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A few other questions have touched on why we don't board airliners from the front and back at the same time. My question is why is it that we choose to board at the front, rather than park the aircraft facing away from the terminal? This question shows that parking backward seems to be unusual. Why is this design not adopted widely?

I have two guesses:

  1. Is it because of the jet blast? But this can be solved by towing the aircraft away from the terminal before using the jet engines.
  2. Because it is difficult to attach the jet bridge without hitting the tail?
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    $\begingroup$ You propose an interesting point. You might have given the best reason for not doing this in your question. Attaching a ground tug to the aircraft for towing or pushback takes time and personnel. Why would an airport or airline spend that time twice when one of the times the aircraft can move perfectly well under its own power? And, a moving aircraft uses a lot less thrust to keep moving than a stationary aircraft uses to get moving. $\endgroup$ – Dean F. Feb 16 at 6:34
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    $\begingroup$ As far as loading from both the front and the back...many countries operate just that way. When doing this, it always involves some or all of the passengers walking out to the aircraft, right on the apron/ramp. Then, walking up a set of portable stairs. Sometimes, that means taking a bus out to the plane that is parked far away from the terminal. That is how we did it here in the U.S. back in the 40s, 50s, & 60s. I think the American public is now too used to being protected from the elements (rain, snow, heat, cold, etc.) to go back to that. $\endgroup$ – Dean F. Feb 16 at 6:44
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    $\begingroup$ Finally, how do you reasonably and economically design (retrofit) a transom or gangway that takes into consideration the various designs of tail empennages for different airplanes? There is a lot less difference in the shape and position of the doors in the front than the ones in the rear. You can ensure more consistency, compatibility, and mate-ability with most planes by attaching to a front door regardless of plane size or height. $\endgroup$ – Dean F. Feb 16 at 6:52
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    $\begingroup$ Would it be too snarky to answer this with, "Because parallel parking a jet is just too much effort" ? $\endgroup$ – Ralph J Feb 16 at 23:19
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    $\begingroup$ While I applaud the novel idea, it would be incredibly difficult to do this! And then everyone would say "Why don't you do it the much easier and better way?" $\endgroup$ – Fattie Feb 17 at 21:13
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To park a passenger plane with its tail towards the terminal has several disadvantages:

  • it would require a pushback tractor (plus personnel) to do that. Thrust reversers in general are not meant for making the plane go backwards. If it was possible for the plane to go autonomously backwards, it would be extremely = too risky.
  • you would also need the pushback tracktor for leaving the gate, you couldn't use engines because of the jetblast hitting the terminal
  • you could not use the APU because it would scorch the terminal
  • the horizontal tail of some planes might have clearance issues with the jet bridge.
  • last but maybe not least: the upper class travelers. They sit at the front for a reason: they get on and off the plane first. Yes, the business and first class could be moved to the back. Now, I don't know if riding closer to the cockpit rather than the arse of the plane has some intrinsic value, but at least it is usually noisier at the back. So customer satisfaction might take a hit there.

So: twice the hassle with pushback + other issues, with no benefits whatsoever.

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    $\begingroup$ As always, there are exceptions, like London City, for example. $\endgroup$ – PerlDuck Feb 16 at 10:20
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    $\begingroup$ In a few weeks I'll be flying from FRA to LCY in an E190. I'll keep you posted as to whether the plane's length changes upon arrival. ;-) $\endgroup$ – PerlDuck Feb 16 at 11:30
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    $\begingroup$ All good answers, jpe. I would add that parking facing towards the terminal gets the impatient passengers off the plane faster. Taking the time to back-in might push this already frazzled group over the edge. $\endgroup$ – Jim Feb 16 at 15:03
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    $\begingroup$ The rear of the aircraft is definitely noisier because you get the sound of the jetwash. The wing exit row is about the limit between the "relatively quiet" and "noticeably loud" parts of the aircraft, which is also why "economy plus" is located forward of the wing. $\endgroup$ – Lawnmower Man Feb 16 at 20:41
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    $\begingroup$ @LawnmowerMan related point - the front of the aircraft is "prettier" too, with observation windows, its nicer to look at the front and not the rear. $\endgroup$ – Criggie Feb 16 at 22:55
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I worked at an airport for 3 years. We're under a very strict time table when an airplane lands. An aircraft arriving and departing is called a "turn" and our turn time is roughly 15-30 minutes depending on type of aircraft. Every moment counts. Even a 1 minute delay will get people from corporate screaming at my manager for answers. My manager in turn, would then scream at us.

Parking an aircraft so it's tail faced the building would be a massive increase to our turn time. It would take a lot more trouble to take a push back up to the awaiting aircraft, hook it up, tow it back into position, then wait for engines to shut down and APU/Ground Power to come on, than it is to just have it roll up nose first and push back after loading it.

Furthermore, the jetbridge would have to manuever around the wings of the aircraft to get to the door, most bridges are too short for that so it's unfeasable, unless they rebuilt like ALL the jetbridges or used a staircase truck (which eats at turn time.)

The big one is safety. The engines would be pointing their jetblast where the ramp agents come out of the building to do their work. On most turns, the engines turn off and the APU or Ground Power is used. But sometimes the APU is dead or some maintenance requires running engines. We can't do that at the gate if the airplane is facing the building ass-first and finding a safe place to do such a thing may be incredibly difficult and inconveinent, or they can simply park at the gate nose first.

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    $\begingroup$ Well, the jet bridge would presumably connect to the last door instead of the first, so it would only navigate around the tail. It would still be harder than not having to navigate around anything though. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Feb 17 at 21:19
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There are certainly airports where aircraft do face away from the terminal.

One example is London City, where aircraft use their own power to turn themselves round upon arrival. Also, low cost airlines might do this to speed up turn around time - I've seen Easyjet aircraft turn themselves round at Tenerife, although I can't remember if they did this on arrival or departure. Low cost airlines are also more likely to use both front and back doors to speed up disembarking and embarking of the aircraft.

To resolve the issue of jetblast and the terminal in these cases, there is an additional concrete barrier between the aircraft parking and the terminal. This works where the passengers walk (or get a bus) to the aircraft.

As has been mentioned, this does not work where airlines use a airbridge, nor for full service airlines who generally like to use an airbridge, in which case the airbridge(s) have to link to doors on the terminal side of the wings.

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  • $\begingroup$ Does Dulles still use those AT-AT things? I know they were capable of hooking up to either the front or rear doors. Granted they came with a whole host of other problems, but it seemed like a good idea at the time... $\endgroup$ – Darrel Hoffman Feb 18 at 22:15
  • $\begingroup$ @DarrelHoffman I saw them there I think 3 years ago, but they're apparently only used occasionally now, acc. to en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mobile_lounge $\endgroup$ – HammerN'Songs Feb 18 at 22:32
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    $\begingroup$ @DarrelHoffman Oh, man. AT-ATs would be much cooler. United, ANA, and Virgin Atlantic should use those for their Star Wars livery jets. And Air New Zealand should get siege towers to board their Hobbit-themed jets. $\endgroup$ – reirab Feb 19 at 7:15

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