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It happened to me just one time, I don't know how common it is. I wonder why it can happen.

I was hanging at duty-free shops before a flight from Germany to Turkey. I heard the last call announcement 40 minutes before the departure time and my name was explicitly mentioned. When I went to the gate, boarding had been completed except me. Normally that airline closes the gate 20 minutes before the departure.

The pilot announced that he was talking to the control tower to take off earlier than planned. At the end we couldn't take off earlier, but I didn't understand why they tried to do this.

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    Because everyone likes to arrive early. Nobody likes to arrive late. If everyone is on the plane 45 minutes before departure, then why bother waiting if you can depart? Of course EUROCONTROL won't always cooperate... – Michael Hampton Apr 13 '18 at 4:10
  • I have a friend who once flew from Greece to Israel. Arriving at the gate the normal interval before departure, he was told the plane had left, something like two hours early (as I remember). The explanation was that they always left at different than the expected time to confuse any terrorists. – Bob Bales Apr 13 '18 at 4:28
  • VtC as this question is either Too Broad (it's a list question) or Primarily Opinion Based (asking why something happens is inherently opinion unless backed by rules/regulations). It may be a great question, but how does the asker choose WHICH answer is most appropriate? – CGCampbell Apr 13 '18 at 14:07
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    @CGCampbell I dunno, it's not inconceivable that an expert (like a regional manager, or whoever schedules flights) could show up and explain how they decide when to send a flight early. – Azor Ahai Apr 13 '18 at 21:05
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My retort would be "Why wouldn't they try to do this?". Nobody is likely to be unhappy about arriving earlier than expected. I doubt anybody particularly enjoys waiting in an airport departure lounge and would complain about having their time cut short. So why not try to get everybody on the plane early, depart early and get to your destination early? If nothing else it means a slightly shorter work day for the flight crew.

Sometimes this is caused by unexpected slot restrictions at the destination due to oncoming weather. In such situations they calculate the cost vs benefits of an early departure. In this specific case only 1 already-checked-in passenger was missing and was easy to trace.

My assumption would be that the last call didn't mean they were about to refuse boarding, just that they only had a few passengers left to board and wanted to try to get them on board. If you'd taken 20 minutes to get to the gate they'd probably have still let you on, but don't count on it and if there is ever an announcement related to your flight don't ignore it just because you still have plenty of time before departure.

I should note that none of this is from experience on the airline side of things, just my experience as a traveller so there are likely more informed answers to be had.

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    @HankyPanky: I'm more than happy for you to edit that information into my answer if you want to or perhaps just add an answer of your own saying that? Given I don't really know about that stuff I am not confident I would phrase it well if I edited it into the answer myself. – Chris Apr 12 '18 at 10:47
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    I'd say it's not just an assumtion that the last call didn't mean they were about to refuse the OP boarding, but granted. This would be imaginable had the OP not been checked in (that's actually a very common tactic, overbook and deny, or delay). Having had checked in, they must transport you at due time, or they owe you. – Damon Apr 12 '18 at 12:54
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    @WhatEvil only to a small extent, beyond that the slow speed makes for a much longer flight which ends up costing more fuel than the faster one. Any Speed needs to have a sweet range, below or above that the impact is negligible – Hanky Panky Apr 12 '18 at 14:51
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    @JonathanReez that is a small price to pay for them for 1 passenger and a big headache for the passenger him/herself. I like to stay on top of those announcements if they ever mention my flight. Sometimes those re bookings and those vouchers feel tiny as compared to the trouble. – Hanky Panky Apr 12 '18 at 16:12
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    Worth noting that in many airports, if you bother to listen to the announcements, you'll notice that there can be five or six "final" calls over a fairly long period of time. – WGroleau Apr 13 '18 at 9:11
19

Short answer, because they can. The airline makes their own schedule and can change it whenever they want. Departing and arriving early has more upside than downside.

Keep in mind, you must be at the gate at the original Boarding Time. Meaning, yes, if Boarding Time is 10:15, they can start boarding at 10:00 if they want and make last call at 10:16. If a passenger is not present at 10:16, they can close the flight and depart. This is rare, but possible. Point being, the only time that matters is Boarding Time, especially if the flight is delayed.**

There are two notable exceptions to this:

  1. Slot Controlled airports where the destination airport gives departure clearance. This is however relatively easy to get moved up.
  2. Gate space at the destination.

**In some cases, such as a remote stand, they load the bus once, at boarding time. So if everyone makes it through by 1016 and you're no where in sight. The bus, and your plane, are gone.

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    you must be at the gate at Boarding Time Do you have a source for this? For example, United Airlines says (for flights in the USA): "For flights within the U.S., all customers must be on board the aircraft 15 minutes before the scheduled departure time. We recommend being at the boarding gate at least 15 minutes before departure to ensure that you’re on the aircraft before the doors are closed.", while the boarding time printed on boarding passes is typically 30 minutes or more before departure. I checked a few other airlines, and they also say 15 (sometimes 10) minutes before departure. – Johnny Apr 12 '18 at 19:28
  • @Johnny That's just how it works but keep in mind, that is a very rare circumstance. If there's no pressure to depart, they'll just wait until exactly 15/20 whatever their cutoff is. The point is, they can leave early if there's a reason. – Johns-305 Apr 12 '18 at 22:47
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    @Johns-305 Yes, but they shouldn't be closing the door until their cutoff. You say that you must be at the gate at the boarding time, when I'd argue it's more accurate to say you must be at the gate however many minutes the airline requires before departure time. That will generally be sometime between boarding time and departure time (with exceptions if there are extra security checks at boarding or other nonsense). – Zach Lipton Apr 12 '18 at 23:00
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    @ZachLipton Being in a gracious mood, I modified my Answer to be less dramatic. Boarding time is what matters. Personally, I have little sympathy for folks who complain about early door closure. – Johns-305 Apr 12 '18 at 23:53
3

Going early when possible can pre-compensate unexpected delays later, which would otherwise delay the plane's next flight. For example, if something breaks down as it's landing and needs unscheduled maintenance.

3

This could also be related to air crew duty hours.

Duty hours are limited to ensure the crew is getting enough rest to work safely . The hours logged include time spent sitting in the airport waiting for the departure time or on standby waiting to be assigned to a flight. If part of the crew is near their duty time limit, departing early might prevent calling in a standby person to allow completing the flight legally.

If it's near the end of a month in which there have been a lot of weather delays, the airline company may be in a situation that there is no one remaining to call in and their next choice is cancelling flights because they can't legally start them. If they can get the flight off early enough to land within the limited duty hours then they don't have to cancel a later flight.

3

Weather can be an issue here. If planners are aware of an oncoming storm, it makes sense to get planes out before it hits the airport, or to get planes down a window between weather systems.

In the extreme case of this, you have Delta flight 431, and balls of solid stainless steel from the entire team to put a 737 down the gap between an outer arm of the hurricane and the core.

2

I run into this quite frequently on the YQR-YYZ (Regina, Saskatchewan-Toronto Pearson, Ontario) route. My strong suspicion is that it's due to frequent delays in Toronto. Sometimes due to congestion or weather, you may not be able to land when you expect and can be delayed in the air while awaiting clearance. Also, the taxiing can sometimes take awhile depending on which runway you use to land, so wind direction and congestion (which affect runway choice) can elongate the wheels-on-the-ground-to-plane-at-the-gate time.

Of course, sometimes wind conditions can slow you down en route, too.

The sooner you're in the air, the more likely you can be at the gate at the scheduled time, irrespective of what's going on at the destination, and when the destination is a busy airport, that's important. (When the departure airport is a quieter one, it seems a lot easier to get into the air early. I've been in the air as much as 20 minutes early flying out of YQR, on jets as large as an Airbus 319.)

So... passengers should expect it. The departure time is an estimated time, but it can change out of circumstance, necessity, and convenience. And of course, as mentioned by others, arriving at the destination early is never a bad thing, especially if you have a meeting to attend or a connecting flight to board. The worst case scenario is that you're stuck in the destination airport longer and the originating one shorter.

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