Reader Mail : Do All Planes Board From The Left Side?

Today’s reader mail comes from James O’Connor, in Glasgow, Scotland. James asks, ” I have just realized that I always board my flights from the front left door. Do all planes board from the left side? If so, is there a rationale for this?”


James, the answer is “mostly yes.”  Today all commercial airliners board from the left side. Some aircraft do not always board from the front door though. Many airlines board their Boeing 757s, 767, 777s from the “2L” door, or the second door back on left side.  Boeing 747s are often boarded from more than one door at once, as are Airbus A380s, which board both the upper and lower decks, but always on the left side.


The only modern commercial aircraft I am aware of that boarded from the right side was the first commercial jet airliner, the De Havilland DH 106, The  Comet. The Comet was the first commercial production jet aircraft.   The Comet could be boarded from either the first left or first right door, with some airlines choosing to configure their aircraft for the right door to be the primary boarding and deplaning door.


As modern gates and jet bridges were implemented at airports around the world,  aircraft boarding doors were standardized to the left side, with jet bridges only being configured for the left door of an aircraft.  If you look at a commercial airliner you will notice the lower cargo doors are on the right side, this is no coincidence.  Cargo doors and aircraft galley’s are on the right side of the aircraft so an aircraft can be served by baggage tractors, cargo container lifts, baggage belts, catering vehciles, etc, without interfering with jet bridges, or in some cases air stairs, that allow passengers to get on and off the aircraft.


The left door as the primary boarding side  of an aircraft has its roots in the original form of long haul over the water travel … sea vessels.  Passenger gangways on ships are on the left side of the ship, the “port” side.


While we’re discussing things aviation has taken directly from its maritime connections are the aircraft wing beacons. The colored beacons on an aircraft’s wing tips use the same colours as sea vessels, with red lights on the port side and the green lights on the starboard side.


Have a question?  Drop me an email or find me on Twitter, I love reader mail.


Happy Flying!





  1. As I recall, the BAC1-11 and, I think, the 727 often boarded from stairs coming out of the centre rear of the aircraft, under the tail plane. Also, 777s usually board from 1L and 2L – it really speeds things up.

  2. NB

    Yes, The 727 boarded from the rear stairs, as did the DC-9. I left them out as there are so few 727 and DC-9 frames in commercial passenger service, with almost no airlines boarding from the rear. Iran Air boards from the rear stairs of its 727s though.

    If I recall, the One Eleven boarded from the 1L door, as well as the rear stairs, like the 727 and DC-9, but not 1R. I could be wrong. BEA may have boarded 1R from the air stairs.

    I have seen the 773 boarded with two dual gates, also I’d seen the A346 with dual gates once. I don’t recall see the 772 with dual boarding doors. Good to know, thanks.

    Happy Flying!


  3. Solar

    Some Boeing 737s are boarded from the front and rear door at the same time, usually with air stairs. I have deplaned Alaska Air flights at SJC a number of times from the rear door.

    Happy Flying!


  4. The Socrates in me asks: And what’s the significance of the red light on the left (port) and green light on the right (starboard)? And isn’t there also a white light somewhere?

  5. Auto,

    The red light signifies the port side, or the “right of way side” for ships. For aircraft the beacons must be on from sun down to sun up, the coloured lights on the wing tip let ground crew or other aircraft in the dark know if they are looking at a plane facing them or away from them. This is significant because they need to know if a plane is coming towards them or away from them.

    Over and under the aircraft are red flashing beacons, the white lights are head lights to help the pilot see the area in front of and around the aircraft.

    The read flashing beacon above and below the aircraft are turned on prior to an aircraft pushing off the gate, or moving, to alert ground crew the aircraft is about to begin moving. The beacons star on at all times when the aircraft is in motion to alert others that the aircraft is active and in motion.

    Hope that clears that up.

    Happy Flying!


  6. flyingfish, I’m not actually terribly familiar with the aircraft lighting requirements, but I am very familiar with the seacraft ones. The red and green are actually cleverly coded for sea navigation right of way, as you hint, and I assume the same is true for aircraft.

    If you see a red light moving in front of a white light (or pair of white lights, depending on the type of boat), the other boat is on a crossing path with yours, and you must give the right of way because it is to your starboard. If you see a green light leading a white light, you have the right of way because you are on the starboard course. So, red = yield right of way; green = you have right of way. Works the same as a good ole stoplight on a road.

    Now, obviously right of way gets more complicated when dealing with boats and ships under different types of power and of different sizes. I assume right of way in the air also has some relationship with the type of craft (glider/sailplane, helicopter, etc.)?

  7. Auto,

    I don’t know the answers to that.I’d need to look into that a little more when I have the time.

    When aircraft are on the ground taxiing there isn’t really a “give way” issue, the tower controls everyone’s movements, except at smaller airports.

    Happy Flying!


  8. The old AA terminal at JFK had a couple of boarding bridges for DC-10s that were used for both 1L and 1R disembarkation (also called deplaning). I remember these is use in the early 90s.

  9. Jeff,

    Very odd. The 1R door on an American Airlines DC-10 were either a galley , on a cabin with 5 rows of sleeper seats, or a lavatory for cabin with 8 rows of domestic F seats. The DC-10s were big on revenue cargo and the opening of the forward cargo door of a DC-10 would collide with any jet bridge attaching to the right side of the aircraft.

    Some jetbridge cabs can swivel 180º, but they simply aren’t used that way because it impacts below wing operations and the cabin interior makes using 1R problematic.

    Happy Flying!


  10. Fish UA boards its 772s at both SFO (G gates) and LHR for sure with 1L and 2L – sending First and Business to 1L and Economy to 2L – it’s somewhat of a nonsense, since most of business is back of 2L but I guess it makes people feel better!

  11. Why is / was the left side of a sea going ship “port” side?
    I know for river going ships they always dock nose into the current, to be able to maneuver them in case they break free, so it is boarded either on the left or right depending on which shore the port is, but now that i think of it, I also noticed sea going ships being boarded more frequently from the left. Any logical reason for this or it’s just because “this is how it’s always been done”?

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