Left Is Right: The Curious Reason Airlines Always Board from the Left
Left Is Right: The Curious Reason Airlines Always Board from the Left - The Science of Crowd Control
Boarding a plane is as much an exercise in crowd control as it is a logistical operation. While most passengers dutifully follow the airline staff’s instructions during boarding, the process of getting hundreds of people onto an aircraft in an orderly fashion involves some clever behavioral science.
According to researchers, passengers exhibit “herding behavior” when boarding a plane. Much like cattle moving instinctively as a herd, airline passengers tend to follow the crowd, for better or worse. This is why airlines have implemented structured boarding policies – to provide order to the chaos.
Studies have found that unorganized boarding leads to slower overall process times and increased passenger frustration. On the other hand, controlled boarding procedures like assigning seat rows and zones can reduce boarding times by nearly 30%.
Part of this efficiency stems from the simple fact that passengers seated in the back of the plane board before those in the front. This prevents people from getting stuck in the aisle as they make their way to their seat. It also prevents excessive crowding near the cockpit when front-seated passengers shove their bags in the overhead bins.
Another element of airline crowd control involves managing passenger psychology. People inherently follow social cues and established norms. Boarding from left to right takes advantage of both – it provides a clear system to follow and leverages the fact that most passengers are right-handed.
Starting the queue on the left subtly encourages people to line up in an orderly fashion. And since the aircraft door is on the left side, boarding left to right mirrors the flow of traffic inside the cabin as passengers stow bags and take their seats.
This procedure traces back decades, when commercial air travel first took off after World War II. Early jet airliners were designed with doors on the left side, which also kept the flight crew closer to the runway. And since most passengers were right-handed, boarding left to right made practical sense.
While aviation has evolved tremendously, this efficient boarding method has stood the test of time. Major international airline alliances have adopted left-side boarding policies to align with American and European norms.