Immigration queues are often woefully understaffed, and that makes being among the first off the plane a valuable perk, potentially saving hours of wait time.

And frankly, people don’t put nearly enough thought into where they sit on the plane. Sure, sometimes the seats you really want require a fee, or an upgrade, but there’s a lot of benefit to be had, just by selecting the right standard seat.

In a hurry to get out of the airport? The further to the front (and usually left) of the plane the better. Want extra legroom? Find where the exit rows, or bulkheads are on the specific plane.

But sometimes, if you’re flying economy, the back row is actually best. Yep, I said it.

It’s niche, it’s definitely not everywhere, but it’s true. Here’s when you might want to check the seat map and hope that the last, or second to last row of the plane is open. It all depends on where you’re going.

people walking by an airplane
Image by Geewon Jung from Pixabay

Airports That Board With Stairs

Some airports, particularly smaller airports in vacation destinations — think Greece, or the Caribbean — board and deplane using steps. To help speed up the process, steps are attached both to the forward door of the plane and the rear.

Worst seat in the house when this happens? Assuming there’s a business class cabin up front, the forward or middle area of economy. If a plane has 30 rows, row 15 will be stuck in the middle, and likely be the very last people down the steps. Upon boarding, they’ll also have the longest walk down the aisle to their seat.

If I know I’m headed for a destination with steps attached forward and aft and I’m flying economy, I’ll typically select the last, or second to last row of the plane. Business class may still get the first opportunity to deplane, but I’m always among the first off in economy.

Sometimes the ground staff don’t even give priority to business class, so make of that what you will. I’ve had plenty of flights where both sets of steps attach at the same time, and I zip off first.

Which Airports Board Front And Back?

The list is too long to write, and in some cases it just depends where the airplane parks upon landing. Sorry!

The best singular thing you can do is to google the typical protocols at the airport you’re headed for. They’ll often appear in good trip destination guides, or airline forums like FlyerTalk.

If I’m going to Santorini, I might google “Santorini steps for boarding”, or “does XYZ airport use forward and aft stairs” and look at the images, rather than text results. They’re often pretty conclusive. A follow up search is never a bad idea.

Keep in mind that even if an airport uses steps, such as Barbados, it won’t always be front and back. The Maldives uses both sets of stairs for some arrivals, but not others.

And also consider that it only makes sense to prioritize sitting in the back when going to a destination that deplanes using steps at both doors, rather than when you leave. If you’re flying back to say… New York, you’ll want to be as close to the front as possible for a swift exit.

a plane wing with two engines

The A380 Has Unique Boarding And Seating Tips

No modern plane has shaken up air travel as much as the Airbus A380. The double decker “super jumbo” introduced first class suites, showers on plane and on board bars that are over-the-top.

It also introduced dual deck boarding. Some passengers board from the front of the lower deck, while with some airlines, others board from the center of the upper deck. It’s a trip, for sure!

As much as tips on where to sit, other than first class, would be helpful, there isn’t any consistent advice. Some airlines have business and first class on the entire upper deck. Others have ideal economy cabins in the rear of the upper deck and some even have different setups in their own fleet.

“Occasional” Beds In The Back

One of the most viral GSTP articles of all time was about using travel savvy to secure a bed in economy. It’s been regurgitated many times since, and times have changed, but with so many people eyeing the extra legroom or the front of the cabin, sometimes the back has its privileges.

It’s never a bad play to check seat maps 24 hours out, when seating opens up for the entire cabin and most passengers, but then also to check back again before arriving at the airport. Asking an airline team member if there are any empty rows after check in has been completed is also never a bad strategy. Low risk, high reward.

Flights are mostly full these days so I wouldn’t forego a better chance and getting on and off quickly, but not exceptions always exist!

No Time To Waste

When you land in paradise, who wants to queue for hours? Being among the first to deplane can be the difference in literal hours. If there’s 200 passengers on your plane alone, and everyone takes 30 seconds (or more) to process, there’s real time at play.

It should take less than 5 minutes to figure out boarding and deplaning processes at any airport, and if you do, you may save yourself time that could be far better spent!

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...

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