Here’s Why Everyone Thinks Getting on the Plane Is the Worst Part of Flying
Flying notoriously involves plenty of stress. Last-minute gate changes, too-close-to-call layovers, the indignity of airport security — the list of things we dread when we head to the airport goes on. But if we had to identify the worst part of flying, we’d point a finger at airlines’ boarding processes. (And we’d bet that plenty of travelers would agree with us!)
After all, there’s nothing like a full flight to induce traffic jams both at the gate and on the plane. Below, check out all the reasons why boarding the plane is really the worst part of flying.
1. Every airline does it differently
One of the most fundamental complaints about the process of boarding an airplane is that every airline has a different boarding process, so you can never be 100% sure what’s going on. We’d always advocate for listening carefully to what the gate agent has to say. However, we think airlines make the boarding process a lot more stressful than it has to be. LifeHacker reports that most airlines board elite travelers first, and then use some variation on a rear-to-front boarding method. Airlines break up their boarding groups into as many as nine different zones, which can make the organization confusing and chaotic.
2. Most boarding processes are too complicated
We’ve already established that most airlines have unique (and uniquely annoying) boarding procedures. But perhaps even worse? Most of those procedures are way too complicated. You might look at your boarding pass and get excited that you’re in boarding group 1 — only to watch four groups of passengers board ahead of you. The signage doesn’t help. And sometimes, gate agents have so much information to rattle off that nobody quite catches what’s going on or why. Then, passengers get confused about when they’re supposed to board thanks to the overly complicated process, and that just creates chaos for everybody.
3. Airlines are always changing their policies
As if it weren’t bad enough that each airline wants to board its flights differently, travelers also have to make sure that they’re up to date on their airline’s latest policies. Because, believe us, they change more frequently than you’d think. For instance, the Points Guy reports that American Airlines recently overhauled its boarding process, resulting in a dizzying lineup of nine boarding groups. Surprisingly enough, the changes actually make the boarding process more transparent and make it easier for travelers to see where they fall in the airline’s pecking order. At least in this case, things changed for the better.
4. Your boarding pass may make it tough to figure out what’s going on
Alright, it can’t really be that complicated. Your boarding pass should tell you exactly what to expect, right? Wrong. Your boarding pass probably offers no clue as to what’s in store when the gate agent finally arrives. You may even have trouble locating your boarding group number (or letter, or both). Especially if you weren’t assigned a seat at check-in, you may have to watch a monitor at the gate to figure out where you’re sitting and when you’re boarding. Nothing ruins what should be 45 minutes of reading a bad magazine more than having to watch airline ads on loop, hoping you’ll finally see a seat assignment.
5. People don’t follow the rules
You don’t have to be a goody-two-shoes to get annoyed when people disregard the rules, especially at the airport. But it’s even worse at the gate, where some travelers decide to disregard the rules and try to board whenever they want, regardless of the proper order. Sometimes, an airline’s boarding procedure is so complicated that the gate agent doesn’t even notice when a passenger boards out of turn. One or two passengers may not have a big impact on everybody’s wait time — but it’s still frustrating to notice.
6. Gate agents don’t always follow the rules, either
To be fair, it’s not just travelers who sometimes lose sight of the rules in the mad rush toward the plane. Gate agents sometimes break the rules, too. The most aggravating example? You patiently wait as the gate agent calls each boarding group ahead of yours, one at a time. And then, when it comes time for your turn, the gate agent calls three groups all at the same time, resulting in a herd of people converging in line in front of you. That’s not fair! That’s not what they’re supposed to do! But it happens, so the best thing you can do is to take a deep breath and realize that you’ll get on the plane — eventually.
7. Airlines don’t board in the most efficient way
Since airlines can choose whatever method they want to use to get everybody on the plane, you’d think that they’d all opt for the most efficient option. But that couldn’t get further from the truth. In fact, an episode of Mythbusters found that the popular back-to-front method is actually the least efficient way to board a plane. Boarding with no assigned seats and no assigned order is the fastest — but also the least pleasant for passengers. The most effective method overall? The “WILMA” method, in which window passengers board first, followed by those in middle seats and then travelers in aisle seats. But United Airlines is the only major airline to choose that method.
8. The standard boarding process spreads diseases, too
Airlines’ boarding procedures aren’t particularly efficient at getting people on the plane in a timely fashion. However, they’re very efficient at spreading germs and diseases around the cabin. (After all, airplanes and airports are notoriously germy places.) Travel + Leisure reports that according to a recent study, the standard boarding process results in crowding in the aisles and close contact between passengers. That can spread disease. The researchers found that the best way to board — and minimize the spread of infectious diseases — is to split the plane into two sections and randomly board passengers in those groups. Unfortunately, that doesn’t sound like the standard procedure that any airline currently uses.
9. It’s stressful when you don’t have an assigned seat
If you’re flying an airline — or chose a ticket class — where you don’t get an assigned seat until you board, the entire boarding process is a lot more stressful. Just ask travelers who have flown Southwest. The airline boards travelers without assigned seating, but in three different zones: A, B, and C. You’ll get the best seat if you’re in zone A. (For that, you’ll have to check in early or pay for priority boarding.) But boarding without a seat assigned to you feels inherently stressful, especially if you aren’t flying alone.
10. Somebody always blocks your path
It’s impossible to board a plane without somebody blocking your path at some point in the process. Maybe it’s that annoying guy who’s inexplicably convinced that the gate agent will call boarding group 12 right after boarding group 2, blocking your path to the gate agent’s podium. Or it could be the guy who has to start a lengthy conversation with the flight attendant standing outside the cockpit, leaving everybody else out in the cold, waiting to get on the plane. Perhaps it’s the woman who just has to rummage through her carry-on in the aisle before she sits down, blocking you and everybody behind you from getting through.
11. People ignore etiquette once they get on the plane
Many travelers seem to lose all sense of proper etiquette once they step foot on the plane. (Why can’t airlines start putting copies of Emily Post in those seatback pockets?) People stop in the aisle. They trample each other’s belongings. They swing their backpacks and suitcases around without regard for others’ limbs or faces. Let’s not even get started on how they hog the overhead bin and sometimes even stash their belongings where your feet should go.
12. Somebody always sits in the wrong seat
By the time you’re finally getting on the plane, you just want to get to your seat and stow your luggage without incident. So it always gets awkward when somebody’s read their boarding pass incorrectly and is sitting in your seat. (Sometimes, a computer error is to blame and you really were both assigned the same seat.) In any case, you may have to get a flight attendant involved, and these arguments can quickly turn ugly — especially when flights get overbooked and tensions run high.
13. You’ll always get hit by somebody’s luggage
Sitting down in that comfy aisle seat? Great — just brace yourself to get hit by somebody’s luggage. Many travelers don’t think to take off their backpack or lower their tote bag as they barrel down the aisle. And few of them watch where they swing that suitcase or duffel bag when they want to stow it in the overhead bin. Most of the time, you’ll just get jostled. But you should always watch out for your limbs (and your head). The stress of air travel doesn’t seem to do any favors for people’s spatial reasoning skills.
14. The entire process is frustrating
USA Today reports that no matter which airline you fly, you can count on the boarding process feeling frustrating, unpleasant, and stressful. On some flights, you may not even know that boarding is about to begin until people start rushing toward the gate to line up prematurely. You’ll end up feeling crowded on the gate, on the jet bridge, and on the plane. By the time you finally get to your seat, you’ll feel exhausted — and that’s before the captain is even close to getting underway so you can settle in for a nap.
15. There’s no bigger source of stress than the overhead bins
Most of the poor behavior you see at the gate and on the jet bridge seems to be related to travelers’ anxiety to stake their claim on some overhead bin space — a necessity if they didn’t want to pay the airline’s steep fees for checking a bag. Condé Nast Traveler reports that it takes people a lot longer to stow their bags than it takes them to settle into their seats. To avoid paying fees for checked bags, many people push the limits of what they’re allowed to take as a carry-on — and that translates into more stress and longer wait times for everybody else (especially when one passenger hogs the bin space that was meant for an entire row).
16. It takes way too long
Our final complaint about the process of boarding the plane? It takes far too long to get through all the boarding groups, stow all the luggage, sort out all those seat number debates, and get everybody on the plane. Fundamentally, that’s why researchers hypothesize about the most efficient way to conduct the boarding process. However, as long as airlines charge exorbitant fees for checked bags, people will continue to carry on lots of luggage. As long as strollers are difficult to fold and toddlers aren’t always cooperative, families will need a little extra time to board. And as long as people insist on dawdling in the aisles, it will take a while to get a lot of people onto a plane. So unfortunately, there’s only so much that airlines can do.