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Why Don’t Planes Board Window Seats First?

Have you ever stood in a seemingly endless line at the gate and thought to yourself that there has to be a way to make boarding more efficient? You’re certainly not alone. For years, people have been trying to work out the models that would make boarding faster. Some suggested boarding window seats first.

However, there are a few reasons why planes don’t board window seats first. One is that in real conditions, it wouldn’t be more efficient. Another is that it would cause lots of passenger confusion and discomfort, which is an emotion that airlines want to avoid at all times.

Here is why the proposed model to board window seats first will likely never happen.

Why Do Some People Want to Board Window Seats First?

Passengers and aviation industry experts alike have been working for years to find a better way to board planes. Nobody likes boarding delays—not passengers, who just want to get into their seats and get to their destinations, not crew, who often don’t get paid during boarding, and not airlines, who are worried about the knock-on effects of delayed flights. 

The problem of efficient airport boarding is so widespread that it even attracted the attention of astrophysicist Jason Steffen. The scientist used a computer model to develop the Steffen Boarding Method, which determined that the fastest boarding method would be boarding alternate rows window-to-aisle. 

flight attendant opening window
Yay flight attendant opening window

Even if you’re not an astrophysicist, it makes sense why boarding window seats first makes sense. With the current way of boarding, it’s very common for people to get to their aisle seats first, and then have to move for someone sitting in the window seat or in the middle to sit down, holding up the rest of the boarding line while everybody gets settled.

Is Boarding Window Seats First Actually Efficient?

However, it’s important to note that the Steffen Boarding Method and other plans that propose boarding window seats first were usually tested on computer simulations, not real passengers. In real life, the window seat-first method isn’t very efficient. 

The Steffen Boarding Method would certainly be a chore to announce to passengers. Gate agents would essentially have to make passengers get in line, one-by-one, for maximum efficiency. Any time gained by getting everyone on the plane faster would probably be lost getting everyone to line up the proper way at the gate, especially since people try to jump the line even with much simpler boarding methods such as boarding by group.

flight attendant helps with carry on luggage during boarding
Yay Flight attendant helps with carry on luggage during boarding

Boarding window seats first would probably confuse passengers, particularly those who are unfamiliar with air travel. Somebody flying for the first time might not understand the information on their boarding pass and which seat number actually is a window or aisle seat. It’s not worth the hassle that gate agents would go through trying to explain the boarding procedure.

Would Customers Like Window-First Boarding?

Another big reason why airlines are reluctant to switch to boarding window seats first is that it would decrease customer satisfaction. Maybe on a rational level you would expect everyone to put up with a big change for the sake of boarding efficiency, but humans are not rational beings. Plus, not everyone’s first priority when boarding is efficiency. Most people don’t mind waiting in line for an experience that is less confusing.

A big reason why boarding window seats first would make passengers unhappy is that it would split up people traveling together. This goes beyond simply wanting to spend time with your friends or significant other, even in the boarding line.

There are many practical reasons why people want to stay with the people they are traveling with. Some people have limited mobility and need help from travel companions to put their luggage in the overhead bins or settle into their seats. Others have severe anxiety about flying and might be relying on a travel companion to manage their panic.

Boarding window seats first would be the most damaging to people traveling with their families. Small children physically cannot board by themselves or be unattended for long periods while their parents board separately. Any policy that would separate families would cause unnecessary headaches to passengers and airline crew.

Have Any Airlines Tried Boarding Window Seats First?

That doesn’t mean some airlines haven’t tried to make the switch for the sake of efficiency. In 2013, United Airlines started boarding window seats first for the sake of efficiency. However, the switch was not complete. First-class and priority passengers got to board first, and families traveling together and people with disabilities were exempted from the “window seats first” policy.

United Airlines still follows this procedure and boards economy passengers by group. Window seats usually get group three while middle and aisle seats get group four or five, which makes it easier to divide people.

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