Why Do Airplanes Are Boarded from Only on One Side?

Have you ever thought about which side passengers usually get on and off the airplane?

Did you maybe think that passengers could get on the airplane on both sides? Surprisingly, passengers are only allowed to get on and off airplanes through the doors on the left side of the aircraft at any airport. Even though there are doors on the right side as well!

It seems to be a good idea to use doors on both sides of the aircraft to reduce crowding. Why is it that passengers are only allowed through the doors on the left side? Today, we are going to explore various theories as to why passengers are allowed only through the doors on the left side of the aircraft.

Most aircraft-related terms originated from waterborne vessels

Before we explore various theories, it would be important for use to learn about the relationship between aircrafts and vessels. A lot of Korean words that are used in the aviation industry, such as airport and aircraft, include the sinograph that means port (). The word captain is used to describe the person who is in charge both in an aircraft and a vessel. These things suggest how closely aircrafts and vessels are related.

These two modes of transportation share many similarities. For example, both aircrafts and vessels navigated their way using stars and compasses in the past, and control the direction of movement using dynamic flow, such as water and air. During the advent of aircrafts, conditions of runways were not good, and there were no regulations either. In this regard, authorities extended the existing marine laws and regulations applied to vessels to the operation of aircrafts as the two shared many similarities.

As a result, terms and customs of the maritime industry were naturally passed to the aviation industry. This is where we have the most plausible theory that explains the custom related to the left side door. Let’s explore that theory in depth!

The custom of anchoring ships on the left was passed down to airplanes

That is why all airplane passengers are allowed through doors on the left side of the airplanes. Doors on the right side are used to board passengers on wheelchairs, in-flight meals and cleaning tools.

To find out why ships only anchor on the left side, we have to firstly learn about some nautical terms. The left side of a ship is called port while the right side of a ship is called starboard. We can learn for what purpose each side of a ship was used by finding out the origins of these words.

Starboard is a word that originated from “steering.” Since old times, most people were right-handed. Therefore, steering oars that are used to navigate the ship were attached on the right side.

A close-up of the Bayeux Tapestry, a medieval embroidery work (Source: Wikipedia)

Since the steering oar protruded on the right side of the ship, the navigator naturally anchored the ship on the left side. Although the left side of a ship was originally called “larboard” since people and objects came and went out of the ship on the left side which was connected to the dock, people started to call it port, meaning the side that is anchored to the port.

As this custom of loading and unloading objects on the left side was passed on to airplanes, airplanes now have the same custom of boarding passengers on the left side. You will understand this better if you think about how landing ground for airplanes are called airport.

Other theories that explain the custom of left-side boarding

As for the location of the boarding doors on airplanes, we mentioned that it was influenced by the customs of the maritime industry. We found two other interesting theories that try to explain it!

Firstly, some people argue that this custom originated from the structure of engines used in early airplanes. Early airplanes used propeller engines unlike the modern airplanes that use jet engines. In those engines, a propeller rotated clockwise. During the rotation, impurities accumulated on the wing fly to the right side of the aircraft. Crew members started to use left doors to avoid inconveniencing passengers.

The second theory is related to the location of the pilot seat in airplanes. In the cockpit, the pilot sits on the left side while the copilot sits on the right side. Some argue that pilots should be able to visually check whether the stairs that were used to board passengers have been removed completely to ensure safety. That is why passengers should board on the left side.

So far we have explored various theories that explain airplane boarding customs. On your next visit to an airport, check out the location of boarding door, and think of these theories. We will come back with more interesting aviation knowledge. Stay tuned for more!

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