Why I don’t pay for priority boarding anymore when I fly

Jan 24, 2022

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Often one of the most enticing cheap add-ons available is that of priority boarding, one I’ve paid for a multitude of times but more recently have become to question why I even bother.

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Speedy boarding, fast-track or priority boarding, otherwise known as the practice of forking out a bit of extra cash to board the plane first despite the fact everyone leaves at the same time. I’ll admit there’s a certain amount of joy that comes with sitting down first, but in recent times I’ve begun to wonder if it’s actually worth it at all. Here’s why

Tribalism

No matter what side of the debate you stand on, naturally behind a fuzzy belt running between two shiny posts, you’ve probably experienced the ‘us and them’ mentality of it all. For priority boarders it’s the bitter glances and huge collective eye roll from the customers you pass before striding confidently past the gate. For the rest, it’s the cold tap of the finger and alienation as you’re jolted to the back of the queue for not having booked a priority boarding ticket.

Related: Why I’m now checking in a bag more often when I fly

Is it really discount one-upmanship though? Is there an air of inverse snobbery to it all? Who cares? There’s a thin line between forming an orderly queue and tin can disarray, and speedy boarding sets the tone for all the wrong reasons, pitting boarders against each other before they’ve even made it onto the tarmac. My solution for world peace? People coming together to sack priority off for good, unite us in the queue.

It’s not actually that speedy

Picture the scene: you’ve arrived at the gate and navigated your way past a throng of speedy boarding-less passengers who clearly left their chairs too soon. That’s not your problem. Showing your credentials, you’re directed past the gate, down a long tunnel and then a large set of stairs. At which point it slowly dawns on you that the only thing you’ve bought priority access to is a bus.

 

Admittedly, I’ve enjoyed few finer sights at the airport than those hangdog expressions and mutters from watch-tapping types who can’t believe the airline hasn’t rolled out the red carpet for them.

That said, if there’s one thing worse than angry priority boarders, it’s non-priority boarders quite literally gate-crashing things. This normally happens on extremely delayed services at busy terminals, often when crew members invite all passengers at practically the same time, causing shoulder-to-shoulder mayhem.

In fact, this was what happened the first time I ever bought a speedy boarding pass: suddenly Gatwick Airport felt like the bull run at Pamplona, as everyone started hurrying through a set of double doors in wild abandon, small children and hand luggage being passed over a series of limbs. Not a good look for anyone, really.

Locker space isn’t much of an issue anymore

There was a time when most passengers upgrading to speedy boarding did so to guarantee that they’d have their share of overhead locker space and subsequently avoid having their carry-on luggage placed in the hold.

I’ve nothing against people gaming the system and sticking it to the man but there is a line. My own personal nadir came (as a speedy boarder, funnily enough) when I saw two passengers hoisting their bags into the lockers right at the front of the plane despite their seats being another 15 rows further back, solely for the ease of yanking them off again when they alighted.

Photo by Techa Tungateja / Getty Images)

Thankfully, with ever-changing luggage rules (many low-cost carriers now charge for full-size cabin bags, while carriers such as Ryanair offer Plus deals on seats and check-in) I’ve seen much less of this behaviour as more people, myself included, tend to check in their bags. And in the COVID-19 era – as recently pointed out by The Points Guy UK’s Ben Smithson –  there are increasingly fewer reasons not to.

It doesn’t improve your flying experience that much

Ask yourself: what are you really getting out of it? Chances are everyone else has boarded in a fairly speedy fashion and also found themselves some luggage space. You’re not getting champagne on arrival for your troubles. You’ll be lucky if your can of Fizzy Vimto hasn’t shaken up on your race to the plane. In short, value for money is never a guarantee with priority boarding, which makes it a gamble at best and a poor investment at worst. Frankly, I almost have to hand it to the airlines, as it truly is galaxy-brain thinking to use people’s FOMO and impatience as a way to increase profit.

Related: 10 tips for travelling in Europe on a budget 

Whether travelling for business or pleasure, I won’t book a low-cost upgrade out of principal these days. I’ve learnt the hard way that if I’m going to hand over my money at the airport then it won’t be for the honour of being first on a plane that’s seen better days.

I’d much rather put it towards a nice lounge and take my time, as I did earlier this month, using my Revolut Metal Card to access a catered lounge at Manchester airport before a continental low-cost flight. Having arrived much earlier than usual to take a PCR test, being able to spend my four-hour wait working, chilling and dining in the comfort of a lounge was a godsend. What’s more, for roughly the price of a few speedy boarding passes, it was a bargain.

It’s bad for your health

Yes, really. According to a scientific study at Arizona State University in 2017, boarding a plane first increases your chances of catching a virus. The team of researchers looked at a variety of boarding scenarios where one hypothetical passenger carried a contagious airborne disease, discovering that when passengers were boarded in zones, from first-class to economy, it increased the likelihood of passengers being infected.

Now imagine strolling in as the last passenger onboard. Not only will you look cooler than Jeff Goldblum in a rollneck, but you can also be statistically more confident that the plane will be the only thing that you’re catching.

You’ve already got a seat

Let’s face it, nobody is going to spend the duration of the flight standing up, it’s not a bus. We all have a seat, and we all arrive at our destination at the same time. Which begs one final question: Have you ever wondered what would happen if an entire plane of people all bought speedy boarding?

I rest my case. Oh hang on, I already checked it in…

Related: Why I’m now checking in a bag more often when I fly

Featured image by Getty

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