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Have you ever rushed around to the airport, only to see them closing the doors when you get there? When do planes start and stop the boarding process?
While it might vary slightly from airline to airline, most flights will begin boarding between 30 - 50 minutes before departure, depending on the destination and type of plane. Boarding is then done in order via group numbers before being closed 15 minutes prior to departure.
Making sure that you don’t miss your flight when you’re traveling is one of the most stressful parts of flying. How early should you get there? When will they actually start boarding and when will they stop? Who gets to board the plane and in what order? In this article, we’ll answer all of those questions and more so that you know everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the boarding process.
In order to provide our readers with the best information that they can find anywhere on the web, we comb through all the information on our site before putting it out there for you. Our main goal is accuracy and providing helpful content, so we combine our own knowledge with the experience and input of others in the aviation industry.
When Do Airplanes Start Boarding?
One of the worst parts about flying commercial, at least in my opinion, is that moment just before the boarding process is about to begin. It seems that everyone who is about to get on the same flight as you is suddenly up and standing by the gate, as if they aren’t going to make the plane and need to make a mad dash for it as soon as the boarding process starts.
But it doesn’t really work like that. Rather than just opening the doors to the plane just before boarding and having a stampede headed through the gate, airlines have come up with a boarding process that is relatively orderly. This is so that they can ensure everyone who is getting on the flight will be able to make it on board in time for the flight, as long as you arrive at the gate on time.
To do this, airlines begin the boarding process between 30 - 50 minutes prior to the scheduled departure. In most cases, the process starts 40 minutes prior to departure, which is more than enough time to board almost any commercial plane fully. The time will vary slightly depending on the next destination as well as the type of plane. A small plane, for example, will be closer to 30 minutes. Whereas a massive plane will likely begin boarding around 50 minutes before take off.
What Are The Different Boarding Groups?
Even with the more than sufficient amount of time that airlines and airports give passengers to board the plane, they still need to control the boarding process in one way or another. If they didn’t then as soon as they opened the gates, it would just be a huge crowd of people trying to get onto the plane and into their seats as quickly as possible.
This is where boarding groups come into play.
If you look at your boarding pass, you’ll see a group number somewhere on it. These numbers commonly range from around 1 - 9, but it depends on the airline and the number of passengers flying on that particular flight. Group numbers are important because that’s the order that passengers will be instructed to board the plane. Typically, the workers will call out one group number at a time and have all members in that group board the plane at that time.
Typically, Group 1 members will include active duty military members and some of the airline’s higher-status members, and even first-class passengers. From there, it typically will just be that lower group numbers are reserved for people that paid for priority boarding and higher group numbers are for those that did not want to pay for faster boarding. It’s important to board with the right group number to keep the process running as smoothly as possible.
In addition to group numbers, some people are also granted the ability to board before anyone else, regardless of what their boarding pass says. Before normal boarding, the airlines will typically allow people that need extra time to board get on the plane first, such as the elderly, disabled, and people with walkers, canes, and wheelchairs. Passengers with small children and strollers will typically also be allowed to board early.
When Is The Boarding Process Stopped?
So if the average boarding process starts about 40 minutes prior to departure, does that mean that you have 40 minutes to actually board the plane? Well, not exactly. The departure time is the actual time that the plane is scheduled to be departing the airport. And they should not still be boarding at this time, since they can’t take off if passengers are still trying to get seated.
For most airlines and on most flights, the boarding doors are actually closed about 15 minutes prior to departure. With the average boarding time being from 30 - 50 minutes before departure, this means you really have about a 15 - 35 minute window to board the plane before they close the doors at the gate. And in most cases, once the boarding doors are closed, the gate agent will not reopen them for you.
So it’s important that you get to the gate with plenty of time to spare and don’t just try to cut it close and arrive right before departure. Or else you might risk showing up at the gate only to find the boarding doors closed in front of you. Most airlines and gate agents will give courtesy calls over the airport’s PA system (or at least that gate/terminal) announcing the name of any passengers who have not yet boarded.
This is done to give them one last chance to make it on board before they close the doors. If you miss the final boarding call, you are more than likely out of luck.
How Early Should You Get To The Airport?
All that said, you’re probably wondering how early you need to get to the airport. In an ideal world, you would be able to arrive at just the right time so that you walked up to your gate just as your group number was being called and you could just go straight onto the plane. But, of course, that isn’t exactly realistic as you don’t just walk right onto the plane once you arrive at the airport.
The biggest wildcard in figuring out how early you need to arrive at the airport is the security checkpoint. Getting through the TSA screening area can vary wildly from airport to airport and day to day. If the airport is busy or the agents don’t have many lanes open, you could spend an hour or more waiting in line. At smaller airports that don’t get as busy, you can almost just walk straight up to the screening area.
Since the amount of time can vary so much when it comes to making it through security, I recommend giving yourself at least an hour to get through TSA and make it to your gate before the boarding process begins. So in most cases, that would mean getting to the airport between 1 hour and 30 minutes to 1 hour and 50 minutes before the scheduled departure.
A solid rule of thumb that many people choose to follow is to just plan on getting there two hours before departure. That should give you plenty of time to get through security, make your way to the right terminal and arrive at the gate. As you fly more and more, you’ll also get used to how long certain airports take, and you can adjust your arrival time as needed.
Like with most things in life, it’s far better to get to the airport early and have to wait a little bit than it is to get there late and miss your flight!