At one time, I was bored because of a delayed flight and that question arose in my mind just for curiosity. I haven't observed any mechanism that checks or counts the passengers who get on the aircraft, so there is a possibility of abuse.

I guess airport security is responsible for that. The passenger may try to get on another aircraft or may get in the airport through a different gate. It must be a bigger problem at international airports and terminals.

If the passenger is caught, what does airport security do, just arrest? What does the airline do if they realise the incident before or after the take-off?


In case there is a jet bridge, of course it's tough to do something like that. I am especially intending the gates that are directly open to outdoor (parking area of the aircrafts). The passengers are expected to walk to the aircraft or are transported by bus depending on the distance between the terminal and the aircraft.

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    If the aircraft is being boarded via a jetbridge, then it's rather hard to "escape" the jetbridge between the gate and the aircraft, given that it's just a straight tube from the gate to the plane. If the plane is being boarded via stairs, usually there are some security people around to make sure passengers aren't running off.
    – ajd
    Commented Nov 18, 2017 at 18:26
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is a hypothetical ("What if...") question.
    – fkraiem
    Commented Nov 19, 2017 at 0:38
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    Maybe you could explain the scenario you're imagining a little bit more. As ajd says, at most airports, people have their boarding passes checked at the gate, then either walk down the jetbridge or follow some well-defined pathway along the ramp to the aircraft. If somebody tries to wander off, they're going to be pretty noticeable and treated like any other unauthorized person in a restricted area: stopped and questioned at a minimum. Is that what you're question is about, or is there more to it that I'm missing? Commented Nov 19, 2017 at 1:06
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    I have walked on the tarmac in a few European airports, either airports/gates without jetbridges or when bussed out to a plane parked farther from the buildings. In all cases there were at least two members of staff who did nothing but keeping an eye on the passengers.
    – Willeke
    Commented Nov 19, 2017 at 10:19
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    " I haven't observed any mechanism that checks or counts the passengers who get on the aircraft" You haven't observed enough. Passengers on airplanes are counted, and if the count doesn't match, it's done again. You'll here sometimes pages for passenger X, and sometimes, in rare cases, PA saying that luggage for a missing passenger being unloaded.
    – user67108
    Commented Nov 19, 2017 at 13:45

3 Answers 3


I haven't observed any mechanism that checks or counts the passengers who get on the aircraft, so there is a possibility of abuse.

Absolutely not, passengers on board are 100% accounted for. You haven't noticed it because it's not done in a very noticeable manor unless there's a problem.

This previous thread addresses this situation:

What happens if the on-board headcount shows that the wrong number of people have boarded the airplane?

What happens depends on the exact situation. If someone mistakenly boards the wrong flight (yes, it can happen) they're just sent off to their correct flight. If they're found to be a stowaway, they're probably arrested by the airport police.

Note, particularly for US domestic flights, there is no safeguard against switching boarding passes since ID's are not regularly checked at the gate. This presumes thought that a valid Boarding Pass and ID were used at the terminal entrance.

  • IDs are absolutely checked at the gate in some countries, e.g. in Canada. Commented Nov 18, 2017 at 15:17

Strange that it wasn't mentioned: What you describe would be something that a person would do who has a ticking timebomb in their luggage. So the flight would be delayed until the identity of the missing passenger is confirmed, and either the missing passenger is found and brought back on board, or the missing passenger's luggage is removed.

That happens when passengers check in luggage and then don't check in themselves, but the same reasoning would apply if you checked in and then somehow managed to not board the plane.


It depends on the airport and the country. In Canada, ID is checked at boarding, so a passenger couldn't easily board the wrong flight. A passenger could theoretically spend the day in airport security and not be detected if he didn't board his flight, but there is no harm in this anyway. (It is perfectly possible to get a gate pass to help take a passenger to his gate, without having a flight for yourself - it would be very unlikely that anyone would force such a person to leave the secure area if he wanted to explore the shops and restaurants.)

  • In my scenario, the passenger already passed through his/her legitimate gate, so can directly walk to an aircraft. I presume that IDs are not checked at aircraft's door in Canada. Please correct me if I'm wrong.
    – user63373
    Commented Nov 18, 2017 at 15:31
  • @ahmedus In Canada you could not proceed through an aircraft gate without showing ID and your boarding pass. Commented Nov 18, 2017 at 15:32
  • OK, I got it now.
    – user63373
    Commented Nov 18, 2017 at 15:39

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