Boarding the Plane & Stowing Your Carry-on Luggage

Basic of Air Travel: Boarding & Stowing Bags

Your travel planning has gotten you to the airport on time, through security with minimal effort, and you’ve even had a little time to shop and grab a bite to eat before getting to your departure gate.  Now, FINALLY, it’s time to get on the plane.

This sounds like a far easier proposition than it will likely be – especially during peak travel times like the holiday season.  However following a few basic rules, and using a lot of good manners, will get you on board and in your seat before you know it.

The important thing to remember is there is a process to be followed.  If everyone pays attention and follows the process, it will move along quite efficiently.  What balls up the whole process is when someone doesn’t.  Don’t be that person.

While the process may vary slightly from airline to airline, it will generally follow something like this:

  1. Pre-Boards.  Families traveling with infants and small children, passengers sitting in First Class, and passengers needing a little extra time for boarding.  This last category generally means elderly passengers, those who have difficulty with walking, special needs, things like that.  (It does not mean people who just think they are special.)
  2. The second group of pre-boards.  This usually includes premium members of the airline’s frequent flyer program and premium members of partner airlines and is a perk for passenger loyalty.
  3. The rest of the masses, starting at the back of the aircraft and working forward.

When to Board the Airplane

Here’s the most important key to making the boarding process go efficiently — board when your category is called!

Airlines are getting more adamant about boarding in this order, and if you board out of turn you may be asked to step aside and wait.  A number of people trying to board out of turn take up precious minutes of the process and increases the frustration.  Just wait your turn and be part of the solution, not the problem.

When your boarding category is called, queue up, and have your boarding pass out and ready to present to the boarding agent.  Don’t wait till you get to the front of the line and slow down the process while you dig it out.  Have it ready to go, and pass by quickly.

Another tip to ease the frustration of boarding is to remember your manners and stand in line.  There’s no need to push and shove ahead of other people.  You’re all going to get on, so just relax and wait for your turn.  Also, if you are not actively boarding, step aside so that other people can pass by you.  Remain conscious of your surroundings, and keep aisle ways and walking paths clear.

Once you pass into the jetway, you are most likely still going to be in a line, and it will continue onto the plane.

You’re on board, so now what?

When you finally get to the plane, proceed down the main aisle of the aircraft until you reach your row.  As you’re walking, watch how you carry your bags, packages, backpacks, etc.  I’ve seen passengers wiped out by a backpack on the back of someone who keeps turning around without regard for people around them.  Also, not all roller bags can clear the narrow aisle, so be prepared to carry it down the aisle as well.

When you reach your row, quickly stow your bag overhead and step out of the main aisle to get settled.

Now, a little aside, where I take issue with what many travel writers and “experts” have to say.  The “experts” working on the plane and managing the boarding process know what causes the overall problems.  DO NOT place your bags in the first empty bin that you come to.  This is one of the primary reasons that there won’t be space over your seat — because with everyone doing just that the front bins are full and the back ones aren’t.  And since the plane boards from the back to the front, it’s all a mess.  Flight Attendants who are on the ball and keeping an eye on cabin baggage will prevent this from happening, directing you to stow your bags near where you are seated.

If you need a little more time stowing your bags, step out of the main aisle and let people behind you pass, then continue with putting your bags overhead.  There will be a break in traffic flow or a lull due to congestions, that will give you time to stow and get settled in.  If you have brought on more than one bag, place one of them beneath the seat in front of you.  The overhead is not your personal space, and it must be shared by a lot of people.  If you do not want to use the space beneath the seat in front of you, check your bags.

Because of limited overhead space, when placing your bags in the bins, try to minimize the space used.  Try placing the bag in perpendicularly (rather than parallel), and if that doesn’t work, try place the wheels facing out toward the aisle (rather than the handle facing out).  Scoot bags as close together as possible, leaving room for other items.

If you bring onboard carry on luggage, you should be prepared to stow it yourself, without help (or with minimal help) from others.  If the bag is too heavy for you to lift overhead, it’s probably not reasonable for you to ask for someone else to it for you.  Remember the maxim:  “If you can pack it, you can rack it.”

While Flight Attendants are generally willing to move things about and offer assistance, lifting bags is the chief way in which crew members are injured.  Since these injuries frequently result in a crippling financial hardship and all too often are career-ending, it’s no surprise that we are reluctant to lift heavy bags and put our livelihood at risk.  With that in mind, we still try to help out when and where we can.

As more and more people use to carry on baggage, rather than checking it, space gets used up more and more quickly.  Good manners, a polite attitude, and a little common sense can make it work for all of us.

So sit down and buckle up, it’s almost time for departure.

If you’re following on with our Basics of Air Travel series, read more about more facts of plane travel below.

  1. Checking in From Home
  2. Get to the Airport on Time
  3. Checking & Carrying on Luggage
  4. Getting Through Security – Planning
  5. Airport Security – Rules & Etiquette
  6. Getting to Your Departure Gate
  7. Boarding the Plane & Stowing Your Bags
  8. Turning Off Your Electronic Devices
  9. Safety Demonstration
  10. Beverage Service
  11. Airplane Etiquette
  12. Descent
  13. Landing & Deplaning
  14. Leaving the Airport

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