It is important to be at your gate and ready to board the airplane when boarding is scheduled to begin.
But when do planes start boarding? And do flights ever board early?
For most US airlines, the flights will begin to board about 30-50 minutes before the flight is scheduled to depart.
However, this timeline may depend on the airplane layout itself and the destination of the flight. Be sure to double check your boarding pass, as it will indicate what time the flight will begin to board. There may be delays.
Flights usually board in groups, based on where seats are located in order to load the plane the most effective way possible. Your group number should be on your boarding pass, as well, or it will be provided upon check-in.
For most flights, boarding will close 10-15 minutes before the plane is scheduled to leave the airport.
Again, this may vary depending on your specific flight, but it is a general rule to adhere to.
Let’s dive into more details.
Why Do People Line Up Early To Board Plane?
Most planes begin boarding almost an hour before their departure time for a few reasons.
First, boarding passengers and getting all of the luggage loaded on the plane is quite a lengthy process.
Lining up early to board the airplane ensures that passengers can get settled on the plane and prepare for takeoff.
If you’ve flown before, you probably know how tedious it can be when everyone is boarding and storing carry-on luggage, it takes quite a while! Another reason is so that the crew can complete the necessary safety checks before takeoff and follow through with any last minute procedures.
The most obvious reason is that the flight begins to board so early in order to take off on time.
Boarding is quite a lengthy and slow process, and all of the safety checks and review of procedures that must occur before departure also take time.
Boarding the plane almost an hour in advance leaves the room for any unexpected situations that need to be resolved before the plane can depart.
Just like you leave your house early when commuting to work, boarding the plane early ensures that the plane can depart on time and not cause additional delays in the schedule.
What Are The Various Categories And Groups?
A boarding group is a particular way that the airline organizes passengers according to how they are to board the plane.
Each airline has a different way of setting boarding groups, and some airlines will have groups organized by numbers and some by letters.
Some airlines will board front to back, others back to front, and others board based on the order that passengers check in to the flight.
However the standard boarding procedure usually follows this sequence.
Active military members board first, followed by families with young children or strollers, priority boarding for passengers with disabilities, passengers with executive or platinum status through the airline, and passengers with upgraded seating.
From there, the remaining passengers will be boarded for that airline based on their boarding procedure for economy seats.
However, each airline is different. For example, on Delta, their procedure is to board the plane rear to front.
On Southwest, you check-in online 24 hours before your flight and whoever checks in first gets to board the plane first.
For another example. On United, passengers in the window seats board first, followed by middle seats, and then aisle seats, to prevent having to step over anyone.
It’s important to familiarize yourself with the airline’s boarding procedures before arriving at the airport.
When Does Boarding End?
For most flights and airlines, the boarding process stops 10-15 minutes before scheduled departure.
At most airports, if you arrive 15 minutes after boarding starts, you will most likely not be permitted to check in or go to the gate.
Most flights require passengers to be checked in 30 minutes before boarding begins. Once the boarding doors close, you will not be able to board the flight.
In some cases, the airline may call for you over the loudspeaker or call your personal number, but again, if you are not at the gate when boarding doors close, you will not be permitted to enter the plane.
Airport Arrival: How Early is Recommended?
How early you should arrive at the airport varies by a few different circumstances. First, if you are flying domestically, you may not need to arrive quite as early versus if you are flying internationally.
Another factor to consider is whether or not you will need to check in your luggage, which can take some time.
Lastly, consider what time your flight is departing, and you may want to carve out some additional time if your flight departs during peak times at the airport, which is usually early morning or evening, as well as busy travel days like holidays.
In terms of when specifically you should arrive at the airport, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recommends arriving two hours before departure for domestic flights and 3 hours before departure for international flights.
Arriving 45 minutes before the departure is the very latest you can give for a domestic flight if checking a bag.
You should always consider the time that procedures will take once you arrive at the airport.
For example, checking bags may take approximately 15 minutes, while going through airport security can usually take about 15-20 minutes minimum, and much longer during peak times.
Depending on the size of the airport and how far away your gate is, it may take up to 10 minutes to walk to your gate.
With all of those times factored in, it’s important to be safe rather than sorry and get to the airport early.
Tip: Check out this Travelpro Platinum Elite 21” Carry-On Spinner, a sleek and versatile carry-on that is designed to fit within the limits of most airlines, to save you from the hassle of the airports and the pesky airline fees.
Don’t Miss the Flight! The Plane Won’t Wait for You!
A word to the wise- the plane likely will not wait for you. Unfortunately, flying in today’s day and age isn’t like the movies.
In most cases, there will not be anyone holding the boarding doors as you are racing down the terminal.
Once the boarding doors are closed, they won’t reopen and you’ll be flat out of luck.
The guidelines for how early to arrive at the airport are definitely in place for a reason, and missing a flight can also result in unforeseen consequences.
Not only will it mess up your travel plans, but you can also incur fees for missing your departure, and rebooking another flight may also prove costly due to missing a departure.
In a majority of cases, you will not be able to receive any sort of refund for missing your flight, as that is considered to be your responsibility.
Some airlines may even bar you from taking home the return flight as a consequence for missing your departure.
The moral of the story is that it is best to be there early and have more time to sit at the gate, rather than getting there late, missing your flight, and being left with a mess to sort out and money lost.
The “better safe than sorry” approach is definitely one to keep in mind here! Especially in our current world, flights and air travel can be unpredictable so it’s best to get there early and be prepared. Happy Travels!
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