Boarding procedures Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Airline procedures that process passengers and allow them onto the correct aircraft for their destination.

Boarding procedures were established to ensure that passengers are boarded onto the right airplane at the right time and are seated in assigned or available seats. To accomplish this task, a number of steps are taken before, during, and after passengers get onto their aircraft.

Boarding planning first considers the kind of flight that is being processed. Flight departures can be of two types: one in which an aircraft is coming from another location and proceeding on to its destination or one in which the departure is the flight’s origination point. Operations departments determine whether the flight is on schedule, what gate will be assigned for the departure, and the expected number of passengers. Passengers are of three types: first, local passengers are those beginning their trip; second, connecting passengers are those arriving on other aircraft to continue their trip on the departing flight; and third, continuing passengers are those arriving and continuing onto the flight’s destinations. If the flight is oversold, or overbooked, oversale procedures are initiated.

Keeping in mind that a departure may involve an arriving aircraft, gate agents report to the assigned gate typically thirty minutes before an aircraft’s arrival or one hour before its departure. They prepare and post signs that indicate departure information such as the flight number, the destination, and the scheduled or adjusted departure time, if necessary. Adjusted departure times reflect any information that may or will, if known, affect the departure, such as weather, air traffic, maintenance, or crew matters.

When passenger counts are low, all of the boarding procedures can be performed by one person. When twenty-five or more passengers are expected, it is customary to have two gate agents. Three to four gate agents are needed for flights of larger aircraft in which two to three hundred passengers are expected.

Boarding responsibilities are divided into two functions, known by a variety of titles. The boarding agent, or coordinator, is responsible for all announcements, for the actual taking of tickets and boarding passes from passengers, and for all communication with the crew. The gate, or control, agent is responsible for checking passengers in if needed, for producing all needed reports, and for making the entries that calculate and finalize how many passengers are on board.

Within the hour before departure, passengers begin to arrive at the gate. Some need to be checked in and given their seat assignments. Most already have been checked in at a ticket counter or in their originating location if they are on a connecting flight.

Different aircraft have different boarding requirements and time frames that take into account the aircraft’s size and the number of passengers. A full medium-sized aircraft may take as much time as a half-full large aircraft. Boarding may begin as much as one hour or as little as fifteen minutes before departure.


Boarding begins with a consultation and agreement with the flight crew that all is in order on board the aircraft. Boarding is managed and coordinated by announcements usually made through a public-address system. The first announcements identify the airline, the flight number, the destination, the departure time, and also include certain reminders regarding the size and the number of carry-on items allowed. Recognizing that certain passengers have special needs and that certain passengers enjoy the privileges of being preferred customers, the second announcement is called the preboarding announcement. Preboarding allows those with special needs or those with preferred privileges to board ahead of others. The third announcement begins the general boarding process. Row numbers, normally in sets of five, are called to board, starting with the back rows and progressing toward the front. Boarding from the rear rows to the front eliminates congestion on board the aircraft and allows passengers to proceed without interruption to their assigned seats.

After preboarding and while general boarding is conducted, other steps leading to final passenger and departure documentation take place. Almost every airline makes what is called a cutoff announcement twenty minutes prior to departure. Computer entries are then made releasing the advance seat assignments of passengers who have not already checked in. Other entries are then made to assign seats to standby passengers. Standby passengers are of two kinds, revenue and space available. Revenue standby passengers are passengers that were ticketed for earlier or later flights. Space-available passengers are passengers who are traveling on various kinds of passes and are boarded only if there are remaining available seats.

Final Boarding

At ten minutes prior to departure, the final boarding announcement is made. Passengers arriving at the departure gate after this announcement are late and may not be boarded. After the final boarding announcement is made, various reports and passenger counts are prepared and calculated and are given to the crew and to operations departments. At five minutes prior to departure, there is another consultation with the crew notifying them that all passengers who can be boarded have been boarded, and that the gate is prepared to close the door. The authority and direction to close the door comes from the captain. After the plane has left, the gate staff take several other steps, such as generating several other reports, documenting the actual time of departure and the exact number of passengers and crew, sending the now-used tickets to airline accounting departments, and communicating any relevant passenger information to the destination city.

  • America West Airlines. On-Time Performance Training. Phoenix, Ariz.: America West Airlines, 2001. A handbook detailing America West’s 2001 training initiative aimed at better coordinating and timing the steps taken before, during, and after boarding by gate agents, flight attendents, captains, and ramp service personnel.
  • Irrgang, Michael E. Airline Operational Efficiency. Washington D.C.: McGraw-Hill/Aviation Week, 2000. Describes the importance of timely loading of passengers, baggage, and cargo.

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Airline industry, U.S.


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Categories: History