be de-boarded and forced to go through the boarding gate again?

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    This has happened to me before on WestJet. They asked everyone on board to take out their boarding pass and checked them until they found someone who was on board but had not been scanned in. – ajd Sep 25 '17 at 11:07
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    They count, they count again, and once more and then they go through the rows with the passenger manifest in hand, checking who is sitting where. Never been asked to deplane but I have witnessed cases where they would spend quite some time trying to figure out what happened. I assume they have to somehow account for the discrepancy before proceeding. – Relaxed Sep 25 '17 at 11:17
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    Making people deplane might also be an issue for those airlines that take people's boarding pass when they scan it. Imagine the delay if airlines had to reprint all the boarding passes and ask for people's IDs! – Michael Sep 25 '17 at 13:35
  • @Michael I never had the entire boarding pass taken, I always got back a little slip which makes sense because how would you find your seat without? Remember it? Nah. – chx Sep 26 '17 at 22:26
  • @chx Now that I think about it, only Southwest Airlines in the US take your boarding pass. This is because there are no assigned seats for Southwest. – Michael Sep 27 '17 at 0:55
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For clarity, there isn't a "wrong number of people," there's a mismatch between the manifest (number of people that are supposed to be on the airplane) and number of bodies aboard.

It must be reconciled. How depends on company procedure and practicality. Some things I have seen:

  • The first thing done is a recount, preferably by two people.
  • If the onboard count is higher than the manifest and passengers do not show boarded, the Agent will call those passengers by name.
  • If the onboard count is lower than the manifest and there are obvious empty seats, the Agent will call those passengers by name on board and presumably in the lounge.
  • Some airlines use handhelds that show the boarded seat map so they can easily compare boarded seats to actual butts in seats. They can do the same with a printout.
  • If there are more people onboard than seats, they'll first try to verify seat assignments of those affected, meaning those with duplicate seats.
  • If things are really wonky, they'll ask everyone to sit in their assigned seat, then check boarding passes.

I've seen it a couple of times where children boarded as lap children are seated on a less than full flight. I figure it's because they're counting empty seats to accommodate stand-bys, so they end up with a seat count mismatch.

The most important regulatory issue is the count matches in case recovery is required. It's important to know who is onboard but this is less of a "security" issue since presumably any person onboard was screened at the terminal entrance.

  • How is "a mis-match between the manifest and number of bodies aboard" different from "a wrong number of people"? And where did that phrase come from, anyway? I don't see it in the question. – phoog Sep 25 '17 at 16:53
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    @phoog It's right in the question. I'm pointing out that the number of people often isn't wrong. The manifest can be wrong because of a boarding error. A mis-match covers both those cases and seat counts. "What happens if the on-board headcount shows that the wrong number of people have boarded the airplane?" – Johns-305 Sep 25 '17 at 16:56
  • Ok, that makes sense, but how would they identify and resolve an error in the manifest? – phoog Sep 25 '17 at 17:21
  • @phoog Well, that's the whole point of the question, getting the count and manifest to match by fixing the discrepancies, whatever they are. – Johns-305 Sep 25 '17 at 17:22

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