As part of our series on the passenger journey we take a look at the boarding process.

Boarding is the last step before heading into the aircraft. Most flights start boarding 30 to 50 minutes before the scheduled departure time, but the exact time depends on your destination and airplane type. Boarding normally ends 15 minutes before departure. If you’re not on board, your seat might be reassigned to another passenger. Once the boarding is completed, no one is allowed to enter into the aircraft and this is an important part of aviation rules.

Boarding order

Airlines are continually adjusting the order in which they board passengers. They’ve tried everything from the simple back-to-front protocol to one of the most complicated strategies, known as the reverse pyramid system. Some airlines have even tried boarding passengers without carry-on bags first, which makes sense as passengers stopping to find overhead bins will slow up the boarding of everyone behind.

The science of boarding

New research shows letting the slowest passengers board first leads to the most efficient boarding overall. But because behavior is so hard to predict, some argue that changing boarding procedures is less effective than other tactics, like limiting carry-on baggage.

It has recently been revealed new boarding methods introduced by airlines to reduce the spread of coronavirus on flights could actually increase the risk of infection. Some airlines, have brought in back-to-front boarding, where those seated at the back of the plane get on first.

However, a back-to-front boarding strategy is twice as risky as letting passengers on the aircraft at random when it comes to spreading coronavirus as passengers in the same rows are clustering together while stowing their bags in the overhead bins.

Airlines are heavily invested in boarding times because time equals money. Flying people around the world is a low-margin business, and the faster you can get a flight loaded, into the air, and then emptied on the ground, the faster you can get the next round of paying customers into the air.

Can airplane boarding be transformed?

The drop in passenger numbers throughout the Coronavirus pandemic has provided airlines and airports with an opportunity to re-think some elements of air travel and improve the overall passenger experience. One of the areas that has recently received more attention is the boarding process.

With quick turnarounds between flights necessary, airlines are searching for the most viable solutions for a speedy turnaround and smooth boarding process. From virtual queuing to biometric boarding, innovative solutions to aid the passenger experience are high on the agenda of all airlines and airports at the moment.