Blake Snow

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Final-call fliers: What you can learn from travelers who always board last

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In recent years, the queues to board commercial airplanes have gotten noticeably longer, chaotic, and sometimes testy. This is largely due to increasingly restrictive bag policies and sold out planes, which inadvertently encourage more passengers to board as early as possible to ensure their place on the plane.

Understandably, this causes a lot more gate stress for all involved, from economy passengers and gate agents, to first class fliers and anyone heading to a different gate. Is there a better way?

The answer is an enthusiastic “Yes!” according to the many self-proclaimed “Final Call” fliers I recently spoke to; the seemingly brave but still confirmed passengers who wait until “all rows have been called” and the lines have vanished before boarding. Better yet, all those I spoke to reported that neither their bags nor themselves had never been left behind, so long as they arrived at the gate at least 30 minutes early.

In other words, you don’t have to wait in line to confirm your place (or your bag’s place) on a plane. In fact, the pros of delayed boarding far outweigh the cons, according to those I spoke to. This is what you can expect while doing so.

Better comfort. Not only does waiting to board let you bypass the often stressful and crowded lines (or “gate lice” as one woman put it), doing so lets you enjoy more legroom, open seating, and less claustrophobia for a few minutes longer in the gate rather than the plane. “Remember, you still have a confirmed seat 10-15 minutes before the gate closes,” says Luisa Ruocco, a travel blogger from England who’s been boarding “final call” for over a decade. “This is especially true for people with checked bags as security doesn’t want them separated from owners.”

Guaranteed bags. If you made it through security en route to the gate, you have a confirmed seat and bag. Of the dozens of people I spoke to, not one had their carry-on bag denied at the gate for boarding during final call. In some cases those bags got gate-checked when all overhead bins were full, but even then the majority said there are almost always a few spots left in overheads for stragglers. Either way, your bag will board and won’t be left behind.

First-pick of spare seats. One of the best untold advantages of final boarding is that you get the first and most accurate pick of any remaining seats provided no one else boarding behind you. Nick Brennan from New York regularly gets first pick of economy plus, exit seats, and sometimes even entire rows after boarding last. “This is especially true on transcontinental or international flights,” he says. “A couple of times I was told I had to sit in my designated seat for take off, but on most occasions the flight attendants don’t even care.”

Better scenery. In addition to more legroom, remaining at the gate until the line has cleared allows you to enjoy larger windows, better lighting, enduring access to power outlets, more room for kids to play, and ultimately better people watching opportunities. “Gates can be very amusing,” says Anthony Bianco from Australia. “Not only are they more comfortable than a cramped plane, they’re a great place to avoid and watch the scrum of people josling to get on the aircraft.”

Guaranteed flights. As long as you arrive on time and stay at your gate, there is no worry of missing flight, even when boarding on final calls. “Research has shown, if people are in the boarding area or even airline lounge that’s coordinated with the gate on boarding times, they will never miss their flight,” says Alex Sachs, a frequent flier who has boarded last for years. True, you might get bumped on extremely rare occasions, but that can happen to anyone, not just final call fliers. If you have any extra concerns, use the official airline app to gauge how busy a flight is.

Running the risk. Although boarding last is a lot safer than you might expect, it only works if you arrive at the gate at least 30 minutes early and listen to all announcements, according to those I spoke to. For example, one person arrived 15 minutes before the gate closed and was bumped from her Belfast flight, even though the ticket said to arrive at least 15 minutes before departure. Furthermore, if you have tight connections and don’t want to wait for a gate-checked bag, you should consider boarding early since overhead bins can sometimes run out (although less than you expect, according to my interviews). Lastly, waiting until final calls might result in missing priority upgrades or ideal seating on unassigned airlines such as Southwest.

Whether you decide if waiting for final calls is right for you, Vanessa Valiente, a frequent flier from San Diego said it best: “Stress is a poison. If it stresses you out to sit passively and wait, then stand in line. If standing in line stresses you out, then take a seat with the rest of us and relax a bit. We’re all cool here.” ●

The story by Blake Snow first appeared in Lonely Planet