Home Travel Why We Board & Disembark Commercial Planes On The Left Side

Why We Board & Disembark Commercial Planes On The Left Side

by SharonKurheg

Have you ever noticed that if you have a reservation on a commercial airline, you almost always board and disembark on the plane’s left side? Have you ever wondered why that happens? I did. I mean, a plane isn’t like a horse (horses are trained for you to mount and dismount from their left side and if you do either on the right side, they freak out), so why only the left side? Here’s what I found out about it.

There doesn’t seem to be an “airplane rule book” that says why passengers board and disembark on a plane’s left side. But it turns out there are a quite a few hypotheses:

So the pilot can see

A plane’s pilot needs to be able to align the plane door with the terminal. (S)he usually sits on the left side of the cockpit, so it’s easier for him/her to see if the plane door on the left side is used.

Where the plane gets its fuel

The grounds crew fuels the aircraft on the right side. If the passengers are on the left side, it makes the grounds crew’s job easier (especially in cases where the passengers use stairs instead of a jetway, to board and disembark)

Where the luggage & cargo gets loaded/unloaded

Just like the fueling, baggage and cargo are loaded and unloaded on the right side. The last thing we want is for passengers to see their luggage as it’s being unloaded – you KNOW someone is going to want to take their bags RIGHT NOW.

Where cleaning & catering vehicles park

Just like all the other “work” vehicles are on the right-hand side, so are the trucks that are used for cleaning and catering.

It’s what ships do

Passengers traditionally embark and disembark from the port (left) side of a ship. As planes became commercialized, they followed suit.

***The exceptions***

By the way, it’s not always the case 100% of the time (just almost always LOL). Here are some rare exceptions to the rule:

IndiGo has recently introduced a “Three Point Disembarkation System,” where they have 2 exit ranps in the front, and 1 in the back. The second of the 2 front ramps is on right side of the plane. Here’s a short video of the process in action, from CN Traveller. It’s said to save 2 to 5 minutes.

BOAC stood for British Overseas Airway Corporation and was the British state-owned airline created in 1939 by the merger of Imperial Airways and British Airways Ltd. It stayed in business until 1974.

Screen Shot 2020-02-03 at 11.05.33 PM

It also looks like the old Denver Stapleton Airport (which closed in 1995) had the potential to load/unload passengers on the right side. Look at the second from the right gate on the top row:

DenvAirport

No word on how often that gate was used.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

10 comments

Chandra February 5, 2020 - 11:54 pm

Some plane load bags on the left side too, very few but they are out there.

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William millett February 6, 2020 - 7:39 pm

Every boeing i evver ever loaded was on the right side not left

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Charles SEIGEL February 7, 2020 - 8:12 am

I boarded flights at Stapleton on the left side from that gate. As I remember it was a DC-10 gate

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Bob Rassa February 7, 2020 - 9:50 am

most airplanes have baggage cargo doors on the right side, not left

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Ian Fette February 8, 2020 - 5:40 am

You do realize that the pilot flying may be on the right or the left? Left seat is usually the more senior pilot, but they’re not necessarily the one flying the plane.

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Ed February 13, 2020 - 11:11 am

Not to mention the pilot isn’t looking at the jetway to “line the door up with the terminal.” The Pilot is directed where to stop by the marshaler who tries on lines painted on the tarmac. 🙄

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Dave February 13, 2020 - 9:28 am

Like the ship comment, planes are also referenced as Port and Starboard sides so the common boarding/deplaning from that side aligns with the ship parallel.

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Michael February 13, 2020 - 9:50 am

At Berlin Tegel they used to board large planes from two gates next to each other in the late 1990s. One Jerry connected to the left side door of the plane and the other to the right side door.

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Wayne August 8, 2022 - 1:00 pm

DB Cooper didn’t choose sides when he disembarked.

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JP August 8, 2022 - 4:26 pm

Pilots sit on the left because drivers of cars in most countries sit on the left. This goes back to US stagecoach days, when the primary stagecoach driver sat on the left because he used his dominant right hand to control the horses with ropes centered in the stagecoach. As a result, car drivers sit on the left of a car (again, right hand controls the manual transmission) and in most countries, cars drive on the right so that the driver is closest to other drivers driving the other direction. The UK adopted driving on the left due to jousting, with swords being held in the dominant right hand. The French used to have their carriages also drive on the left of the road, until during the French Revolution, that was an indicator of being an elite, so the wealthy started riding on the right. The Japanese drive on the left because the Brits were responsible for rebuilding the roads after WW2 and wanted to support the British car industry.

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