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Who you calling gate lice? Why I always board an airplane as soon as possible

June 06, 2020
7 min read
Airport Boarding Gate at HKG
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While I'm no fan of "gate lice" — a frequent-flyer term for people who crowd the boarding area when a flight starts boarding — I do enjoy boarding the plane as early as I can. Throughout my years of traveling, I've found this makes flying much less stressful and gives me the smoothest travel experience.

On the other hand, my coworker — TPG writer Zach Griff — recently published an article on why he always boards the plane last, regardless of where he's sitting on the aircraft. While Zach's article offers a compelling argument for boarding last, I still wasn't convinced to change my ways.

So in this article, I'm going to discuss why I always try and board the plane at the front of my boarding group. Let's get started!

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Less stress at the airport

Despite being someone who travels well over 100,000 miles in a normal year, I've never quite been able to kick the fear of missing a flight. This is probably a byproduct of missing quite a few flights in my early days of traveling, due to public transit delays or (embarrassingly) oversleeping.

Those days are a thing of the past, so unless my Uber to JFK is stuck in traffic, I'm almost always at the airport at least two hours ahead of time (or more if there's an awesome lounge). That said, once I'm through security and in the lounge, I still have looming anxiety about missing my flight when it gets close to boarding.

This is especially true when flying internationally — you never know when there's going to be a line to get an exit stamp on your passport or if there's added at-gate security. Despite having an EU passport, I almost missed a flight at the Warsaw (WAW) airport last year when there was a huge line to get an EU exit stamp.

Making it a point to get to the gate before my boarding group is called might give me a bit less time in the lounge, but it calms my nerves. For me, this far outweighs the benefit of an extra 10 minutes in the Admirals Club — and hey, I can take a cup of American's famous cheese cubes to go if I'm still hungry.

A better shot at overhead bin space on regional jets

Person Putting Luggage into Overhead Bin
(Photo by Mangpink/Shutterstock)

I fly regional jets a lot, and that's fine by me. I prefer the 2-2 layouts on many regional jets, and honestly, the difference between United First on a 737 and a CRJ-700 is minimal at best — especially on, say, a 30-minute flight from Newark to Montreal.

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But as someone who travels with a travel backpack on short trips, one thing always freaks me out about regional jets: the chance of not finding overhead bin space. Being 6'1" and having a huge bag under the seat in front of me isn't ideal, so boarding at the front of my group generally ensures that I can find an overhead bin for my monstrous backpack.

This is especially important on flights operated by CRJ-200s and ERJ-145s that frequently serve small cities on flights from New York. The overhead bins fill up quickly, and since my backpack also houses my laptop, I can't risk gate-checking my bag. The only solution, in these cases, is to secure the overhead bin by boarding at the head of my group.

More time to get settled in

Whether it's writing an article, editing trip photos or writing emails, I work on pretty much every flight I take. In international business class, having time to get my laptop, external hard drive and noise-canceling headphones out of my bag and into the seat's storage compartments is a big deal for me. Doing this helps me feel settled in and ready to work through the flight (barring meal service, of course).

Getting on the plane first lets me do this without fear of missing predeparture beverages or holding up passengers who are still boarding. Plus, having all of my gadgets within easy reach means I don't have to stand up as soon as the plane reaches cruising altitude — I can just pop open my laptop and get to work.

But there's more to the story than just getting ready to work. Being a taller person, my main gripe with economy seats is the lack of legroom — but that's not the same for all travelers. TPG Senior Writer Katherine Fan often finds that other travelers invade her seat space when she's traveling in economy, and boarding first lets her avoid this. In Katherine's words:

"I'm petite by any standard, and sometimes fellow passengers can inadvertently take up more than their fair share of our common space. Boarding early allows me to settle in before they do so I can claim my territory without conflict."

Time to sanitize

Person cleaning airline table
(Photo by Mary at T-Comms/Shutterstock)

The coronavirus outbreak has changed travel forever, and it's made me think about things I can do to stay healthy on board. From here on out, I'm going to wipe down all parts of my airline seat with a Clorox wipe to keep myself safe.

Doing this with someone sitting next to you is tough, especially in crowded economy class. Boarding as early as possible gives me a chance to thoroughly disinfect my seat, sanitize my hands and turn on my air vent before the rest of the plane boards.

It keeps the order

Airlines implemented boarding groups for a reason — contrary to what you might think, it's actually more efficient than boarding back-to-front. One can assume that boarding when your group is called actually speeds up the boarding process for everyone — including those in the last boarding group.

So with that in mind, I'll keep boarding with my group to keep things fast for everyone. I also like to think that my following boarding procedures will help airlines continue to tweak and refine boarding processes once a pain point is identified, giving us even more efficient ways to board the plane in the future.

Bottom line

There's no doubt that boarding a plane is stressful, no matter if you board the plane first or last. For me, boarding a flight as early as possible reduces stress by ensuring I don't miss my flight and can always find overhead bin space for my bag.

Crowding the boarding area before your boarding group is never a good idea though — it slows down the boarding process and adds extra stress for everyone. If you want to board earlier, make sure to check out our article on the best airline credit cards — many of the cobranded options here include priority boarding on their respective airline.

Featured image by (Photo by ShutterStockStudio/Shutterstock)