Travel SOS: Why are planes loaded from back to front?

Freddie wants to know why planes are not loaded more efficiently. The answer might surprise you.

Travel SOS: Why are planes loaded from back to front?

Freddie wants to know why planes are loaded from the front. The answer might surprise you.


Q. Freddie
Could you enlighten me on why airlines load their passenger planes from the front? After business class is loaded, they then start calling passengers for the rear section, then the middle and, finally, economy plus (or world traveller). All of these passengers have to pass through the business seating section while business travellers are still getting settled, putting bags into overhead lockers, getting served drinks etc. It seems to me that loading would be quicker if business class was last to board.

A. There is a simple answer as to why business class is the first to board and that is because those passengers pay for the privilege.

It also has the added advantage of everyone else walking past and seeing exactly what they are missing out on as they make their way to their spot on the plane, perhaps enticing them to spend more on their next flight. In that sense it works as advertising.

The more vexed issue you raise is why the rest of the plane is loaded from the back to the front. It should be noted that not all airlines adopt this method, but it is fairly prevalent across Australia.

It might surprise you to know that there have been numerous studies conducted on the quickest way for passengers to board a plane. These have consistently shown that the back-to-front method you describe is one of the slowest and least efficient methods for seating.

One of the most famous studies on airplane boarding methods, by Jason Steffan, found that boarding by zones was the worst possible method to fill a plane quickly.

The study timed how long it took 72 passengers to file into a Boeing 757, using five different boarding procedures. These included:

  • block or zone method (boarding from the back to the front of the aircraft)
  • boarding in four-row blocks
  • the Wilma method (Window, Middle and then Aisle)
  • the Steffen method (passengers line up in a prescribed order)
  • random boarding.


The Steffan method (where adjacent passengers in line sit two rows apart from each other in the corresponding letter seat) and random boarding were at least two minutes faster than the block or back-to-front seating styles.

Popular television show Mythbusters also looked at airplane boarding and found that the back-to-front method took around 10 minutes longer than boarding with no assigned seats and no assigned order.

The back-to-front boarding method is inefficient because it leads to the most aisle interferences.

Which leads to the reason that so many airlines persist with this method? There is no clear answer to this question. Some believe it serves the airlines best interests as it allows them to upsell perks, such as being the first to board, while others have noted that the random boarding is more confusing for passengers and boarding in rows provides a semblance of order that many find more comforting.

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    6th Jul 2019
    the back to front method fails because passengers who are not seated in the back jump the gun to get aboard first then block the aisles while they stow their overhead luggage and settle in. They stand in the aisle fiddle farting about while a log jam forms.
    Lark Force
    6th Jul 2019
    If the departure lounge seating was arranged as per the aircraft seating, the loading would be quicker as the rear passengers could board first. I'm sure business class and prem econ passengers would prefer having more time to settle in than the disruptive way loading happens now.
    The other consideration is the practice of back seat passengers putting their carry ons into lockers way ahead of their seats.
    And its a Furphy thinking that Business Class passengers pay extra so they can be first on.
    They'd rather have another 10 minutes in the business lounge enjoying the goodies!
    6th Jul 2019
    I agree Larkforce, I'd much rather wait in the lounge than on the plane. I traveled business with Ethihad from London and we we has a separate boarding door on the plane so we never saw economy travelers at any stage. (it was a bit weird facing the rear of the plane as we took off though) As for rear passengers and their carry on, I've traveled in the rear of economy and been first on to find the cabin crew had occupied all the overhead lockers for the first 2 rows so I had to use a locker further along. It wasn't by choice as I'd rather have my luggage closer. I think you'll find this the case on most flights so dont blame the passengers .
    pedro the swift
    6th Jul 2019
    Who really cares as long a you get a seat. Its not going to make much difference how you board or how its organised since a lot won't take any notice anyway.
    6th Jul 2019
    As a frequent flyer on international flights my bigget gripe would be the amount of carry on luggage by one person is allowed to bring on mainly the size of bags they try & stuff into over head lockers this seems to hold up the boarding process.In my opinion airlines should police bag & weight of carry on bags
    6th Jul 2019
    agree bandy
    6th Jul 2019
    My observation is that stowing or retrieving carry-on luggage is then greatest cause of congestion on boarding or disembarking from an aircraft. I would suggest that all luggage be checked in and only handbags, computer bags, cameras and coats etc be allowed as carry-on. How some people get away with the amount of luggage they carry on board mystifies me. If I ruled the world carry-on luggage would be severely restricted (that is after banning chewing gum and smoking in public places).
    4th Jan 2020
    My carry on is my computer bag, my backpack and my cross body bag with only my passport, ticket, a small pack of tissues, my wallet and a pen (which can go into my backpack), and my walking stick, which is folded up and put into my backpack whilst boarding as I use a wheelchair to and from the door of the plane.

    Would you 'need' any more? Unless you're travelling with a baby, of course.

    Eddy, I totally agree with you. Smoking in and around public buildings (of which airports are one), and within certain distances of the buildings is banned in Australia, and most countries. This includes the parking structures at airports.
    4th Jan 2020
    When I flew with Virgin Atlantic to London, they boarded at the centre of the plane (A380), with the Upper Class passengers first. Then the flight crew could serve our drinks & nibbles whilst the rest of the plane was being boarded, and we weren't disturbed. They had the Upper Class section was sectioned-off for privacy.

    Then they called the Economy passengers at the back end of the plane, so that they didn't have to fall over other passengers ahead of them, then the middle of the plane - Premium Economy and then the last of the Economy.

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