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Move Over Southwest, Europe Has The Real Cattle Call Boarding

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Europe Airline Boarding Is A Mess

Many people in the miles and points world love to thumb their nose at Southwest, myself included sometimes. That is because of the lack of guaranteed seats for the most part. In the past it used to be a free for all at the boarding gates; people would clump up at the gate and fight their way onto the jet bridge. That all ended years back when Southwest started with their boarding zones and 24 hour check in process. People like to still call it the Southwest cattle call but that isn’t really true anymore. Where it is still true is in Europe. After our 3 different flights intra-Europe last week it is safe to say Europe airline boarding is a mess.

Ryanair Rome To Vienna

I go over some of these stories in the podcast that went out today but I figured I would share it here for people that don’t listen too. Our first such experience with the cattle call boarding in Europe was on our flight out of Rome to Vienna on Ryanair.

This was our first Ryanair experience and I was expecting the worst after all of the horror stories you hear. They pretty much delivered on it too!

The whole process was a cluster cluck. Yes, I said cluck! When we walked up 45 minutes before our flight they had a different destination on the gate board. They had delayed our flight without any announcement and the main board had not been updated yet. The delay was only supposed to be 30 minutes, not a huge deal. When it was time to finally board we went back over there but the board at the gate was once again switched to a different city. I had checked it 10 minutes earlier and it had said Vienna but it had been once again switched without any communication. The main board finally updated that we were moved to the gate one over.

Now, Rome’s airport is not the best and the gates in this terminal were crammed by each other. Ryanair’s boarding process didn’t help matters. They have two lanes, priority and non priority. No boarding zones, groups or a breakdown by rows etc. People just clump together in these two rows and push and shove until they are somewhat queued.

Europe Airline Boarding Is A Mess

Imagine this scene, and then imagine it happening twice, right on top of each other, at the same time! It was pretty horrible. The gate was set up in such a way that you couldn’t even see the priority or non priority signs so people were in the wrong lines etc. No direction from the gate agents etc.

Europe Airline Boarding Is A Mess
Line for our original gate on the left and line to our new gate on the right.

After standing in line for 45 minutes with no movement they finally started scanning tickets. Great, we are moving! Right into the jet bridge hallway to stand for another 30 minutes.

waiting on a bus

No explanation of why. When we get to the end we see why. We were waiting on busses to take us to the planes. Another 5 minutes of extremely crammped bus riding and we were at the plane ready to board.

bus arrives

My wife was not impressed…

Europe Airline Boarding Is A Mess

The flight overall was fine, even if we were a few hours late on departure.

Munich To Frankfurt On Lufthansa

I figured this was a one off situation because of Ryanair just being crappy, but a few days later we flew Lufthansa. Spoiler alert, the situation was pretty much the same. People all crammed at the gate before anything was announced in a blob. Then when they finally said zone 1 and zone 2 boarding no one got out of the way. People with zone 3, 4 and so on boarding just stood there pushing up to the gate and then wondered why their ticket wouldn’t scan properly. People were shouting I am zone 2 move out of the way. It was very surprising.

Europe Airline Boarding Is A Mess

Once we got on the plane they got everyone seated and then told us all to get off. There was some sort of a mechanical issue. Nothing else was said and there was no one working the gate to give an update. Everyone was left wandering around outside the gate. Because there was no one working the gate we actually got trapped once off the plane for a bit.

Europe Airline Boarding Is A Mess
After 10 minutes the doors finally opened!

The lines for Lufthansa customer service was a 2-3 hour wait throughout the airport. This was the case at every service desk.

I decided to run over to the business lounge but they said they had no ability to book or change flights. Weird, I know. So we got in the long customer service line and cursed our fate. I should say there was no business class customer service line we could find either. While standing there we heard our flight announced over the PA system that said to get back to the gate board the flight, they were leaving ASAP. What?!?

We rushed over there and got on the plane. It was 75% full compared to packed like before, no surprise since many people probably didn’t hear the announcement. We were on the way to Frankfurt even though we had already missed our connection to Detroit.

Frankfurt To Detroit On Lufthansa

After spending a night in the hotel and hitting up Frankfurt’s Christmas Markets we headed back to the airport for our flight home. We were tired and in day old clothes since they couldn’t pull off our checked luggage for us and told us it would be on the next day’s flight.

I figured maybe this flight would have some gate agents that could control the crowd, but we went three for three in boarding disarray. When it came time to board our once again delayed flight, people mobbed it up by the entry area.

Europe Airline Boarding Is A Mess

This side clearly said business and first class, all while the economy boarding area remained empty. I get that they have a lot of business class seats on Lufthansa because of the 2-2-2 set up but it isn’t the entire plane people.

No one in the proper line
All the economy people crammed over in front of business class boarding leaving this wide open.

We were able to get through a little bit easier than in Munich but it was still a mess.

Our Experience Wasn’t The Outlier

I posted some of these experiences and photos in the Miles to Memories Facebook Group and people were chiming in right and left with similar experiences all over Europe. It didn’t matter the country, airport or airline, everyone was saying it was a cluster cluck.

I don’t remember this being the case in late 2019, my last trip over the pond. I did fly Delta home that trip so maybe American carriers are just better at it? Our flights on Aer Lingus before that don’t stick out to me either though.

Maybe this has to do with Covid and how many bags were lost in Europe over the summer? I imagine no one wants to check their bags these days and are fighting to get on for bin space. European carriers do have more limited overhead space on intra-Europe flights too, so that could be what is going on.

Surprisingly enough our bags did make the connection a day later. I figured we would get the Ryan treatment to be honest. I didn’t trust them, so much so that we want to the baggage area in Frankfurt just to make sure they didn’t come off the belt.

Europe Airline Boarding Is A Mess: Final Thoughts

If you have travel to Europe coming up I figured it would be worth sharing our experience so you would be prepared. Remember to put on your best gladiator face and fight your way through the people. Overhead space isn’t given, it must be won in Europe!

Anyone else think Europe airline boarding is a mess after a recent trip?  Did you have a similar experience? Let me know down in the comments.

Disclosure: Miles to Memories has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Miles to Memories and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.

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Mark Ostermann
Mark Ostermann
Mark Ostermann is a father, husband and miles/points fanatic. He left the corporate world after starting a family in order to be a stay at home dad. Mark is constantly looking at ways to save money and stay within budget while also taking awesome vacations with his family. When he isn't caring for his family or taking a weekend trip, Mark is working towards his goal of visiting every Major League Baseball ballpark.

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  1. Changed in AMS going to SA and LHR on the return in September and it was actually very pleasant. KLM and Virgin, respectively. Nothing like you encountered. Was at FCO last year and again it wasn’t bad. That was on Eurowings. Also, I love the built in stairs on the 737. I haven’t seen those in a long time.


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