Air Travel: The Boarding Process

By The Flying Pinto

Last weeks post about carry on baggage brought in a couple emails and comments:

"Of course, there's the other side of this -- why are the bins always full of
little tiny bags that fit under the seat? I've lost track of the number of 2
bag passengers I see who put both bags in the overhead."

Let me shed some light! The airlines are staffing planes at minimum crew more and more these days. Minimum crew is the amount of flight attendants the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) mandates per flight. In the old days airlines used to staff flights with more than minimum crew for service purposes, and well, since we all know how that’s going these days we’ll save that for another post!

There is a lot going on during the boarding process. Let’s talk about a narrow body plane with less than 150 passenger seats. The FAA requires three flight attendants in this example. Flight attendant responsibilities vary, but no one is the designated aisle flight attendant. All airlines are a little different, but here is an example of who might be working where:

  • flight attendant A: the lead. Makes all announcements, greets passengers, gathers and hangs first class coats, takes drink orders and delivers first class pre-departure drinks. Helps and seats any unaccompanied minors, or other passengers requiring special assistance. Also, handles any issues that come up during boarding….and there are issues!
  • flight attendant B: First Class. preparing galley for on board service, checking to make sure all service items are present, counting meals, counting alcohol in bar cart, completing any prep work, preparing pre-departure drinks for FA A to deliver. Checking on flight deck and getting drinks for them if needed.
  • flight attendant C: Back galley. preparing the galley for service, taking inventory of all food for sale, inventory of the bar cart, setting up the bar cart, and as a secondary duty assisting in the aisle.

All three flight attendants are busy completing their tasks before it is time to shut the door. With so little time to assist in the aisle, their time there is to answer call lights and handle things like seat duplications, families with small children not seated together, and making sure the passengers seated in the exit row meet the criteria for sitting in that row. We also try to turn bags, and rearrange bags while we’re out there, but as you can imagine “policing” for bags that shouldn’t be there because either there small or a passenger placed two in the overhead is not very realistic. That is unless we’re working a flight and there is a designated aisle flight attendant. International flights have the staffing, but there is so much space on those planes that it never seems to be an issue.

Tip: If a flight attendant is rearranging luggage in the overhead don’t be defensive about your bag being moved a little, it’s like a big puzzle for us and we’re are just trying to accommodate everyone in the shared space. Also, please hang on to your coats and jackets until all bags have been stowed, thank you:)

And, I know from this tweet I saw that sometimes our hard work is noticed:

@followneal: The flight attendant’s ability to uncover more space for bags in overhead bins is a marvel.

Thanks Neal!

Have any airline related questions? Join the conversation on Facebook/theflyingpintoblog or @theflyingpinto on twitter. You can also join me in The Crew Lounge, today for a special episode with Cliff Muskiet, flight attendant and uniform collector. He has an impressive collection of over 1000 flight attendant uniforms!  Do you have a kindle? You can subscribe to and posts will be automatically downloaded for you!

Cheers and happy flying!



  1. True, minimum staff is 50 passengers per FA however some Authorities insist on having one FA per door with a floor mounted slide for emergency evacuations. Of course airlines will fight this to reduce the number of FAs on board.
    Just a thought.

  2. Hello World! Let’s do discuss the bag situations…

    Can someone please explain to me WHY a person needs so much stuff? I can go to Europe for a week with only a back pack! The rule is to lay everything out on the bed and take away at least half. Are you really going to wear all that stuff. I guarantee you will not.

    As far as where these passengers put their things?

    I work on a regional jet and will literally take a passengers bag out of the front bin if I see them put it there and walk to the back! It’s RUDE. Did you ever think that someone sitting there, especially if it’s a bulkhead with no “under the seat in front of you” room may need that overhead? I do it because I don’t like pretending I am a salmon and I know you wouldn’t either.

    If I see people put all of their things in the overhead bin and sit down with nothing at their feet, then I ask them to please place a smaller bag at their feet and if there is room, then I will help them put it back into the overhead area.

    Have some respect and don’t be so rude. If you need to carry the kitchen sink then please DRIVE! The flight attendants have enough to do already.

    Thank you so much in advance for your kindness!

  3. The worst for me was having a bag narrowly miss my head when the pax in the row ahead was in an almighty rush to get their stuff before the plane had come to a complete stop and the reason was not that the luggage had shifted, but because her own bag was too heavy for her to lift down.

  4. SJThespian @ 2011-09-02 16:29

    In the quoted comment above, I didn’t mean to imply that I expect the FAs to police the idiots who think they need their leg room more than other people need space for their carry-on, I’m just pointing out that they are idiots! 🙂

    Of course this is right up there with my other pet peeves when I’m not flying my usual airline (status has its privileges – normally I’m sitting down by the time most passengers are boarding). Mr/Mrs Passenger, yes I’m talking to you, why is it so hard to put your bag in the overhead, put your other bag under the seat, and sit down? On my flight home this past Thu it took nearly 35 minutes to board the aircraft, all because an awful lot of people found the above process too difficult. As christina said above you really don’t *need* to bring your entire wardrobe in a 20″ carry-on bag! If you can’t lift it yourself, check it!!

    I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. I was sitting next to one who had problems with both the “fasten your seat belt” and “turn off your electronics” instructions as well.

    On the other side of the coin… I was on a flight a few weeks ago where an FA removed a bag a coach passenger had put in first and threatened to check it if he didn’t come back up and claim it. I was trying to decide if it would have been rude or not if I applauded!

  5. @SJThespian: Awesome!

    I never did understand why it takes so long, however, I have had to travel a few times lately as a “regular” passenger and the biggest problem is all of the stuff that people bring with them. When I am traveling as a flight attendant, yet not working that flight, I have a hard time getting my stuff stowed quickly. When I am traveling for leisure, I hardly bring anything and it’s so much easier!

    I did have a couple in my First Class cabin yesterday that had so many bags with them and they were sitting in the bulkhead! They leisurly boarded late and sat their on their phones as if they expected me to put up their things! I love to serve pre-departure beverages and hang your coat for you but I am NOT there to stow your 6 (yes, 6) bags while you finish your conversation. Am I being ridiculous or what?

  6. Certainly a sad subject – wondering do you have any 9/11 posts or memories to share?

  7. Juan Martin Cassol @ 2011-09-06 20:06

    I agree with the article, and I notice the hard work flight attendants do during ALL the flight. For all those who argue with flight attendants because their carry-on luggage does not fit, flight attendants should tell them “All right, now you do it, I´ve got other things to do”

  8. So did corporate give you guys extra instruction when they starting charging for checked bags and the bins got full?

    Remember just a few years ago with the first liquids ban that almost no one carried on luggage for a period of time. That was actually kind of nice..

  9. Your boarding problem is the result of paying for for checked baggage but you know that ..I was a gate agent for delta in the good ole days 4/79- 7/87. We pushed on time without any hassle unless we had misconnects airline industry sucks now glad I got out when I did

  10. Max Schneider @ 2011-11-19 12:20

    “Why are the bins always full of little tiny bags that fit under the seat?”

    Because if you put the bag under the seat in front of you where do you put your feet?

  11. No the companies did not give us tips when they stared charging for bags. In fact, they don’t pay us for boarding. So if we get hurt helping stow a bag or lifting a bag or hurt doing anything related to helping a passenger during boarding the company or the union will say “why did you touch their stuff to begin with you are not supposed to ” then your on your own. No pay for time off for being hurt and don’t even try workmans comp we would be lucky if we don’t get fired for the absence for the injury sustained during boarding since we are not “on the clock” at that point. Maybe that helps for anyone wondering why FAs don’t help stow bags etc.