Why Do First Class Passengers Board First — Rather Than Last?

I often say that you do not want to board first. You want to board ‘not last’ so that the plane hasn’t run out of overhead bin space by the time you get on. Boarding early is about one thing only: not having to gate check your carry on bag.

That’s why I absolutely love a quick overnight, and on a two night trip sometimes stretch myself to travel with just my laptop bag, so that I don’t need overhead bin space. I can show up at the airpprt later. I can work productively in the lounge. And I don’t have to rush boarding. As someone that values every 5 minutes in my day (I really do keep myself that busy), this matters to me.

Commenter Puzzled asks,

I never understood why [first class] always boards first. You sit there for 30 minutes watching the peons shuffle into steerage, glaring at you as they pass by. (Except of course if you are on fleet type with dual entrances, in which case you are shielded from this indignity.)

If the [first class] folks are the super-busy important people they all claim to be then why would they not board last? After all, arriving early does not get you to your destination any sooner. Can someone explain the reasoning behind this?

Puzzled is right – first class shouldn’t want to board first. The problem is access to overhead bin space. When you’re at the front of the plane it’s not enough for there to still be some on the plane. You don’t want the bin space to be in the back of the plane, where you’ll have to either fight your way to the back when you land (and wait to get off) or wait for everyone else to deplane in order to get your bags.

There may not be enough bin space for all first class passengers. If you board first you can at least put your stuff in the front rows of coach. And even if there’s enough space up front, there’s a good chance that ccoach passengers will take it as they walk back through the aircraft on the way to their seats.

Delta puts signs in their first class overhead bins that say they’re for first class passengers only. It’s not a perfect solution, but it helps.

In the meantime I board first for the overhead bin space, open my laptop and work throughout boarding.

Now it’s not all about overhead bin space. Another reason to board first is to avoid standing in a clogged jetway. But boarding last accomplishes this too.

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. I prefer to board last. As mentioned: maximizing time in the lounge and reducing time in the plane. I fly with a soft backpack that I can always fit in a bin even if they are full, or at worse I can put it comfortably under my seat. Sitting on a plane even in F, is pretty small, so I prefer to wait it out in the lounge, then make sure I am at my gate 30 minutes before takeoff so I don’t loose my seat if it takes me longer to take the train/bus/walk to the gate. If I am at the gate and there is a long line to board, I will just walk for 5-10 minutes in the area to stretch my legs and then try to board near the end.

    If I am flying Delta, which I have found myself more these days, I may board a little earlier as I do enjoy a pre-departure beverage.

  2. I would say that there are many reasons for this. The first being privilege and the ability to get the most time out of the space theyre paying for. Then comes the tasks the cabin crew need to complete which is greeting the passenger and getting his meal and drink preferences. Finally its for convenience for loading because these passengers normally dont block the aisle for economy passengers as with larger aircraft these passengers board through a separate jetbridge.

  3. I would rather board first because of all the rude “occasional” travelers who dump their carry-on bags in the first open space that’s closest to the front of the plane. Boarding first because of being in first class or because of Frequent Flyer status gives you a reasonable chance of having your carry-on closest to you. Sadly, flight attendanct do a poor job of managing to steer back-of-the-plane passengers to the back, WITH their carry-ons!

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