a table with a tv and a glass of champagne in the back of an airplane

“Cabin crew, boarding complete”.

I’m lucky to regularly find myself in the front of the plane and that occasionally means more than just a big wide seat, a bed and some nicer plates for my plane food, which no matter where you’re sitting is usually just that.

Sometimes, first or business class means the added amusement of seeing heads of state, or A-listers from the entertainment world getting from place to place. I’ve also seen them in economy too, for what it’s worth!

When I do witness these megastars on board, there’s a trend which almost always repeats itself, which actually ties into a conversation which View From The Wing and I regularly engage in. It’s the question of “true” luxury. Is it boarding first, or is it actually boarding last?

If A-listers were to have their say, there would be a pretty clear consensus.

The Celeb Boarding Process

After what usually feels like 10-15 minutes of pure idling, where everyone appears to already be on board, the flight deck seems ready to go and crew have completed final checks, that’s usually when it happens.

A true “A-lister” magically appears, and the aircraft door practically closes behind them, on command, and the words “cabin crew, boarding complete” come over the loudspeaker.

Sometimes, you’ll even notice a luxury sedan below the plane, signifying that the A-lister did not arrive on board the same way we did.

In fact, in an increasing number of airports, they might not have even gone through the same terminal, or a terminal at all. Anyone can actually pay for this perk at certain airports, but it doesn’t come cheap.

PS @ LAX has expanded to Atlanta and Miami. A VIP service at Heathrow has long been used by the Royal Family, amongst others. Singapore Changi offers a ‘CIP’ terminal, which is among the most stunning.

For A-listers the level of detail is usually different.

a white car on a runway with an airplane in the background

Special Services Teams

For the select few, this is an exercise in timing down to precision and quite often in tandem with special, sometimes even secretive teams which work for airlines in the background. And yes, most airlines have these mysterious “special services” teams.

Like undercover cops, they’re not always in a uniform you’d expect.

These teams coordinate with gate staff for up to the minute boarding updates and brief the cabin crew about the situation, in case there are any extra security protocols or sometimes, diva requests.

Teams like these are designed to keep the most commercially sensitive and important flyers as comfortable as possible, as long as possible, up until the last moment before a flight ready to depart. I’ve often heard some megastars or global leaders insist upon never having to walk past anyone to board or deplane the aircraft. It is what it is.

On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve heard from these teams that some of the biggest stars, like a Leonardo DiCaprio tend not to ask for anything and just experience a very standard service.

Avoiding wasted time is actually the ultimate luxury.

Particularly on international flights, where people are herded on board like cattle, up to an hour before the actual departure, extra time spent in any seat is sub optimal. Up front it’s not as bad, but there’s something about being able to stretch out and walk around that’s just so much better.

If the terminal offers a deck with fresh air or high ceilings it’s a wildly preferable experience for me.

If I’m flying Los Angeles to London and I know I’ve got nearly 10 hours to kill in a seat, that extra hour on the ground, not even including taxi time can be draining. Enjoying a ground experience where a team ensures you don’t miss your flight, but don’t have to board it until the last possible second, is second to none.

I’ve been lucky to try various VIP departure and arrival iterations in Singapore and LA, and it’s very – very – very hard to go back to being a “norm” after that.

More time in the lounge, or just more time away from the many gawking onlookers who would love to have a word before seatbelt signs go on, and the plane pushes back from the gate would probably be nice if you were famous.

By waiting to board until the plane is ready to push back, any small talk situations are largely avoided.

It’s just not all that easy to try and make small talk when you’re supposed to be bolted into your seat already.

For people who’ve reached a level where an airline cares enough to look after them in this way, they’ve generally experienced at least 5-10 lifetimes worth of small talk with adoring fans already, and any chance to avoid more — is priceless.

Which leaves me with a parting gift for the world: you’ve probably been on flights with A-listers before, but through the magic of these special teams, boarding last and being first off, you just might not have known it.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

Join the Conversation


  1. I was Cabin Crew for years at a major european airline so saw my fair share of celebs.

    They all have their own ways and preferences.

    For example I carried Madonna and her entire family/staff to NYC. They arrived with Special Services last in the boarding process. Oddly, there was a hierachy to the travelling class. Madonna herself and her two biological kids were in First Class. The rest of her staff, the boyfriend at the time and her adoptive kids were in Business.

    Joan Collins I also carried. She was seated in Business and actually boarded BEFORE everyone else and seemed to really enjoy being noticed by those sat around her or passing through to economy. She was constantly up and down during the boarding process getting stuff from the over head lockers.

    I’ve carried Victoria Beckham three times actually. Twice on short haul flights with her first two boys when they were young. And once with the whole family. She is one of the most down to earth celebs I ever met. No assistance, no special services, no staff. (they did have minders when travelling as a whole family).

    Jake Gyllanhaal the entire crew didn’t even know he was on board initially. He boarded with the masses, on his own and his handbaggage was a back pack. Super nice DTE guy.

  2. I had such an experience when I was flying from Da Nang to Hanoi on Vietnam Air 2 years ago. It was on a Monday, during Tet.
    I was seated in Business class & a Vietnam airlines pilot had the seat next to me. We were well past departure time & the pilot said to me he didn’t like flying this route as flights were frequently delayed due to government officials who were traveling back to Hanoi. He then went up the the cockpit to see who we were waiting on. He returned to say we were waiting on the Prime Minister.
    That would explain all the airline personnel waiting around the boarding stairs with flowers.
    When the Prime Minister arrived, he was seated just 2 rows in front of us. As soon as he was seated, we were took off.
    Once we were airborne, he stood up and went row by row to greet each of us. He then returned to his seat but a few minutes later he again stood up, looked at all of us and walked to the woman seated in front of me. He wished her Happy Tet & handed her a large envelope of “Lucky Money.”
    Once we landed in Hanoi, we were all told to remain seated. Once the Prime Minister left the plane & his official motorcade was gone, we were allowed to deplane.

  3. rich VIPs fly private. You can meet some B listers flying out of LAX or NYC. Met some. Nothing special here. I respect their privacy.

    Business class became a staple of traveling sales men, airline employees, frequent fliers, points enthusiasts and some well to do financially folks like myself who value some comfort on board. When I see a family of 4 in business class I am almost certain they didn’t spend $16K for air travel to visit grandpa’s in Europe. When I paid $4K for ticked it truly pisses me off when their kids are running around in the cabin all night long while free loading on upgrade or other technicality. I have a friend working for AA who flies first class all over the world on her airline pass. She knows how to strategically pick flights that are under-booked in F and J by having access to airline software.

    1. That’s just not true anymore on every occasion.

      With all the climate talk, scheduling issues etc, and the costs of long haul private jets, many who own jets end up on commercially scheduled services for long haul. From Dallas to Vegas may be another story, but I know many who for a myriad of reasons end up flying commercial. Even many with B’s instead of M’s in their net worth columns.

    2. What truly pi**es me off, is when people make pre judged opinions of my family of four including my 2 well traveled, well behaved kids.
      As one cabin crew politely reminded me once with a wry smile to a stone faced passenger, I’ve paid for four tickets not just the one like some others.

    3. Rafa looks like you may need a reality check. I regularly pay for 4 F or J class tickets. 🙂 also why are you less deserving of the “terror” of kids than someone in Economy? A plane at the end of the day in public transport.

      (BTW my kids are very well behaved, generally, but they’re also kids. That’s why I love SQ or CX F class where it’s only 4 or 6 seats. Allows us to have the whole cabin without disturbing others)

  4. If I was that big of an A-list celebrity I would never fly commercial. Having the right private jet or at least chartering one can make a real difference in how you travel.

  5. I worked in VIP Services at a major European airport when I was younger. There are definitely “A-Listers” and diplomatic status holders, up to Heads of State, flying commercial.

    We usually gave them a choice of boarding time, and then coordinated accordingly with the gate staff. Most guests preferred boarding last.

  6. If I had net worth in $50M range my arse would fly private except trans Atlantic maybe.

    There are three factors involved here. Intra Europe business class is really a coach with middle seat blocked (most of the time)
    Air travel in US became a nightmare between air rage, COVID and schedules meltdowns.

    Service has deteriorated to the point that is a total disservice to passengers both in US and EU. Qatar and Emirates are still holding up. Haven’t flown Singapore and Cathay since COVID started.

    As to climate change there is 0 evidence of relationship to air travel. I would blame rather Amazon deforestation.

    So here all this EU posturing regarding climate is more about keep the masses engaged in activism and keep you away from addressing real problem of overtaxation and hegemony of megacorps. Enjoy your Facebook snowflakes. You too jotsjots.

  7. Flew with Beckham on BA from Chicago to London. He was actually in the First lounge there before boarding (which is even more surprising because it’s v basic). He was super low-key and I wouldn’t have even noticed had it not been for the fact the lounge is v small and his table had a reserved sign when I got there.

    He boarded early, and sat in the seat nearest the exit. When we got to LHR he was first off and met at the door by someone who took him down to a car.

    I actually flew in the same cabin but it’s obviously not the done thing to approach so I never spoke to him. Whole thing was a bit surreal tbh, and I’m sure 99% of passengers had no idea he was there.

  8. I was on a flight with Barack Obama shortly after his convention speech where he became a well-known lawmaker. It was a flight from Memphis to Chicago. I only saw him in the waiting area at the gate, standing around like everyone else. I did not bother him and I didn’t see anyone else bothering him. Not sure if he traveled first class, business or coach.

  9. Princess Beatrice sat in front of me in economy once. No one bothered her I do think she was the last to board and deplaned with the rest of us. She was greeted by an assistant of some type

  10. I’ve flown on flights with a number of “A-Listers”, including Al Casey (head of AA, sat beside him on one of their new 757s, he was nice), two senators, Gwyneth Paltrow (sat beside her), Herb Kelleher (Southwest CEO; yep, he flew AA from Seattle to DFW – guess he didn’t want to stop multiple times), some rock ‘n roll group on a Trans-Atlantic flight (and not making this up, they flew business class and their groupie girls flew economy), and a few others. Guess that that is what 6 million miles does for you !!

  11. I wouldn’t know a celebrity if she dropped her carry-on onto my head! As if I would care. Just give me my seat and take off already. Just leave me alone.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *