Why Do First Class Passengers Board First — Rather Than Last?

I often say that you do not want to board first. You want to board ‘not last’ so that the plane hasn’t run out of overhead bin space by the time you get on. Boarding early is about one thing only: not having to gate check your carry on bag.

That’s why I absolutely love a quick overnight, and on a two night trip sometimes stretch myself to travel with just my laptop bag, so that I don’t need overhead bin space. I can show up at the airport later. I can work productively in the lounge. And I don’t have to rush boarding. As someone that values every 5 minutes in my day (I really do keep myself that busy), this matters to me.

But first class boards first and then passengers sit on the plane for half an hour and everyone else shuffles by. Wouldn’t it be better and more comfortable to avoid that extra 30 minutes on board?

First class passengers shouldn’t want to board first. The problem is access to overhead bin space. When you’re at the front of the plane it’s not enough for there to still be some on the plane. You don’t want the bin space to be in the back of the plane, where you’ll have to either fight your way to the back when you land (and wait to get off) or wait for everyone else to deplane in order to get your bags.

There may not be enough bin space for all first class passengers. If you board first you can at least put your stuff in the front rows of coach. And even if there’s enough space up front, there’s a good chance that ccoach passengers will take it as they walk back through the aircraft on the way to their seats.

Delta puts signs in their first class overhead bins that say they’re for first class passengers only. American now does this too, but there’s not really enforcement.

In the meantime I board first for the overhead bin space, open my laptop and work throughout boarding.

Now it’s not all about overhead bin space. Another reason to board first is to avoid standing in a clogged jetway. But boarding last accomplishes this too.

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. If you’re first class, you usually check your bag and with sky priority your bag is usually sitting there by the time you walk out to baggage claim. I always board last even sitting in first but they still make you stand in the jetway. They won’t let you sit until jetway clears. Dumb.

  2. I think it is just so first class passengers can feel important. I flown premium economy a couple of times and it great to be one of the first on the plane. Overhead bin space isn’t a issue with the 787 I flew on with Air NZ the bins where generous

  3. The easy solution to this is to pack in a way that allows you to stow bags beneath the seat in front of you. I think we have met, I am pretty certain I am taller, so it doesn’t cause me any discomfort in terms of leg room. So, if it works fine for me it should work fine for most anyone 🙂

  4. He is saying he can’t board last because there won’t be any overhead space and he is not going to check a bag

  5. First Class can board whenever they want, and some people prefer first. Personally, I find the seats in First Class more comfortable than those in the gate area, if you can find a seat at all. I have a few minutes to get settled and maybe enjoy a drink while remaining passengers file on. To each his own.

  6. Or, how about ‘back to the future’ and require ALL luggage to be checked; only 1 attaché or purse goes to the seat?

    Why can’t the airlines improve their efficiency to more quickly deliver checked luggage? This would substantially reduce delays and lines boarding and disembarking.

    The question is also now that airlines have outsourced their baggage department, is it really simply cheaper to operate and the hell with efficiency? I find it amusing that although first class check-in is always tagged as priority off, it is always the last to come down the luggage belt at arrival.

  7. I have never had to put my bags in “the back” when traveling in First or Business. I prefer to get on early and relax before take off so that if I want to I am ready to sleep immediately after take off. I have always assumed that there is always enough room in First or Business for everyone’s carry-ons and that if there is not the cabin crew will take care of it.

  8. I love boarding last, no stress at all and the looks on faces when I walk in and claim an empty seat are priceless.

    I was at DFW terminal E one day, chatting with the gate agents while I waited as long as possible to board. There was a DL 747 parked at the next gate, a military charter. I mentioned what a great looking plane it was and asked if I could go onboard and walk around. They said it was all closed up but that if I followed them I could get a great view from an office…sure enough it was fantastic, the sun rising behind the plane. I’m pretty sure they closed my flight’s boarding door late because of that.

    Always board last 🙂

  9. Mark asks, “Why can’t the airlines improve their efficiency to more quickly deliver checked luggage? This would substantially reduce delays and lines boarding and disembarking.” Airlines don’t control bags on and off the aircraft. Airport contractors do that.

  10. I prefer to board first so I can sneer at the GREAT UNWASHED.

    This is why I would never live in NYC. I’m not about to ride the subway.

    As to Gary, did I understand him to say he travels on his overnight trips without a change of clothing or at least underwear?



  11. If it takes 30 minutes to board the plane, and I am in first, why would I prefer to sit in waiting area rather than on board in comfy seat with predeparture beverage?

  12. First, if your in first class, you are either an airline elite or are paying for first class, so either way, the cost of checking a bag is either free or you won’t have an issue paying the $25-$35 for that service. If you are traveling on Delta, they guarantee you bag will be on the belt in 20 minutes. In my experience, the bag usually beats me to the luggage carousel. Most of my flights have connections, so checking my luggage is even more important to me so I don’t have to drag my suitcase through airports and on to another plane.
    Second, I find it more comfortable to sit on a plane (especially first class) rather than in the boarding area of the airport.

  13. When I am in first class I prefer to get on early. There have been times when I did not and lost out on overhead space. When I am in coach I prefer to get on early in my group – again because of overhead space.

  14. On Sri Lankan in Colombo they board first class last. Since you usually board on the tarmac and are bused out they seem to board ecomomy from the rear entrance. They are also pretty militant about Economy bags not going into the first class overheads.

  15. Harry says ” I have always assumed that there is always enough room in First or Business for everyone’s carry-ons and that if there is not the cabin crew will take care of it.”

    That’s a big assumption. Several times this year I’ve seen overhead space full in First Class and the flight attendant tell the first class passenger “there is space available further back on the plane”. I’m not sure that meets your definition of “the cabin crew will take care of it.”

  16. When I’m flying up front, I do my best to arrive at the gate and board 15 minutes before the flight (the absolute minimum before AA will give away your seat). I pack my overnight bag with that in mind. I’ve pared down my travel gear to the absolute essentials (which does include underwear!). For a trip of up to 3 days and 2 nights, I can almost always get by with a bag that fits under the seat, and there is consistently space for that bag overhead even if there is no room for a rollaboard.

    It’s amazing how much of a difference it makes to one’s overall serenity not having to sit there as 100+ people file down the aisle (I choose aisle seats to be able to get up and down frequently, for health reasons). Probably the biggest remaining friction point is how often there is a huge slow-moving line up the jet bridge even at D-15, but it’s still better to be standing at the back of that line than sitting next to it!

  17. With AA’s D0, last to board is perilously close to first to be denied boarding.

    Otherwise you are in the jetway for 15 minutes.

    When airlines use a separate door for F, then it works. As others have said the plane is nicer than the gate area.

  18. I usually board towards the end. Not worried about bin space. Never aspiring to be a skycap, I always check my bag. That’s what I’m paying the airline for. Not interested in wrestling bags through security, worrying about bin space, bumping other pax, holding up lines, etc. Upon landing I head to the lounge for productive time while awaiting my bag. Been working for me for three decades.

  19. Sounds like a classic case of chacun a son goute…
    I always like to get on early — nearly always in First or Business. I like to get my stuff put away with plenty of time.
    I also like to wipe down my seat area, since the airlines never do….
    If others like to board late, God love ’em. Just don’t be the person who then wants to shuffle everyone else’s bag around because there’s no space for yours…

  20. @Jerry Mandel

    That’s not nearly as a true as you think it is. Airlines often provide their own ground staff at airports where they have significant presence. And in the cases where they do use contractors, a vast majority of them are overseen by the airline itself. (There are very few stations, such as HPN, where the airport authority and not the airline oversees the ground staff.)

    Point being, this stuff is by and large within the control of an airline.

  21. Boarding early means getting overhead space, being able to arrange your stuff (laptop, chargers, newspapers), and sitting in a seat much nicer than the gate area with a pre-departure beverage. What’s not to like? And there is also the occasional seat poacher when I board late, and the possibility, as has happened to some of my colleagues who like to board last, that they misjudge things and get to the gate just a little too late. All in all, I am into making the travel experience as stress-free as possible and avoiding possible problems.

  22. Aside from access to overhead bin space, it’s reassuring boarding early in first class and finding that somebody else isn’t occupying my seat. This also gives me time to change into sleepwear while the lavatory is still clean.

  23. One of the few things I loved about the 757 was the use of L2 for boarding. Turn left and you enter a world of serenity and ample bin space. On an AA 319 with its diminutive F cabin, not boarding early almost guarantees no overhead space.

  24. I usually find if I can board first, I can get my laptop and work for 30 minutes. It’s surprising how productive that time can be.

  25. “If you’re first class, you usually check your bag and with sky priority your bag is usually sitting there by the time you walk out to baggage claim.”

    Even in first class I never check my bag as that gives them no opportunity to lose, damage or pilfer

  26. Flying first, board first, overhead first, relax first, offboard first. That’s why I pay for first–dollars or points.

  27. @Steven M —> Wouldn’t that depend upon the length of your trip?


    @Kathleen, @Brian —> I agree 100%.


    @Gary —> The vast majority of times when I fly in F are on domestic flights, whether it’s SFO-JFK, SFO-ORD, or something shorter like SFO-LAS, -LAX, or -PDX. Sometimes overhead storage is critical: if you’re in a bulkhead seat, for example, there is NO under-the-seat-in-front-of-you storage; everything must go up above. Even in those are occasions where there is storage within your “suite,” if you plane is so equipped, I would think you’d still want to board early/first to get settled, unpack what you need from your carry-on, stow that, relax with a beverage (even if it’s plain water), and get some work done… just my 2¢, and worth far less I’m sure…keep the change! ;^)

  28. In Istanbul, Turkish Airways lets you stay in the lounge then calls your flight and busses you directly from the lounge so that you board after everyone else, just before takeoff. From what I remember, they were vigilant about overhead bin space being reserved for each class. It was SOOOOOO much nicer!!

  29. Sometimes I board first when I’m tired so I can nap during boarding. If airlines had a small roped off area at gates for first class passengers to have a seat, sort of a mini-lounge at each gate, then I could see boarding last being even better as it’s not always obvious when to board.

    Also on the occasions when the CK team want to do a meet and greet and escort me to the plane, they usually prefer to do that before everyone else boards the aircraft.

  30. Boarding first should be boarded in the following order so as to not get pushed, hit in the head, bumped, have someones butt or crotch in your face:
    1. Board section 5
    2. Board section 4
    3. Board section 3
    4. Board section 2
    5. Board first class/business class

    This makes sense and fills up the overhead bin from back to front and also gives a little and anonmynity.

    Makes sense to me!!!

  31. What a load of wankers! “I like my drink before take off, I like to change in my pyjamas, I like to sneer at the GREAT UNWASHED. Do you really ‘losingtrader’? You really are a loser.
    I own an airline and I always fly economy. If it’s good enough for the soon to be the richest man in the world again, that’s my friend Bill Gates btw, it’s good enough for me.
    My airline doesn’t offer First or Business class so I doubt I’ve lost any custom. The odd occasion I’ve had flights bought for me and I’ve ended up in First class, it wasn’t the seats, the overhead space, the meals, the lounge, the service or the overall comfort that bothered me. It was the ignorant, arrogant “people” I had to spend several hours of my life with.

  32. I decided to board almost last the first time I flew 1st Class. When I entered the plane I found my seat and proceeded to put my carry-on in the bin above me. I found they were all full. I was then greeted by a handful of angry, rude flight attendants that demanded to know why I didn’t board earlier. I told them I didn’t want to sit and wait long on the plane before it took-off. The women were so angry they didn’t offer to help me find a space in the overhead compartments for my bag until I stepped into coach to start looking there. I felt so humiliated, didn’t think I was treated fairly especially in 1st Class?

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