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Why I always board last, no matter where I'm sitting on the plane

May 06, 2020
6 min read
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Due to the coronavirus outbreak, airlines have made significant adjustments to the passenger experience.

In addition to social distancing on the plane, carriers have closed most lounges and stopped serving most drinks and snacks once airborne.

One change that particularly resonates with me is the introduction of back-to-front boarding. Delta and United have (temporarily) adopted this policy, whereby passengers are asked to remain seated until their rows are called. United's even boarding business class after coach (Delta's premium passengers can board at their leisure).

As simple as back-to-front boarding may be, it's actually not the most efficient method. Airlines across the world have all adopted different models, looking for the fastest one; perhaps most interesting is Southwest's boarding process without assigned seats.

Though there's long been a ton of controversy around boarding, one thing's certain: I never want to be one of the first onboard — regardless of where I’m sitting. Read on for why.

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Makes it faster

I'm usually traveling solo, and the boarding process doesn't take me too long at all. After 450 lifetime flight segments, I've got it down to a science.

When I board at the beginning of the process, I usually find myself slowed down by those ahead of me. Though offering pre-boarding is actually a pretty efficient move, I'd personally prefer to not have to wait for a group of people ahead of me to take my seat.

That's why it pays to be one of the last ones on the plane (subject to the fact that there's overhead bin space left if I'm carrying a rollaboard).

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Fewer people at the gate and on the jetway

By boarding towards the end, there's many fewer people clogging the gate area and jet bridge. As we recover from the coronavirus pandemic, odds are that people will want to maximize as much personal space as they can.

This is one of the biggest reasons that airlines are transitioning to a back-to-front system: to reduce how many times customers need to pass by one another.

United boarding gate at Denver (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

But back-to-front boarding alone doesn't solve the issue of congestion in the gate area or jet bridge. Airlines are going to need to be proactive about metering the process too.

Nonetheless, by being the last on the plane, I can take matters into my own hands and reduce how many people I'm interacting with throughout the process.

Least amount of time on the plane

This one's simple. By boarding last, you're minimizing how much time you spend in the metal tube.

I love flying and all things aviation (follow my Instagram account for exhibit A). But that passion doesn't extend to the first 15 minutes of boarding when there's a cacophony of PA announcements about storing your bag underneath the seat in front of you.

Plus, if I'm trying to finish an article or wrap up a phone call, it's much harder to do that on the plane than in the lounge (even if I'm wearing my AirPods Pro).

By boarding towards the end, I don't need to abruptly interrupt my work, nor do I need to spend extra time on the plane. With airlines now offering real-time boarding push notifications, there's little reason for me to get to the gate until I see the alert come through.

Overhead bin space is better on new jets

This is the biggest drawback to being one of the last onboard — finding overhead bin space.

Before the coronavirus halted travel, I was getting much more comfortable traveling with just a backpack. In that case, I'd happily be the absolute last one on.

American Airlines Airbus A321 Space XL bins (Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)

But even when traveling with a rollaboard, I'm not as worried as I used to be about overhead bin space. That's because we've seen many more airlines install new, larger overhead bins. Boeing calls these the Space Bins, which hold 50% more bags than the previous generation.

American recently started service with the Airbus A321neo. These jets have Airspace XL bins which offer 40% more storage than the predecessors. Plus, AA is planning to add these larger bins to its entire fleet of Airbus A321s.

As more and more planes feature the larger bins, I'll worry less and less about finding overhead space. Plus, once travel starts picking up again, it's going to take a while for demand to return to pre-coronavirus levels. That'll mean that planes won't be as full, and there should be much more bin space than before.

All bets are off when I'm reviewing a flight

You can forget about everything I said when I'm reviewing a flight. For one, choosing a seat on review flights is harder than it sounds.

But when it comes time to boarding, I'm the first person in line. That's because I love to get as many clean cabin shots as possible before other passengers start flooding the cabin.

Take a look at the two pictures below. The first was taken when I was the first aboard, and the second was taken when I got on after all the pre-boarders.

United Polaris (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)
United Polaris (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Being first makes a world of a difference in the quality of my review pictures, and that's why I'll always get on the plane as early as possible for review flights.

Bottom line

Boarding is one of the most hectic parts of the flight experience.

In light of the coronavirus, we've seen many airlines introduce back-to-front boarding policies. Personally, I've long been a fan of being one of the last to board, regardless of where I'm seated. It minimizes how much time I spend on the plane and how many people I interact with in the jetway.

But that all changes if I'm reviewing the flight. That's the only time I will be lining up to board first.

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4 / 5
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Annual Fee

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740-850
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The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

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  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
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  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
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  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023