Queues to board commercial airplanes have gotten noticeably longer, more chaotic, and sometimes testier. Increasingly restrictive bag policies and sold-out planes inadvertently encourage more passengers to board as early as possible to ensure their place on the plane.
It all adds up to a lot more gate stress for all involved – from main cabin passengers and gate agents to premium passengers and passersby. Is there a better way?
According to many self-proclaimed ‘final-call’ fliers, the answer is yes. These seemingly brave but still-confirmed passengers wait until all rows have been called and the lines have vanished before boarding. They say you don’t have to wait in line to confirm your place (or your bag’s place) on a plane – in fact, the pros of delayed boarding far outweigh the cons. If you want to join their ranks, here’s what to expect.
Not only does waiting to board let you bypass the often stressful and crowded lines (or ‘gate lice’ as one woman put it), doing so lets you enjoy more legroom, open seating, and less claustrophobia for a few minutes longer in the gate rather than the plane.
‘Remember, you still have a confirmed seat 10-15 minutes before the gate closes,’ says Luisa Ruocco, a travel blogger from England who has been boarding ‘final call’ for more than a decade. ‘This is especially true for people with checked bags, as security doesn’t want them separated from owners.’
If you made it through security en route to the gate, you have a confirmed seat and bag. Of the dozens of final-call passengers interviewed for this article, not one had their carry-on bag denied at the gate for boarding. In some cases, those bags got gate-checked when all overhead bins were full – but even then, there are almost always a few spots left in overheads. Either way, your bag will board and won’t be left behind.
First pick of spare seats
One of the best secret advantages of final-call boarding is getting the first pick of any remaining seats, provided no one else is boarding behind you. Nick Brennan from New York regularly gets his first pick of economy plus, exit seats, and sometimes even entire rows when he boards last.
‘This is especially true on transcontinental or international flights,’ Brennan says. ‘A couple of times I was told I had to sit in my designated seat for take-off, but on most occasions, the flight attendants don’t even care.’
In addition to more legroom, remaining at the gate until the line has cleared allows you to enjoy larger windows, better lighting, enduring access to power outlets, more room for kids to play and better people-watching opportunities.
‘Gates can be very amusing,’ says Anthony Bianco, from Australia. ‘Not only are they more comfortable than a cramped plane, they’re a great place to avoid and watch the scrum of people jostling to get on the aircraft.’
As long as you arrive on time and stay at your gate, there is minimal worry of missing flight, even when boarding on final calls. ‘Research has shown – if people are in the boarding area or even airline lounge that’s coordinated with the gate on boarding times, they will never miss their flight,’ says Alex Sachs, a frequent flier who has boarded last for years. Although you might get bumped in extremely rare occasions, that can happen to anyone. If you have any concerns, use the official airline app to gauge how busy a flight is.
Running the risk
Although boarding last is a lot safer than you might expect, it only works if you arrive at the gate at least 30 minutes early and listen to all announcements. One person interviewed said she arrived 15 minutes before the gate closed and was bumped from her flight, even though the ticket said to arrive at least 15 minutes before departure. If you have tight connections and don’t want to wait for a gate-checked bag, you should consider boarding early, as overhead bins can sometimes run out. Lastly, waiting until final call might mean you miss out on priority upgrades or ideal seating on unassigned airlines (like Southwest).
‘Stress is a poison,’ says Vanessa Valiente, a frequent flier from San Diego. ‘If it stresses you out to sit passively and wait, then stand in line. If standing in line stresses you out, then take a seat with the rest of us and relax a bit. We’re all cool here.’
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