Why Do Passengers Almost Always Board From The Left?

The impacts of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic have meant that the sensation of boarding an aircraft has become a less common occurrence for most people. One of the most notable aspects of this procedure is that it is always carried out from the left-hand side of the aircraft, regardless of the type. But why is this the case? Let’s take a look.

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Boarding on the left-hand side has become a standard procedure across aviation. Photo: Getty Images

Keeping passengers and ground crew apart

One of the main reasons that passengers tend to board aircraft from the left-hand side is that it allows ground crew to continue their duties uninterrupted. Such staff carries out a variety of tasks on the right-hand side of the plane, such as fueling and loading bags. As Reader’s Digest observes, this “directs foot traffic away from the ground crew.”

Anyone who has sat on the right-hand side of an aircraft will have seen ground staff at work. This gives an awareness of what a busy environment it can be. This is especially the case when ground crew have to deal with relatively short turnaround times, which are a key feature of low-cost airlines. This is because it allows a plane to operate more flights in a day.

As such, these important duties require minimal interference. With passengers boarding on the opposite side to where they occur, interference is less likely to happen.

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The right-hand side of most aircraft is a space reserved for tasks like (un)loading baggage and cargo. Photo: Getty Images

Historical reasons

There is also a historical basis for the fact that passengers almost always board aircraft from the left-hand side. As The Independent explains, the process of getting onboard an aircraft used to be rather different. Specifically, the publication reports that early airports saw planes taxi much closer to terminal buildings before offloading their passengers.

As Simple Flying has explored in another article, an aircraft’s captain almost always sits on the left. As such, it made sense for their side to be closest to the terminal. This allowed them to judge the distance between the wing and the building most accurately.

A by-product of this was the fact that passengers would then typically board on the left-hand side, as this already faced the gate due to the aforementioned parking strategy. Although planes park differently nowadays, the convention of boarding on the left has remained.

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Boarding from the left historically relates to the captain sitting on this side. Photo: Getty Images

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Following nautical tradition

A shared sense of tradition among different facets of the transport industry in general is also a contributing factor to the modern boarding process. Indeed, Business Insider explains that one of the reasons for it is the fact that maritime vessels board in the same way.

The reason for this was the fact that, historically speaking, many boats featured a part similar to the rudder known as the ‘steerboard’ on the right side. This formed the basis for the etymology of the term starboard. As such, early boat passengers had to board from the left/port side. Aircraft and jetway designers consequently followed suit.

Did you know why passengers typically board aircraft from the left? Have you ever entered a plane on the right-hand side? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.