Pilot Reveals Why You Always Board Planes On The Left

Yes, it's "efficient if everyone agrees to use the same side." But there's more to it than that.

Ever wondered why we always board planes on the left? If this particular quirk of aviation protocol has left you curious, allow us to gift your eyes with an explanation, via experts who know these things. Namely: pilots.

Various pilots have taken to the internet over the years to share their why this is the case, with the most recent being a captain on Pilot Talk Show.

So: why do passengers always board planes on the left? It all comes back to when people used to travel by ship, and the lexicon of port (left) and starboard (right), the captain explained.

He’s not alone in this theory.

Commercial pilot Andrew Stagg wrote on internet forum Quora: “The word starboard comes from ‘steerboard,’ which referred to a board similar to a rudder on the right of the ship.”

“The placement of this board required that the port side was the one you would embark and disembark from, so most airplane and jetway designers followed the same convention.”

He said it has remained the case with airlines (and become an industry standard) because it’s “efficient if everyone agrees to use the same side.”

Another Quora user went a little deeper, writing: “A question that has long puzzled me. The customary answer is that the jet-bridges in airports always go to the left or port side of the aircraft or diving a bit deeper, that nowadays the whole airport operations are organized in a way that the port side is the ‘passenger side’ and the starboard side is the ‘service side’ of the aircraft. But that does not explain how it came about. After all, even in early commercial aviation, when all this was not yet relevant, the port side was used.”

Passengers board a Lockheed ‘Constellation’ on the tarmac at an unidentified airport, 1946. Image Credit: Getty Images

The same Quora user, who claims to be called Jobst von Steinsdorff, and whose response was upvoted by Steve Kinoshita, whoe profile says he holds a Canada Private Pilot License, continued, providing three reasons why we board from the left.

“Nautical tradition: Aviation has adapted many seafaring traditions. Early ships did not have a central rudder for steering like modern designs, but simply had a rudder sticking out to the side. Since most people are right-handed, this was typically done on the right side of the ship. That’s why it got the name starboard (which etymologically comes from ‘steer’).”

“The other side is known as ‘port’ (as harbour),” he continued, “which leads us to the next interesting point: If you have such a rudder on the starboard side, it’s better to go alongside in ports with the other side, so that the rudder doesn’t get in the way of the quay or landing stage. In the nautical world, it has thus become a custom that – if you have the choice – you should dock with the port side.”

“Since this is the way it is done in nautics, it has been adopted in aeronautics. Since doors in the fuselage are a weak point in the design (even without a pressurized cabin), often doors have not even been installed on the starboard side.”

Finally, he added: “Another aspect is that the captain’s (or sole pilot’s) seat in an aircraft is on the port side. Whoever sits there has a better view of boarding or de-boarding of the aircraft and especially of such details as whether there is still a ladder against the aircraft or whether the ladder is still in the way of a wing, etc. It is also possible that the captains’s seat is on the port side for this very reason.”

There you have it: the history of left vs. right (for aviation).

According to The Sun, other aviation experts have said we board on the left hand side “because the planes are refuelled on the right, so they need to keep passengers out of the way.”

If you found that interesting, check out the video below, which depicts one of the most annoying (yet apparantly neccessary) things airlines make passengers do when boarding a flight.

Watch TikTok user @fourbrothers skewer one of the most annoying things airlines make passengers do when boarding a plane…

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