When preparing for a flight, there are many things to worry about and consider like packing luggage, arriving at the airport on time, fitting the carry-ons in the overhead compartment, and so on. The one thing no one really thinks about and often does automatically, that’s boarding. And no matter if it’s the massive Airbus A380 or the luxurious Embraer Lineage 1000E, when we board a plane, we board on the left side. But most of us can’t even begin to explain why.
Boarding from the left stems from two major reasons: traditional nautical custom and the pilot’s field of view. In nautical tradition ships are docked portside (on the left) because of the tiller, what is controlled by the ship’s wheel and resultingly turns the ship, being starboard (on the right). Many historians believe that planes follow the same marine convention out of habit.
The other reason is that back when planes had to taxi in front of the terminal to discharge passengers, pilots had to be on the left side to more accurately judge the wingspan of the plane and dock in the terminal. As a result, it was easier to have passengers embark and disembark on the left and have all the servicing of the plane done on the right.
Servicing a plane can involve anything from unloading and loading cargo, restocking the food carts, refueling, or hooking up the plane to the auxiliary power unit. With how complex planes are and how many different tools and aviation parts can be required to service them, servicing on the right and away from passengers is safer too.