Why Do Foreign Carriers Re-check Your Boarding Pass When You Enter the Aircraft?

JohnnyJet‘s ‘travel tip of the day’ yesterday was “keep your boarding pass out when boarding international carriers.”

It’s rather strange, US airlines check your boarding pass before you enter the jetbridge, and that’s it — while many international airlines have flight attendants standing at the door of the aircraft who will look at your boarding pass again.

They’ll see you’re on the right plane, direct you to the correct class of service, and tell you which side of the plane to proceed down in the case of a widebody.

This is extra labor for the flight attendants, another duty that takes up a crew member (or often two, even three in the case of having someone there to escort first class passengers to their seat).

Is it really necessary? Why do they do it?

If you come up with a valid reason for international airlines to check your boarding pass mere feet from when it was checked as you entered the jetway, that explanation also has to account for why it isn’t done on US airlines.

This has often seemed strange to me, yet I’ve never asked, but would love some insight. Any thoughts out there?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. On a wide-body planes the cabin crew points you to the right aisle (ABCDE near aisle FGHJK far aisle) to get to your seat especially with many passengers on such flight and pressure on boarding times. This helps get the passengers to the right seat quicker, hence more efficient.

    The reason it seems to be more on international flights is because most of there flights are on wide-body planes.

    Well, my opinion anyway

  2. Guessing to direct traffic and make sure you aren’t in first class? On a wide body, you have 10+ economy seats across so if everyone just took a right at the first aisle, it would create a log jam. Also I find it pleasant that they greet you. I don’t have an explanation why US carriers don’t.

  3. Some of it is due to the extremely low cost of labor. One time in China, a gate agent scanned my boarding pass, a second employee tore off the stub and handed it back to me and a third greeted me at the door.

    More recently, they do a *second* luggage screening for liquids after they take your boarding pass looking for liquids (and taking them if you have some).

  4. US carriers don’t? I’ve never flown a domestic carrier internationally, but I have flown a US A330 from PHL-PHX before. They definitely had FAs at the door greeting pax and directing traffic into the correct aisle. It was a younger crew, though, possibly newer or still training (and incidentally, one of the most pleasant I’ve had on US mainline).

  5. Because boarding passes are stupidly designed and dont tell you whether you should turn at the first aisle or the second aisle. And probably as a nice gesture. In fact, i wonder why US airlines dont. Even the european airlines flying out of asia do it too.

  6. Haha ! This is exactly what’s wrong with US airlines. No SERVICE and a customer base that is so bemused by the concept of good service they try to reason why it exists (no offence intended, it’s only partially your fault)

    Carriers check boarding passes, typically only on long haul flights to welcome you and properly direct you to your seat and provide assistance if necessary.

    Is it so hard to believe?

    To be honest I’m glad the U.S. Airlines dont do this. I enjoy being warmly welcomed by a young SIA cabin girl. I doubt I’d enjoy the begrudged snarling welcome I’m certain would be on the table from a pensionable AA steward WHO JUST WONT RETIRE ALREADY

  7. I’m pretty sure so that novice flyers step into the correct aisle so there isn’t havoc later finding seats.

    Foreign carriers may be full but Americans fly more that most people in china or India or Middle East — hence flyers less experienced on average in finding seats.

  8. Actually I flew UA from NRT-LAX about five years ago, and the flight attendants checked the boarding pass to make sure passengers went to the right aisle.

  9. Could be a security measure. Occasionally people somehow get on the wrong flight. The recent UA gate agent article said several (!) GS pax boarded ORD-LHR without scanning their BPs!

  10. Gary,

    I was stopped at the airplane door on a flight from CPT>LHR on BA for my boarding pass. I knew where I was sitting and told the flight attendant this, but she said “it is a final security check.”

    I had to search through my bag to find it, fortunately I was one of the last people to board so I didn’t slow down boarding. It would be nice if gate agents would be aware of this and tell people to keep them out, so people like me who know where I am sitting don’t put them away.

  11. The FA’s on Qantas in Australian domestic always do this. They really want to look at your boarding pass, not just a quick glance at it. On the small planes, there is only one direction/aisle to go down. I suspect it’s an extra security measure to make sure the passenger is on the correct flight.

  12. I think it’s just a wide-body aircraft thing. UA’s done it on ex-SFO widebody international flights many times IME.

  13. Was flying SAS J class when in flight a stewardess asked for my boarding pass. She didn’t say why, checked it and then left. She returned a few minutes later and asked to see it again. This time I asked why. She said someone was sitting in J class that shouldn’t be. I took out my printed full itinerary, incl. ticket receipt to show her which was booked many months earlier. Yes, I was in the correct assinged seat. Either way, it didn’t get lost on me that while my boarding pass was checked the other J class pax weren’t checked. While the attendant wasn’t rude, she could have just been forthright as an ‘adult’ and stated the manner of her business instead of the mystery drama. Simply amazing. SAS isn’t on my favourite list for customer service.

  14. movie theaters do it for a $10 ticket, so why not an airplane with a $1,000 ticket? Like many of the above responses, I have no idea why US domestic carriers don’t do it…

    @darth- the liquid check before boarding is a TSA requirement for US bound airplanes from some airports.

  15. The procedure is probably embedded in their flight manual and flight training.
    Hence, the practice.

  16. It’s a Throw back to Olden times before scanners at gate. Airline policy, though no value add especially on single Aisle aircraft. In wide body it can accelerate boarding. See this in Europe all the time.

  17. To make contact , a little , with passengers . To expedite seating because people become confused or hesitant . To provide a bit of order and reassurance and hopefully to notice if someone is boarding the wrong plane . There are obviously inexperienced travelers who have little idea about seat designation systems . Guidance is time well spent to get underway sooner .

  18. To prevent economy passengers from seating themselves in premium cabins, which are often quite empty on foreign carriers.

    Sure, flight attendants could discover this by checking against passenger lists after boarding is completed, but this would be more work and could delay departure as such wrongly seated passengers would have to be moved.

  19. This is done domestically in Australia. This is to check you’re on the correct aircraft. I know this because I once asked a Qantas FA.

  20. Go on United Express in Denver at B7x gates or ORD at B24 sometime. No widebodies. Just crappy shared gates and lots of BP checking

  21. One reason I print two BPs so I just hand one to the atten and proceed directly to my seat without holding up others

  22. I’ve had us air do it on wide body flights. I think that wide body isle options are the real reason. It does aid in security issues but mostly a boarding efficiency thing.

  23. It’s probably not related to narrowbody vs. widebody per se. In my experience, if you don’t have your boarding pass when boarding a widebody, U.S. airlines will ask you for your seat number, while international carriers generally insist that you display the stub of your boarding pass.

  24. One of the nice things about qantas, at least domestically is they almost always take the opportunity to greet me by name after reading the boarding pass which is a nice gesture.

  25. Not all US carriers are immune as claimed. Checking boarding passes a second time or simply asking passengers their seat numbers without physically checking boarding passes is done routinely on many, if not most, international UA flights and for a very good reason that has already been given (e.g. @taufiq): to get the passengers to their seat quickly and efficiently on usually full wide-body intl planes, which can be real mazes, even for folks who are accustomed to them….

    What is really truly annoying is the practice in China/HKG to open and search carry-on bags again on the jetbridge!

  26. BA recently stopped doing this on shorthaul flights, but still so it on longhaul flights.

    The primary reason is one last check to make sure you’re on the right flight. The inconvenience of someone getting on the wrong flight for 10 hours makes them want to double check.

    Secondary benefit is to give first class passengers an escort to their seat.

  27. Idiots….foreign carriers also fly plenty of single aisle planes. This “at the door” BP checking has nothing to do with a plane being a widebody.

    This procedure is just a holdover redundancy from a pre-technology era, before there were computerized scanners checking BPs. Certainly in instances where bussing to gates is involved, or pax walk on the Tarmac to get to the plane for a given flight, it is a reasonable measure to continue.

    Recall in the 1980s, someone with a ticket on UA to Oakland boarded the flight to Auckland instead? This was before boarding passes were scanned as pax crossed onto the jetbridge.

  28. @Bill — “Idiots”…hmmm….You are simply dating yourself ans you sound rather antiquated. Anyone who has ever boarded an intl UA flight KNOWS that the ONLY reason for a FA to ask for a seat number or want to see a BP is to help a passenger find her/his seat quickly, because the very next thing a FA would say would be, e.g., “5K is over there, left isle seat.”

  29. Every flight I have ever taken on a US carrier (most of my flying is on AA) — barring regional flights — has had an FA or two doing exactly this, so I’m not sure why you haven’t seen it.

  30. I just got off of United’s MEL>LAX flight and my boarding pass was checked when I first stepped on to the plane. It certainly wasn’t done to make me feel welcome. It appeared to be done to get me moving down the correct aisle.

  31. Billy is correct. One Australian capital city doesn’t have a single air bridge and the main two carriers have regularly scheduled flights at almost the same time. It would be remarkably simple for an infrequent flyer to make the mistake of boarding the wrong plane.

    And then there are the regional airports…

    I would imagine that having crew trained to a single operational standard would be simpler and easier.

    Commercial aviation is all about safety and going ten steps beyond basic requirements so I’m more than happy to have my boarding pass checked multiple times.

    It’s also a nice touch as a QF Platinum flyer to be welcomed back on board by name as read from my boarding pass by the CSM who will then come to my seat once airborne and offer any assistance.

  32. British Airways on short haul narrow body flights used to check BP on boarding – now they don’t.
    Once upon a time, no so long ago, Air Malta didn’t check BP on boarding, now they do!
    Easyjet apparently does check BP on boarding; but still managed to carry a passenger holding an Athens BP all the way to Malta a few weeks ago .

  33. Here is my guess:

    When flying in China, often, the gate at which you scan your boarding pass doesn’t lead directly to your plane/jetway. It may lead to additional stairs or tunnels, or a bus to your plane. Perhaps it becomes standard practice in some manual, so they check your boarding pass again before you board the plane.

    Now, the “check” Asian airlines do as you enter the plane seem to be simply courtesy, and not security. I’ve gotten on the plane and simply told them my seat number and not shown them my boarding pass without problem.

    and yes, the secondary check for water on the jetbridge is a TSA (American) requirement, and only on flights heading for USA. It is more security theater. They aren’t even reaching in people’s bag most of the time. They simply ask you to open your bag/luggage for a second, and ask you if you have water. If you are dumb enough to say yes, then they’ll ask you politely to surrender it.

  34. This did annoy me a bit on a recent Ryan Air flight in the UK. I was annoyed, and then the flight attendant subsequently gave me attitude about it, but I had never experienced this on another “foreign” flight (in Europe or Asia). So, is it a hit or miss kind of thing? Having flown in/out of parts of Europe and Asia, it only recently happened on a Ryan Air flight within the UK.

  35. There may also be several types of boarding passes. i.e you may have been issued with passes for all legs of your journey when you checked in for your first flight and it’s good to confirm that there’s not an error on them, or a duplication of passes on the current leg

  36. It’s a security measure. We need to check you’re on the right plane, the date is right on boarding card, the destination and departure cities are correct and you are on the right carrier.

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