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I'm flying Icelandair soon and I'm trying to select a seat. I prefer to board earlier in order to increase the chances of getting overhead bin space. Does Icelandair board passengers in the front seats first, or the back seats?

(It's a round trip from JFK to Reykjavik, in case this matters.)

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    Once you exclude premium fares which give priority (and are usually at the front), are there any airlines boarding front to back? In my experience it's either back to front, based on priority groups (related to check-in sequence), or just plain first come first serve. Other than priority boarding passengers, have you ever seen front to back?
    – jcaron
    Jul 8, 2021 at 23:26
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    @jcaron front to back is the norm in the US (e.g., United, Delta)
    – Brian
    Jul 8, 2021 at 23:33
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    I just spoke with a customer service representative from Icelandair; she told me that boarding is from back to front for both legs of the trip. Will update once I have actually taken the trip.
    – Brian
    Jul 8, 2021 at 23:33
  • United used to do window-to-aisle (currently does back to front). Delta does back to front. The exceptions are priority boarding passengers, which are usually seated towards the front, but they're paying extra for this (or have status), it's not based on the selected seat among the regular seats.
    – jcaron
    Jul 8, 2021 at 23:41

1 Answer 1

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All airlines I know of use the following boarding process:

  • First, let priority passengers board. This may include (either as a single group, or as several distinct groups):

    • People with disabilities or requiring special assistance
    • People with babies
    • Groups
    • Premium class passengers (Business, First, Premium...)
    • Premium fare passengers (Flexible fares as opposed to standard, discount, or light fares)
    • Frequent flyers with status
    • Passengers who paid extra for priority boarding, possibly by choosing "premium" seats (front seats, "extra legroom" seats...)
    • ...
  • Then all the rest of the passengers using one of these methods:

    • Most commonly back to front, especially on larger aircraft
    • Sometimes window to aisle or other weird experiments like odd/even rows
    • By priority groups based on check-in order
    • Or just by queue order: first in line, first on board.
    • In some cases, boarding will be split by rows between multiple aircraft doors.

    Note that for some airlines, the procedure may vary depending on the flight (or actually the aircraft type), how full it is, the airport, and/or how much time they have.

    Note also that in many cases, "back to front" will result in only two or three groups depending on the size of the aircraft, so you should still try to be first in line for your group to be sure.

I've never heard of an airline boarding "front to back", once you take aside priority groups. Some people in those groups are indeed at the front, but it's more a matter of how much they paid that the actual row they selected.

If you do not qualify for any of the priority groups, then depending on the airline, to board first:

  • Check if there are any options to get priority boarding. Sadly, it seems at Icelandair the only options for that are to travel in the Saga Premium class
  • Pick a seat towards the back of the aircraft (or for airlines doing window-to-aisle, a window seat)
  • Check-in as early as possible
  • Be first in line for boarding

Note that if the reason you want to board early is to avoid waiting for your luggage at baggage claim at the destination, don't forget you'll have to go through immigration first, and being at the back of the plane usually means you'll be among the last to disembark, you'll have a longer line at immigration, and checked bags will likely already have been delivered when you get to baggage claim (unless you land at CDG of course).

If you are in a hurry, it is often a much better idea to book at the front, and be first in line for your group. You are likely to still have space, and you will be among the first out of the plane, through immigration, and out of the airport.

Note that JFK-REK seems to be operating using 767-300ERs (you would have to check for your specific dates), and those of Icelandair at least seem to have relatively large overhead bins, and given their layout and number, it would probably be quite rare that all of them would be full. Also, longer, international flights tend to see people having more checked luggage and less carry-on luggage, not sure if that trend changed with the introduction of the cheaper no-checked-luggage-included fares.

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    I can not remember details but I kind of remember flights, after the special groups, being called by seat row and the lower numbers, so front of plane, first. Certainly KLM. I have never experienced back to front.
    – Willeke
    Jul 9, 2021 at 11:44
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    @Willeke The whole point of calling by rows is sending people to the back first so they don't block the aisle for passengers boarding after them. If you board the front rows first (other than premium classes etc.) then many are still going to be in the aisle trying to put their stuff in the overhead bins when the following passengers arrive, and will delay them. I've experienced back to front many, many times on many different airlines, I don't remember ever having experience front to back.
    – jcaron
    Jul 9, 2021 at 12:11
  • I never agreed with the method, I remembered it because it was so annoying and did not make sense. And they did seem to use the method to organise boarding in the terminal and not to improve it in the plane.
    – Willeke
    Jul 9, 2021 at 12:23
  • @Willeke some airlines (JetBlue for instance IIRC) board by priority groups which are based on check-in sequence numbers, not row numbers (trying to incentivise people to check-in early, arrive at the airport early... Though I'm not quite sure how this still works in the age of mobile check-in). Wasn't it something similar you experienced? There's also the case of boarding from both front and back doors (on the apron rather than through a jetway), where passengers are split between front rows and back rows, possibly going into different buses, maybe?
    – jcaron
    Jul 9, 2021 at 12:47
  • Interestingly, this document says that back-to-front is the least efficient method for boarding, though it is based on simulations rather than actual measures, and many of the more efficient methods are just way to complex to be implemented in real life. This actually says about the same about back-to-front (through actual experimentation), but other than an insanely complex method, the fastest is... random seating!
    – jcaron
    Jul 9, 2021 at 13:00

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