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An Italian passenger flying European ultra low-cost carrier Ryanair with a ticket to Cagliari, Italy, somehow managed to board a flight to Bari, another Italian city hundreds of miles from his ticketed destination.

The incident began during boarding at Pisa airport, also in Italy. It is unclear exactly how the mishap happened, though — as both flights required passengers to walk across the tarmac from the terminal to the aircraft — the man may have simply walked to the wrong plane.

The passenger has launched an online tirade against the airline claiming he should not have been able to board the wrong plane in the first place. Numerous crew announcements would have been made about the flight and its destination during both the boarding and taxi process but the passenger may not have heard or been listening to them.

Had the plane been full as many Ryanair flights are — the airline has one of the highest average passenger loads of any European carrier — there would have already been another passenger allocated to his seat and any crew member comparing the two boarding passes would have immediately realized one of the passengers was on the wrong flight.

According to CNN, the passenger only realized he was on the wrong flight upon seeing the scenery on descent and noticing it was different from his intended destination’s. He then became angry with the crew for allowing him to board and fly the wrong flight. A fellow passenger shared a video of his tirade (in Italian) on Twitter.

Ryanair has apologized for the incident, saying “We have asked the operator in charge of ground assistance services for Ryanair planes and passengers at the Pisa airport to shed light on this case and make sure it does not happen again.”

Is it possible to board the wrong plane?

In theory and with today’s technology, no. There are numerous checks of passengers’ tickets and boarding passes, and the number of passengers on board, during the boarding process. While it may have been possible to walk to the wrong plane across a tarmac, many airlines check the boarding passes of each passenger when they board the plane itself, both to direct them to their seat — especially for twin-aisle planes — and to check passengers are on the correct plane.

You may also see crew walking through the plane once boarding is complete (but before the plane takes off) counting the number of passengers onboard. It is essential the number of passengers onboard match the number of passengers on the flight manifest for several reasons:

  • The weights and balances calculated must be correct in order to safely take off
  • If anything were to happen to the plane, the airline must have an accurate list of the passengers onboard
  • The airline must ensure each passenger gets to their correct destination

In reality however, as wiith any process involving human interaction, there is the chance that mistakes can be made and in this case a number of human errors by both the passenger and crew appears to have led to this incident.

Featured image of a Ryanair Boeing 737-800 at Milan Malpensa airport by Alberto Riva/TPG

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