Airline pre-boarding is a joke no one is laughing at

by Doug Lipp on March 31, 2009

03
Is it just me, or does it seem that the number of passengers who pre-board has finally exceeded the number of regular passengers?

As the population of travelers rises with the temperature outdoors, it is more apparent every day that we have become a nation of “needy” people. Either that, or the airlines have greatly relaxed their definition of what it takes to board early.

Unfortunately, I think it is the former.

Perhaps it is my my over-active imagination, but it’s as if more and more passengers are hearing some fictional gate agent use the following words during the pre-boarding announcement:

“Ladies and gentlemen, before general boarding begins, we invite those of you who need a little extra time to board the aircraft. If you have any of the following, you qualify, so feel free to jump to the head of the line:

* Sprained finger.

* Hangover.

* Sunburn.

* “Children” who are under six feet tall.

* Toothache.

As my blood pressure rises upon seeing so many slackers take advantage of this opportunity, the imaginary gate agent continues the announcement with the following words of encouragement:

“That’s right folks, just run over those 80-year-olds who are using walkers and canes and are in your way. They’re part of the Greatest Generation and have too much pride to let a simple hip replacement qualify them for early boarding. All aboard!”

I am not belittling the gate agents — their jobs are tough enough without becoming Jetway police. I’m just saddened by the ever-growing number of people in the Entitlement Generation who have little or no self-restraint. Let’s all strive to be a little more other-centered during our travels.

“The strongest of all warriors are these two: Time and Patience.”

Leo Tolstoi, War and Peace

Doug Lipp is the author of Stuck in the Middle Seat.

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  • Matthew B

    Pre-boarding is irritating to me for one reason and one reason only: those who are pre-boarding usually have far too much carry on baggage, so need to pre-board to take the space alloted to other passengers. It seems to me that in the average Boeing or Airbus the overhead bins are designed to accommodate three 21″x14″x9″ bags, wheels in. In my view anything larger should not be permitted past security, or should be required to be gate checked. If the gate agents would rigorously enforce the carry on rules, even when the plane is not full, American travelers would get the message quickly.

    I spent most of my life in Australia, and I can tell you that the Qantas gate agents ruthlessly enforce Qantas’ carry on rules. It is quite amusing watching the scene at Sydney’s domestic airport. Passengers arrive on United with huge carry ons and expect to bring them on their domestic connection. They argue with the gate agent who, unmoved by their pleas, tells them that if their bag doesn’t go in the hold they don’t get on the plane. End of story.

  • Paulette

    As much as Southwest is not my favorite airline, I commend the way they handle pre-boarding. You need to check with gate personnel beforehand and be issued a blue “special” boarding pass, which weeds out most of the scofflaws. I also like the fact that parents with small children must wait until the entire “A” group has boarded before being allowed to board outside their group (although this probably doesn’t make those at the end of the “B” group very happy). The upside: You know where NOT to sit.

  • Patricia

    Matthew B wrote: “I spent most of my life in Australia, and I can tell you that the Qantas gate agents ruthlessly enforce Qantas’ carry on rules. It is quite amusing watching the scene at Sydney’s domestic airport. Passengers arrive on United with huge carry ons and expect to bring them on their domestic connection. They argue with the gate agent who, unmoved by their pleas, tells them that if their bag doesn’t go in the hold they don’t get on the plane. End of story.”

    Well, you might look around for applause, but you aren’t getting any from me. I have witnessed this and I think it stinks. You see, people are told they can bring one kind of bag on United and then the rules suddenly change when they arrive in Sydney. This isn’t a point in their travels where they can suddenly re-pack. Add to that the fact that the airline will not take responsibility for valuables stolen from checked luggage.

    I saw ruthless Qantas agents take a woman’s carryon (which met all United requirements for the international leg by the way) in the rudest way. She was carrying meds, insulin, as well as camera equipment. The agents were obnoxious in how they enforced their rules, which no one knew about until the domestic connection.

    I also saw the agents try to force a musician to check his violin, because it was “too long” and weighed over 5 kilos. The musician rightly refused to part with his instrument and there was a long argument with a supervisor. Really, it was incredibly stupid of Qantas.

  • Matthew B

    They should have read their “Conditions of Carriage” – the contract with the airline which they agreed to be bound by when they bought their ticket. They still get applause from me, a 30x14x9 inch suitcase is not a carry on.

  • Carlo

    Southwest doesn’t necessarily require the blue boarding pass. I usually need to pre-board these days, and I have have been known at times to pre-board without one. And those who pre-board just because they want room for their extra carry on luggage probably know to ask for the blue pass anyway. I like to think most people who fly on Southwest are just a little more considerate and don’t pre-board unless they really need to.

  • Patricia

    Matthew B wrote: “They should have read their “Conditions of Carriage” – the contract with the airline which they agreed to be bound by when they bought their ticket. They still get applause from me, a 30×14×9 inch suitcase is not a carry on.”

    30x14x9? Are you making up the dimensions now to try to boost your argument?

    First of all, the airline we all had bought tickets with was United, not Qantas, and United’s rules specify that every person can bring a 45 inch (length + width + height) carry-on bag. That is what the woman had.

    As far as the violin, that isn’t even worth discussion. No airline except Qantas tries to force a professional musician to check a violin.

  • Frank

    Ever watch how many passengers use WHEELCHAIRS “on the way” to Florida?
    And, when they deplane in Florida, most of them do NOT use the wheelchair service from the airlines on the other end. They ABUSE the system to get on the airplane first, using these wheelchairs. The American Disability Act requires all airlines to accommodate these individuals.
    HOW SHAMEFUL that many passengers use this service, simply to board first.

  • Don G

    I have been traveling extensively on business for several years and have yet to see a problem with preboaders and in fact see people with little kids or infirmed elderly waiting with everyone else

  • Sarah

    I second what Don G. said. We’ve already flown over 31,000 miles this calendar year, and I’ve yet to see any pre-boarding issues at all. I’ve seen several *other* issues, but no pre-boarding ones.

  • Leejay33

    I am one of the people who pre-board. To look at me you would not see any visible reason for this. I have a letter from my doctor which the airlines kindly accept and allow me to pre-board. I have had bladder cancer; the result of the cancer and the treatment is that my bladder is very small and rigid. It cannot expand as a normal bladder does. I therefore need to make frequent, urgent trips to the toilet. By pre-boarding, I can sit as close as possible to the rear lavatory. I am sorry if this distresses you. I would like to gently suggest that showing some compassion for people who appear very healthy and able, but have special needs, would be an attitude that might defuse some of your anger.

  • Airlinepilot328

    My B.S. detector is going off.  I have NEVER seen a ‘pre-board’ go to the back of the plane.  I am sure you do sit as close as you can to the LAV, but we all know its the one in the front of the plane.  Who are you fooling?

    It is also funny how all those ‘pre-boards’ need wheelchairs & extra time to board the aircraft … yet when we land, those same people  ’spring’ out of their front row seats and run out of the plane (first ones off); no assistance needed.

    It also makes me sick that the ‘obese’ are considered part of this entitlement group.  They get rewarded for not having any self control or discipline.

    All you ‘entitlement’ wimps ruin it for the rest of the people who really do need extra help – the elderly and handicapped.

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