38

I am not a frequent traveler but it's been like this with all the flights I have been on. Here is the most recent example:

Below is my boarding pass

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As you can see Gate Closes at 20:20

Here is the departures board at 18:32, clearly it says that they will announce the boarding gate at 20:10 ?!

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I was hoping they will do that earlier but at 19:41 it's still the same

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In fact they announced it at 20:11 but since I was freaking out and had to leg it to the gate I didn't have the time to take a photo.

You might think 9 minutes is enough, well below are the times required to reach the gates from the closest place to them

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And that's for a healthy young person, no way my grandmother could be able to be at the gates within 9 minutes.

Is there a specific reason? it's not like they allocate the gate dynamically! The staff must have known about the gate hours ago as I don't expect the pilot to drive the airplane from the garage to the gate within 9 minutes?

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    The late gate announcement is normally caused by the incoming plane being delayed, so they don't know where it'll come in at. Almost certainly they will have closed the gate later than expected too – Gagravarr Dec 16 '15 at 18:34
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    You were flying the passenger-hating RyanAir, so who knows... Generally though late boarding gate announcement is due to late plane arrival, especially at airports where planes pretty much take the next free gate rather than having dedicated ones – Gagravarr Dec 16 '15 at 18:40
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    But the plane may have been delayed in arrival. The ground crew then does a quick turnaround so it can depart on time. Planes almost never arrive from "the garage"; they normally arrive from another airport with a load of passengers. The arrival gate can change at any time before the plane actually gets to the gate, even while it is taxiing from the runway, because for example the previous plane in its scheduled gate might be delayed. – phoog Dec 16 '15 at 18:42
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    I mostly see this for low-cost airlines. In that case, most passengers will have been processed before the aircraft even touches the ground. The gate will already be closed when passengers from the previous flight finish to disembark. So yes, they can and do change the gate at the last minute. And it puts pressure on the passengers to all show up at the same time. It's all part of an effort to minimise turn-around time and reduce costs, even at the expense of comfort. – Relaxed Dec 16 '15 at 18:43
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    Also, in your pictures, only Ryanair and Easyjet (both low-cost airlines) use a gate that's 7-8 min away, again possibly a deliberate inconvenience for passengers willing to trade comfort for price. Other airlines have gates closer to the entrance and presumably pay a premium for better service from the airport. – Relaxed Dec 16 '15 at 18:53
18

Airports at which gates are announced late normally have a hall with shops and restaurants from which the piers with the gates can be reached without any additional security/passport checks. Nearby the gates, there tend to be no shops (but possibly some vending machines).

Announcing the gates late thus helps the airport with making revenue - the passengers stay in the area with the shops until the very last minute. Also, last-minute gate changes are easy as when this happens, no passenger should have the old incorrect gate in mind.

While many fellow posters mentioned that late gate announcements happens mostly for low cost airlines, the photos by the OP also show a couple of BA flights with late gate announcements. BA is certainly not a low cost airline. I've noticed that UK airports tend to announce gates late, and often, the gate will be listed on flightaware.com many minutes before it is announced on the airport screens.

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    (+1) The OP also mentioned the time to takes to reach the gate. Apparently, BA flights have gates that are close-by and are still announced a bit earlier (up to 45 min before departure vs. 25). – Relaxed Dec 18 '15 at 8:01
  • @Relaxed Indeed! There are some BA flights that seem to be announced a bit earlier. What I just find striking is that the BA flight to London City on the OP's photo is scheduled to only be announced 30 minutes before departure. Now flights to LCY aren't the ones that tend to be low-cost. – DCTLib Dec 18 '15 at 8:48
  • GLA or EDI to LCY are very much business flights. Passengers typically have everything ready, 1 carry on item etc, so loading is much more efficient. I would class them as pretty low cost though. I usually go to LCY with BA when I to visit London as it's cheaper than train or EasyJet – Rory Alsop Jul 14 '16 at 20:33
37

Normal airlines will have a period of "Boarding" before "Last call": Ryanair's first call is also a "Last call". The gate probably actually closed at something closer to 20:40. In other words, the window isn't as short as they pretend, but they want to put pressure on the customers.

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    To airlines, as with most businesses, time is money. – A. Murray Dec 18 '15 at 15:50
20

I mostly see this for low-cost airlines. In that case, most passengers will have been processed before the aircraft even touches the ground. The gate will already be closed when passengers from the previous flight finish to disembark. So yes, they can and do change the gate at the last minute.

But in some cases, it seem to go beyond that. Announcing late puts pressure on the passengers to all show up at the same time and occurs systematically in some places (e.g. low-cost terminal at Schiphol airport near Amsterdam). And at AMS, the gate really does not open before it's announced so it only stays open for 15-20 min tops. It's all part of an effort to minimise turn-around time and reduce costs, even at the expense of comfort.

By contrast, bar some unexpected issue, at Schiphol's other terminals, gates for long-haul flights from legacy airlines will be announced well in advance and stay open for a longer period of time. In that case, the aircraft will typically already be at the gate when you arrive, which is not the case for low-cost operations.

In this particular case, it seems that Glasgow airport has a dedicated “low-cost” pier and I note that only Ryanair and Easyjet have flights departing from gates that are 7-8 min away from the place where you took the pictures.

I suspect some airports charge these low-cost carriers lower fees to keep their traffic but deliberately inconvenience passengers so that the low-cost pier only appeals to people willing to trade comfort for price, while other airlines keep using the more expensive regular pier and have gates that do not require so much walking.

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    That was the case with atleast one low-fare airline in one European airport. They actually paid less for airport services and it was a royal pain in the lower back for passengers, who also had to pay additional fees as the airport to board their flight. – Egil Dec 16 '15 at 19:10
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    @Louis That situation was fixed in beginning of this year, after existing for some 3 years. Passengers had to pay a fee for the security check, which all airlines except one included in the ticket price. So the dispute went on for years the airport blaming the airline for not including the fee in the ticket price, and the airline claiming their contract with the airport (at the time) said nothing about any such fee, untill their contract expired. – Egil Dec 16 '15 at 19:35
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    wrt GLA: it's a dedicated "low-cost" domestic pier: they use the same gates as everyone else for the international stuff. – gsnedders Dec 16 '15 at 22:03
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    There's a fee for the security check? Well, I'd like to opt out of the security check then, and save a few bucks. – Dan Henderson Dec 17 '15 at 19:14
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    I recently flew domestically from Glasgow and even my BA flight's gate was only announced about ten minutes before boarding began. Ironically, there were several shops and cafes between the departure lounge and the gate and they must be doing terrible business because everybody has to walk straight past them. – David Richerby Mar 11 at 9:29
7

If your problem is that your grandmother cannot walk quickly, consider asking for Boarding Assistance for her and her companion.

Even the budget airlines have a plan for providing boarding assistance. Sometimes it includes a special bus to take you to the plane (not the gate) and a special lift to put you into the plane by the back door, before any of the other customers are allowed on.

In theory only 1 companion is permitted, but my family had success with 1 companion and 1 child accompanying the person who had recently had knee surgery…

5

In my experience, boarding gates will stay open (for a reasonable amount of time) until all passenger who got boarding passes come for boarding. Several times, I would arrive as late as 15-20 minutes past boarding time.

I don't advise you to be late for boarding on purpose, but I don't think your grandmother should not travel with RyanAir because she can't run fast enough. They will wait for her. Denying boarding to someone who has trouble walking (or just went to the toilet for 5 minutes) would result in endless influx of customer complaints, ruining the business.

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    Since when has Ryanair cared about an endless stream of customer complaints? – reirab Dec 17 '15 at 21:11
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    Far more important: There is no luggage allowed to be on the plane, if the owner is not on the plane! So if they deny you to board because you are 15min late, they would actually have to unload the luggage from the cargo bay, find your luggage, remove it, load the rest on the plane again. The airline would have to pay the airport for this service, and it will take time and delay the flight, which might then be also more expensive for the airline. So if you have luggage checked in, it is almost always a lot cheaper for the airline to just let you board. – Josef Dec 18 '15 at 10:50
  • @Josef very good info! – Ulkoma Dec 19 '15 at 9:26
4

In aviation everything is optimised to the maximum, as long as it doesn't undermine safety, and Ryanair is especially notorious for this.

Most of the time the planes come down, unload cargo/pax, refuel, sometimes crews change, then in shortest possible time they load in passengers and cargo, then fly away. All that is done on a really tight schedule. That's why passengers are advised to be at the gate before the boarding starts.

As for late announcement - well, we're all human, including the people announcing things in aieports.

Source: work experience at an airport

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    I don't think this really addresses the OP's question, late announcement is a systematic occurence or a deliberate policy in some cases (e.g. the low-cost terminal at AMS), there must be a reason for it. – Relaxed Dec 16 '15 at 18:56
  • @Relaxed My bad, I missed the point about systematic occurance. Still I beleive the reason is (over)optimization. And, perhaps, sub-par management. – Egil Dec 16 '15 at 19:04
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    In Schiphol Amsterdam, the low cost pier is not that large, the lounge to wait is near it and it is not more than a few minutes walking distance. The only difficulty was when there was a security station between the lounge and the pier. That has been removed now and the walk is now straight forward, (and you can even use the screens close to the pier rather than those in the lounge.) – Willeke Dec 16 '15 at 19:32
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    @Willeke The distance may not be that large but it's made deliberately uncomfortable compared to the rest of the airport. For example, there is no way to wait at the gate, which is announced at the last minute and the website makes it clear that it's deliberate. And judging from the map (I haven't used it in quite a while), it seems that there is still a security inspection between the lounge and the gate for non-Schengen low-cost flights. – Relaxed Dec 16 '15 at 19:56
  • Last time I used it, August 2015, the security post machines and barriers were moved to the side of the area and covered. – Willeke Dec 16 '15 at 20:28
2

In addition to all of the great answers above, one thing worth saying about low cost carriers in general (and Ryanair specifically) is that minimising turnaround time is absolutely crucial to their business. While we don't know exactly how much Ryanair's fleet of 737 aircraft cost to run per hour, it's a lot (an upper bound would probably be on the order of $11k USD per hour as you can hire one for that much), we do know that it's going to be earning them exactly zero money sat on the ground.

All airlines are subject to, more or less, the same fuel costs, use essentially the same aircraft (which are always chosen based on their economic efficiency for a given route, which is not necessarily the same thing as their temporal efficiency -- in Japan you find all-economy 747s doing short haul, for example) and have essentially the same (legally mandated) service costs. Turnaround time is basically the only thing that is left for them to compete on.

There has been much academic analysis done about minimising turnaround time; e.g. this article details how operations research has been used to look at the problem. Aviation throws up many interesting problems like this -- several of which are NP hard, and Boeing themselves have produced a document detailing how a time saving on the order of minutes can result in the difference between making a lot of money on an airline route and being faced with some very large shortfalls to make up. Heck, a quick google shows up this Masters' thesis looking at Rynair's profitability and turnaround time. If you'll forgive me selectively quoting the relevant bits about just how crucial turnaround time is to Rynair, they're quite telling:

By taking about half the [turnaround] time of the larger airlines like British Airways (BA) or Lufthansa, Ryanair’s planes made an average of nine trips per day as against the average six of larger airlines.

[...]

No other low-cost airline managed to replicate Ryanair’s results. According to analysts, its “cost per available seat mile” (the yardstick used by the airline industry to measure costs) was 30% lower than the average for Europe’s major airlines, and its productivity - as measured by the number of passengers per employee - was 40% higher. As a result, Ryanair could break even when its planes were just over half-full.

I would say that the fact that Ryanair does not tell you which gate to go to ahead of time is because they themselves do not necessarily know. When you add in the fact that Ryanair pays tiny landing fees to most airports (negotiated on 15-20 year terms), it's entirely likely that their gate -- which they might want to squeeze in around other, longer operators -- may be necessarily uncertain until it is clear what has happened elsewhere in the airport.

What's far more important to them is, frankly, that the aircraft gets to a gate and leaves with some (not necessarily all!) passengers as soon as possible. I'm afraid that, as far as they're concerned, you and your grandmother's inability to get to the gate on time would just be another willing sacrifice on the altar of capitalism.

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