The stress of the airport doesn't end after you clear security. Unfortunately, you still need to board the flight, which may be the most stressful process of all. Is there a way to board without having to wait forever? Turns out, there is.

Current Conundrum

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Vox produced a video to show the fastest way to board an airplane based on research by MythBusters and, surprisingly, most airlines are using the slowest possible method — with passengers at the rear of the plane boarding first. It is the least efficient way to load passengers, with congestion forming because everyone getting on at the same time is fighting to use the same overhead binds. This method is, in fact, remarkably slower than boarding at random.


Airlines like United follow a system called WilMA (Window, Middle, Aisle). That is, they first board the passengers seated in the window seats, then the ones in the middle seats and finally those in the aisle seats. This may sound strange, but it’s actually the fastest way to go about boarding.

Money Talks

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So why won’t most airlines adopt the WilMA method in order to increase their effectiveness. As usual, you have to follow the money. Airlines will do what they can to have passengers pay extra in order to increase their own profits. If they can sell early-bird boarding tickets to passengers who want to avoid bottleneck discomfort, long lines and the potential of gate-checking a bag, then they will continue to use a slower method.

Going Random

On the other hand there’s always boarding without an assigned seat. This method has been employed by Southwest Airlines since 1971. According to their data, on average, all passengers are seated within 14 minutes.

However, according to the Vox video, travelers present the highest dissatisfaction with boarding this way.

Helpful Tips

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The fact that the plane is filled from back to front implies one thing: the overhead compartments are also filled in this order. If you foresee you will need space for your carry-on luggage, it is better to choose seats as far back as possible.

However, the one exception is a tight connection flight. Keep in mind that the last passengers to board (those of the seats located in front of the plane) are also the first to leave. If you have to catch a connecting flight, it is wise to choose seats toward the front of the airplane, even if you run the risk of running out of space in the overhead compartments. Just in case, make sure that your hand luggage is on the smaller side.


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While it may not be the most financially responsible move to pay for early-bird boarding, there are other ways to go about getting this benefit. For example, be sure to check frequent flyer miles, as airlines tend to reward customer loyalty. Some credit cards are affiliated with airlines too, which could give you a head start in the boarding race.