3 Cases Where American Airlines Gate Agents May Hold The Boarding Door For Passengers

United has a program called ConnectionSaver to hold planes for connecting passengers where it won’t cause system or other passenger delays. United expects 25% of flights to arrive 10 minutes early (or more) every day. So holding plenty of flights still allows for on time arrivals.

American doesn’t defer to a computer for this. Their operations center can make the decision to hold a flight, for instance when there are a large number of connecting passengers they’ll have difficulty accommodating in the event of a misconnect. However there are 3 cases where gate agents are allowed allowed to hold the boarding door for customers past 10 minutes to departure.

What I didn’t realize last week when I arrived at my connecting gate at Dallas Fort-Worth with the door closing more than 10 minutes to departure is that American Airlines gate agents actually do have a small amount of flexibility not to shut the doors 10 minutes out.

There’s tremendous pressure at American to make sure flights depart exactly on time. Agents are measured on doing this. They’re called in when their scores drop. It’s this pressure for D0 that explains,

  • Why little time is allocated to cleaning aircraft
  • Why planes will depart without being properly catered
  • Why gate agents will announce that overhead bins are full, and everyone still to board must gate check their bags – when they aren’t yet full – fearing that waiting until the last minute to gate check bags could cause a slight delay
  • Why first class seats may go out empty, when a passenger doesn’t make the flight and they don’t spend the couple of minutes to move someone up off the upgrade list

Agents are supposed to close the doors to the gate 10 minutes prior to departure. However there are (3) cases where that’s not a firm rule. According to a memo sent to pilots last year that I’ve reviewed:

  1. Direct line of sight Late arriving passengers “in the gate agent’s direct sight at D-10” should be permitted to board, including non-revs waiting to be cleared onto the flight.

  2. Last flight of the day may close – at gate agent’s discretion – as late as 5 minutes to departure “if this will allow connecting passengers to make the flight.”

  3. Updated departure time moves gate close if a flight is delayed 10 minutes, then D-10 gate close moves 10 minutes later as well.

Running for my gate last week I thought that the 10 minute delay also delayed gate close, that agents weren’t supposed to close the doors until 10 minute to the new departure time. That was how things worked on Thursday, and that’s the correct procedure.

It’s good to know that agents can wait until 5 minutes to departure to close the door on the last flight of the night, but you’re still going to have to luck out with an agent who chooses to do so.

Despite American’s insistence on D0 über alles it’s good to know they don’t want gate agents shutting the door in the faces of passengers when it’s exactly 10 minutes to departure.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. […] To the passenger, the gate agent’s insistent that she close the door on time and make sure that the flight departs – rather than delaying it a minute or two (or five or ten, she doesn’t know how long it will take for the rest of the family to arrive) – is just a decision that the gate agent can make. But it’s really not up to the agent. If they don’t depart exactly on time, if they don’t close that door, they’re going to get in trouble. (There are three and only three cases where gate agents are allowed to hold the boarding door for passengers.) […]


  1. So are there any additional tips in this memo about how at DFW the gate agents should give away seats to standby passengers and close boarding 15 minutes prior to departure? Or how about gate agents at PHL get extra bonus points if they are disorganized and super rude to AA passengers even if loyal elite customers and seated in a premium cabin? Ok sorry, I had to vent about this issue.

  2. And definitely no interest in or discretion for working with top tier elites. Last year, my flight arrive late in PHL, so I sprinted to the gate for my connection, arriving about 13 minutes before departure. They had already bumped me from the flight and closed the door, and despite me being an Executive Platinum, were unwilling to accommodate.

  3. Other than PHL (which they should just fire everyone and start over) this is not a problem with AA at any hub.

  4. Absurd that on a last flight on the night they will not wait a little more than that if they know a pax is on the ground making a delayed connection.

    And I don’t even count number 3 as a third reason. That is common sense.

    D-0 is such a dumb concept in execution.

  5. I’ve had quite a few recent experiences where AA has held flights open for an hour or more, especially on Miami flights to South America waiting for late passengers to connect. I’ve been the beneficiary of this a few times when I (and may others) would have otherwise had to wait 24 hours in Miami for the next flight.

    As a result of AA gutting its NY network there are often dozens of people connecting to South America from New York, and these passengers are often premium passengers and it would badly screw up the flight’s yield to leave their seats empty. This has become an even bigger operational problem for AA now that they can’t connect passengers locally through LATAM. Unless AA rebuilds the JFK-S. America network many of these people will soon be flying LATAM/Delta, so problem solved one way or another.

  6. We arrived on a flight from Barcelona, they told us the gate was closing, the supervisor said they will hold the gate. We ran to the gate without putting on our shoes. We had to wait in Barcelona for a pilot to be flown there for our flight hence our late arrival.

  7. @AdamH I also thought #3 was common sense. Particularly for multihour delays. But it makes more sense for shorter delays, where you could theoretically board everyone by the original door time. And it’s always good to get clarification!

  8. This “direct line of sight” exception makes sense. Why slam a door shut right as the passenger is trying to run to the door? American Airlines should also include in their manual that employees must wipe with toilet paper after pooping and don’t just get up. Also don’t smear feces on passengers if they are mad.

    Closing the door 5 minutes prior if it’s the last flight of the day is sometimes unreasonable. For hubs, like DFW, they should see who is heading to Lubbock or El Paso then hold the plane as long as 10 minutes or so if the passengers are met by an agent on deplaning their first flight and told to run.

  9. I’ve actually misconnected and had to stay the night because of the last flight of the day deal. Plane still at the gate when I arrived and GA doesn’t do anything. They know we are coming off a late arriving flight and do nothing to help get you on the flight. In the end it costs AA a hotel room and they have to rebook us.

    Last flight of the day may close – at gate agent’s discretion – as late as 5 minutes to departure “if this will allow connecting passengers to make the flight.”

  10. DL has not held planes for us even if the last one of the day… Happened to us recently and 5 of us had to stay overnight in SLC…

  11. Phx will not hold the door even when they know there are 8 passengers on a delayed flight trying to connect. Missed it by 1 min and the plane door was still open, but the gate agents would not open the jet bridge. Then the plane sat at the terminal for 20 more minutes.

  12. Ha! I’m reading this while sitting at AA gate in DFW. I went to wrong gate, although I think there was a gate change after I arrived on connection flight, then went to correct gate just to have it closed 9 minutes prior to posted departure. Oh well … more airport appreciation time (and I cancelled my Admirals Club since the same day boarding pass on AA/OW flight required)

  13. I’m a big believer in delegating responsibility to employees. Of course that requires hiring quality employees and giving them some parameters to operate within. And dealing with connections adds a big level of complexity to the issue (i.e., will 5-10 minutes waiting for passengers cause passengers on the flight to miss their connections ?).

    A computer handling or at least giving recommendations seems a necessity for airlines.

    And unfortunately, more than a few GA’s have zero empathy towards passengers either because of the type of person they are, or because of low pay/bad mgmt or burnout.

    I do think the emphasis on D0 is stupid and shows bad management from leadership. While its intention may have been good, blind execution of it causes too many problems and when someone’s pay/bonus/evaluation depends on it, they will likely put it above passengers.

  14. AS does this *all the time* in Seattle for flights to Alaska or locally within WA State when inbound pax are late. They’ll also make announcements on inbound flights for passengers with connections to deplane first and others to stay seated. It’s one of the things they do that engenders local loyalty.

  15. I’ve never misconnected on UA flights. UA has held planes long beyond what I thought was reasonable and behold I’ve always made it. Usually this was with the last flight of the night. However, AA is the worst. They don’t care. I’ve misconnected with them several times. They close the door well before 10 minutes and have an attitude about it. AA is by far the worst operated airline in the US. I’m positive that the gate agents get joy out of upsetting AA customers.

  16. Something has changed for sure with AA. Connected in CLT on Saturday afternoon and waiting to leave at D0 the door is still open, gate area manager comes onboard and tells the lead FA that we are waiting on 17 connecting passengers, most from MBJ. A few minutes later 9 people run on including a family with kids. Just after, manager comes on and says we’re closing the door, no sign of MBJ people. Door closes, gate bridge pulls back and plane pushes back 10 feet and stops. Bridge then reattaches to plane, I can actually see the passengers standing on the moving airbridge! Door opens and 8 tan people run on. Door closes and we are off.

    This was not even the last flight of the day and the plane wasn’t full. I was totally surprised, but the communication was great by the crew and given it was a Saturday afternoon nobody seemed bothered by the 15 minute delay.

  17. Am I missing something here? If a pax misses their flight do they not have to have their bags removed? What happens with a transfer pax bags? do they stay at the transfer airport or get onto the flight?

  18. >>Last flight of the day may close – at gate agent’s discretion – as late as 5 minutes to departure “if this will allow connecting passengers to make the flight.”

    They *can*, but they *don’t*. Twice this year so far, once in CLT and once in DCA, the agent had the door closed, flight closed, and in one case had pushed back 11 minutes prior to departure time for the last flight of the day on a connection that I missed. In one case, my arriving aircraft pulled into the NEXT GATE with 20 minute before departure, with 3 passengers on my flight (myself an EP, a Plat Pro and a Gold) ultimately mis-connecting because we didn’t get out the boarding door until there were 11 minutes prior to departure. We then were informed by the GA that “10 minutes is the absolute minimum, we can close before then if we wish to.” Some GAs in DCA, PHL and CLT need a reality check.

  19. The biggest problem here (to me) is this airline obsession with an on the minute on time departure. And it’s not just AA. From the many comments it seems it’s most of the major carriers. (I don’t fly all of them.) Last year I watched as a family on the way to a Hawaii vacation, connecting on UA in Chicago, were turned away from a flight (after running to the gate) when they arrived too close to this “on time” departure. The flight left on time. But the flight went out with empty seats. As I recall, for the airline stats, on time is within 15 minutes. Is 3 or 5 minutes going to make a difference if it gets a family to their vacation? This is another instance where airlines need to pay attention to the individual paying passenger. That has unfortunately been forgotten in the airline business where the right “metrics” are rewarded more than good customer service. It is rampant and the passengers suffer.

  20. They definitely do not follow it. I’ve missed connections at DFW because of an inbound delay several times. One time, it was the last flight out that night. They make absolutely no attempt to get people off the plane first who have connections. When I exited the plane, I asked the gate agent to call my gate to let them know I was coming. She responded by saying that they don’t do that so I should run. I ran across to terminals and got there 9 minutes before departure and they had already pushed back. I’ve ran 5 marathons so yeah I’d say I can run kinda fast. The customer service rep I had to speak to was laughing at passengers who also missed their connection to my face. Don’t get me started on that hotel they put us up in. Now I only fly AA thru DFW now if I have 2+ hours to connect.

  21. Question: Why does AA need a gate agent to process an upgrade if one is to be had. Facts:

    1. The computer has the list of pending upgrades
    2. The computer knows the status and rolling qualify of the people on the list
    3. The computer prints out boarding passes

    Therefore the damn computer should just print boarding passes D20 or D15 for people on the list as calculated. No need for a gate agent!

  22. Happened to 3 of us at DFW. Flight from Heathrow delayed. Of course had to go through Immigration, baggage claim (AA is the slowest), Customs, baggage recheck, TSA and change terminals. Door to jetway was shut so too bad for us. Plane sat there for 20 minutes before leaving. Ouf connection was the last one for the night to our home city. Would not pay for hotel. Best they would book us to another city 3 hours away from original city.

  23. What a nightmare. My flight was delayed from san antonio. We landed in B3 at Charolitte and if ran to gate C15 in 3.5 minutes. Exhausted and out of breath 13 minutes before my flight. I have executive platinum status. Door was closed and 2 workers from american acknowledged they should havs waited but once door closed its closed. The next flight was literally 6 hours later and nothing was done. Just horrible.

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