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Even at remote terminals as discussed in this answer it seems there's a preference for using a jet bridge to get passengers to and from the aircraft.

Remote terminals with jet bridges

Can't the passengers just be bussed directly to the aircraft rather than the remote terminals?
Why the use of a jet bridge here if they can use stairs at other times?

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I've made a few edits to your question for clarity. Let me know if you think I butchered the intent. – voretaq7 Feb 25 at 20:53
They can, it's just that they aren't (usually). Subtle difference. – FreeMan Feb 25 at 21:03
Passengers can be bused directly to the aircraft. They climb stairs directly at the aircraft door. This is common at many airports with remote stands (and sometimes even adjacent to the terminal when boarding small aircraft used for regional flights). The bus to jetbridge situation shown here is unusual. – Zach Lipton Feb 25 at 21:46
I've taken a bus to an aircraft, stepped off, walked three steps, and climbed stairs to the aircraft door. Multiple times. – Steve Feb 26 at 1:22
Not sure why you consider it uncommon. Many many airports around the world drop people off by bus, for example Madrid, Frankfurt, Dubai, Istanbul to name a few larger ones. Other airports like Kathmandu (Nepal), Marrakesh (Morocco) or Kangerlussuaq (Greenland) you walk directly from the gate to the plane. It's also becoming more and more common (in Europe) to board the aircraft from both front and back to speed up boarding on commute flights, often done by having the passengers leave the jet bridge, and walking on the tarmac to the plane. – Claus Jørgensen Feb 27 at 6:11

The use of a jet bridge has several major advantages over loading passengers from the ramp via portable staircases or built-in "air stairs", among them:

  • Boarding of handicapped passengers
    Not all passengers can use stairs: a jet bridge allows passengers with limited mobility, particularly those confined to wheelchairs, to board and disembark from the same level as the passenger deck.
    Accommodating these passengers from the ramp would require some kind of lift mechanism to raise them to the passenger deck of the aircraft - this is typically accomplished elsewhere in the terminal when a jet bridge is used, e.g. via passenger elevators in the ticketing area, or in the type of design shown in your question, via an elevator in each "mini-terminal".

  • Passenger shelter
    Boarding from the ramp may work well on a beautiful spring day, but in less favorable conditions (rain, snow, temperature extremes) most passengers would not find the experience to be enjoyable. The jet bridge provides an enclosed and relatively climate-controlled route from the terminal to the aircraft.

  • Passenger Safety
    Airport ramps are inherently dangerous places: Aircraft are starting their engines, being pushed back for departure, etc. and ground support vehicles are moving at all times carrying luggage, cargo, catering supplies, etc. to and from the aircraft. In addition to the ongoing movement there is a great deal of noise from these operations.
    Bringing passengers into this environment represents an inherent liability risk: Someone could be struck by a support vehicle, or injured by jet blast. A jet bridge is an enclosed area away from these dangers, providing an improvement in passenger safety.

  • Airport Security
    A great deal of effort goes into ensuring that unauthorized persons do not have access to the airside facilities at an airport. Bringing passengers into this area represents a security risk, as even a ticketed passenger could be intent on causing disruption or damage once airside.
    A passenger wandering off on the ramp would represent both a safety hazard (as the passenger could be injured) and a security hazard (as the passenger could perform any number of malicious acts before they are located).

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Regarding safety: often the stairs are a fairly flimsy construction and sometimes I have seen them going dangerously close to oscillation, either from wind blowing or from passengers climbing them in just the right frequency. Not the nicest feeling when you stand on top and watch the gap... – PlasmaHH Feb 26 at 11:30
Another point in this field could be: you need to handle yet ANOTHER set of vehicles. You have enough things going on between luggage, catering, maintenance... . And now you add several buses, plus stairway-vehicles, plus whatever is needed to take the crew to the plane. – Layna Feb 26 at 14:40
One thing to note is that the example posted by the OP is not a traditional Ramp boarding scenario - it uses fixed jet bridges on the ramp, and is essentially a gate+jet bridge that you access via a bus. This negates your first point entirely, and a good deal of the second. The third and fourth are pretty much negated too, as there's no "walking around the aircraft" - you get off the bus, straight into the gate. – Jon Story Feb 26 at 16:44
@JonStory The question as I understood it was Why are they using a remote gate & jet bridge and not boarding directly from the ramp? -- The answer to that "why" are the points I raised: Bussing them to a remote gate allows an elevator in the remote gate to be used to get handicapped passengers up to the boarding level, keeps them out of the weather, and avoids having them loose on the ramp where they could harm themselves or an aircraft. The points aren't "negated", they're the very reason those structures exist. – voretaq7 Feb 26 at 19:10
@JonStory I don't see any of the 4 points failing even for a bus-operated jet bridge. – yo' Feb 26 at 20:35

Instead of built-in "air stairs" or portable staircases, Mobile lounge have been used for several airports to transfer passenger from terminal to planes directly.

Plane-Mate in Dulles airport (Creditor)

Plane-Mate in Washington Dulles airport (Creditor)

However for several reasons most of the mobile lounge has been replaced.

  1. Rise of air transport: Number of flights and capacity of airliners has benn rising quickly in these decades. It require more mobile lounges to serve the passengers. Furthermore the road network within airport have to be upgraded if there are too many mobile lounges. Transferring passengers by People mover or walkway is cheaper and faster.

  2. Trend of airport operation: Since airport security has been continuously rising in these decades, tourists stay much longer in the airport than before. Hence, airport operator are likely to create more retail area so that they can generate more income. The concept of airport lounge does not fit this trend.

Though mobile lounge has been kicked by Jet bridge, it is still used for many airports for special customers, eg: wheelchair tourists to airliners in remote stand.

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An additional complication not touched in the existing answers is the disparity in number of passengers that can be handled by an airliner and a bus.

A large bus might be able to accomodate somewhere on the order of 50-100 passengers comfortably while maintaining a reasonable turning radius and maneuverability as well as reasonable boarding and unboarding times, assuming luggage remains handled separately.

Large aircraft can handle far more passengers than that. For example, an Airbus A380 can take 853 passengers, and a Boeing 767 can accomodate up to 375 persons. Even the MD-80 can seat up to 172 passengers.

This means that you would need anywhere between four and seventeen bus roundtrips to get everybody onto the plane (two for a big bus and a MD-80), as opposed to simply moving everybody through a single jet bridge at the gate. Intuitively, this would seem to take far longer, in turn reducing aircraft turnaround and thus driving costs up. While the time to board passengers can still be used productively, I find it doubtful that the same could be said if the time to board passengers was at least several times longer.

For aircraft up to the number of passengers that can comfortably be accomodated by a single bus roundtrip, other issues (security, etc.) notwithstanding, boarding by bus remains a possibility without significantly impacting turnaround. But those types of aircraft tend to not be used for anything but short haul flights anyway.

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And the same 4-17 roundtrips to get everyone from the plane back to the terminal upon landing. – GalacticCowboy Feb 26 at 16:52
This is a good point, but it also exists for remote gates like the ones shown in the question: Multiple busses will be required to bring a planeload of passengers to and from the remote gate. The advantage to the remote gates rather than bussing directly to the plane is that the busses are not all trying to move on the ramp - they have their own road. If passenger volume makes bussing impractical a local light rail loop could also be used to serve the same purpose. – voretaq7 Feb 26 at 19:14
I'm pretty sure that nowhere boards A380s in all-cattle configurations by bus at a remote stand. So that part just isn't relevant. – David Richerby Feb 27 at 5:59
As far as I know, Dubai and Frankfurt uses jet-bridges exclusively for the A380, but for the Boing 777 Dubai often boards all-cattle configurations by bus. It took me a 12 minute bus-ride just to get from/to the gate in Dubai (B777 from/to Stockholm) – Claus Jørgensen Feb 27 at 6:16
Most articulated buses can probably get around 60-70 people maximum, and even then, people will be bringing fairly large bags with them, their luggage which can make that number even smaller. – Zizouz212 Mar 14 at 12:52

The other answers address the question of why dropping passengers off on the apron by bus isn't common, but it does happen - mostly at smaller airports (for rural places with perhaps just one gate) and even at large busy hubs.

There are several reasons airlines sometimes board by having passengers walk to the plane and then either up a ramp or airstair:

  • Not enough gate space. This could be because a flight that should have left is under some delay and taking up a gate, an inbound flight is early, a diverted aircraft has arrived, or there are simply too many scheduled flights right now. For example, if a terminal was originally built to accommodate 10 certain size aircraft but the airline expands its fleet to use a larger aircraft, such that the terminal can now serve only 9 at a time, they might occasionally or routinely bus passengers to and from that 10th flight. This could also be a temporary situation lasting hours to months, caused by terminal construction for example.

  • Plane too small for a jetbridge. This is the case with some smaller turboprop or jet planes in use by airlines.

  • Other unique situations. For example, at LAX, customs in most terminals close after a certain time of day. An arrival from Mexico to T7 at night will involve parking at T7 and the entire passenger group and flight crew getting on large busses and taken to customs at the main international terminal.

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Could also airport costs billed to the airline company play the role? I mean, if there is something like lower cost for using a bus vs. higher cost for using a jet bridge. I do not have access to these prices, I am only thinking. – miroxlav Feb 27 at 12:33
@miroxlav definitely. Most airlines don't own busses or retain drivers, so that could be provided by the port authority or a third party, but someone has to pay for it. The airline might exclusively rent a number of gates, but then be able to on short notice use other gates for additional fees, or they might choose a hardstand and bus. It's a choice made by either local or national operations depending on the company. – nexus_2006 Feb 27 at 15:01

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