People queuing at the gate before getting on their plane

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I’m not including budget flights here, where there is certainly an advantage to getting on the plane as early as possible in order to get a decent seat or to ensure you’re sitting next to anyone you’re travelling with.

No, I’m talking about flights where you have a ticket with a seat number on it. It’s been confirmed – it’s there in black and white. It’s yours. No one else can have it. So why are you standing there, sometimes for up to an hour, in a queue with several dozen other people (who also have an allocated seat) when you could enjoy the comfort of one of the many seats available at the gate? Really, what possible benefit is there from getting on the plane before your fellow passengers that outweighs the discomfort of standing for an extended period of time? It’s still going to leave at the scheduled time (probably later, if my experience is anything to go by). It has to wait for everyone to board, you see? Sitting smugly in the plane won’t make it leave any quicker. In fact, unless you have a window seat, you’ve just increased your chances of having to get out of your seat to allow another passenger into theirs at least once, slowing the boarding process and delaying your flight even further. What have you gained? And don’t give me that whole “I want to guarantee a place in the overhead locker for my hand luggage” bullshit. Limiting the amount and the size of hand luggage they allow on the plane essentially guarantees there will be room.

Yet every time I have a flight to catch I am both dumbfounded and irritated by the Pavlovian response to the announcement that they are now seating priority customers from the non-priority crowd. Up they get, luggage in hand, adopting the “I’m ready to hand you my ticket and get on the plane” stance, and quite prepared to hold that stance for what can sometimes seem to be an inexorable amount of time.  And there’s the palpable annoyance on their faces as the business class folk get to go on first, and that chap in the wheelchair. And their utter fury at being told that no, they can’t get on yet because they’re in row 6 and they’re only seating rows 14-28 right now. And their response when they’re finally allowed to flash their boarding pass: all elbows and flustered irritation at having had to stand for over 20 minutes to claim the space on the plane that was never going to be given to anyone else. I observe this behaviour from the comfort of one of the many chairs dotted around the gate, slowly and casually making my way to the barriers when the queue is down to about 2 or 3 people. If there is an unexpected bus to transit us between gate and plane, I’m even more delighted to see Mr Furious sandwiched between his fellow travellers, having had to wait in even greater discomfort for the bus to fill.

The bizarre thing is, it’s the people most eager to get on the plane early that are invariably the ones who want to get off it in a similarly overzealous, if ultimately pointless, fashion…

7 comments

  1. My thoughts exactly. regards Peet

  2. Brilliant post, I never understood why they line up for so long either

  3. The answer to why they line up early is the overhead bins, which are still first come.first serve. When those fill up, all that is left is a gate check of the remaining luggage which means an additional trip to bag claim for paasengers that otherwise might not have checked any bags. The airline industry has a long way to go in getting that process fixed.

  4. I hate this too! There’s no reason for it! You’re still going to end up standing in the aisle no matter where you are on the plane. To the person above me who said that it has to do with the overhead bins, that’s not it. I can’t speak for every flight in existence, but most people I’ve seen who line up way before they should do not have carry on items with them. To those who do, I hate you. You’re the reason everyone has to stand in the aisle as you try to fit an item which should really have been checked inside the too-small overhead compartment.

  5. You just re-ignited my PTSD from having worked in the horrid airline industry. But I also felt justified that someone wrote about one of the many annoying things people do when traveling by air.

  6. Hoopmaster6

    The reason I do this is because I usually end up picking the cheapest flight possible which typically means a layover time anywhere between 45min – 1 hour. I like to be sure I can put my luggage above or before my assigned seat, otherwise it will undeniably end up at the very back of the plane, and I will have to wait for every passenger to exit, then get my luggage and and rush across the airport to my next flight.

  7. Ryan

    I know exactly what you mean.. I’m sitting here in Chicago OHare and googled to feel if anyone else was feeling the same way. I usually wait til the last 15 minutes to board when no one else is left.

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