8 airport boarding secrets, according to travel experts

Your gate agent deserves respect, just like any airport employee.

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Your gate agent deserves respect, just like any airport employee.
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Shutterstock

  • From overbooked flights to long lines in security and at the gate, the problems and frustrations that can arise at the airport are endless.
  • But by being nice to your gate agent and joining an airline alliance, you can get preferential treatment when boarding, eliminating many of your problems.
  • INSIDER spoke to several airline employees and a travel expert, including an American Airlines boarding attendant, a former Northwest Airlines flight attendant, and a vice president of CheapOair, to discover the best-kept boarding secrets.
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

Air travel can be stressful enough with security checks, boarding, and connecting flights, so any insider info can be helpful. Though most people focus on secrets from employees on the plane, it turns out there is plenty to be learned from those at the gate.

INSIDER asked several airline employees and a travel expert to share their best kept boarding secrets to help you get the best perks and privileges. Here’s what we found out:

Being nice to your gate agent goes a long way

First of all, be nice and friendly upon boarding. This will automatically help you stand out, according to a former Northwest Airlines flight attendant.

Of course, you should be kind to any employee you encounter, gate agents have a ton of things to deal with already. But when flights are canceled, overbooked, or they have upset travelers, they have even more to do, only inducing more stress, according to Tom Spagnola, senior vice president of Supplier Relations at CheapOair. Not only is this simply good manners, but it may also get you in their good graces.

“The gate agents appreciate nothing more than when passengers are respectful and are flexible on what the gate agent is doing to help them,” Spagnola told INSIDER. “Many times, I’ve seen gate agents upgrade passengers into business or first class because they were shown respect and compassion towards the situation.”

Airlines often prioritize frequent fliers for upgrades

Airlines have access to your travel record, which can work in your favor if you’re a frequent flier. Depending on how full the flight is during check-in, upgrades may be available based on elite status, according to a boarding agent of American Airlines. Agents are required to follow a priority list, starting with elite frequent fliers.

Frequent fliers also get outstanding service

Flying often goes a long way.

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Flying often goes a long way.
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Shutterstock

Being a frequent flier also gets you outstanding service, according to a former Northwest Airlines flight attendant. It really pays to fly with the same airline as much as possible. Gate agents and flight attendants both enjoy seeing familiar faces, especially if they belong to people who are nice and friendly. So, flying the same airline is a plus.

The three main airline alliances in the industry to keep on your radar are SkyTeam, OneWorld, and Star Alliance. In using one of the airlines in their respective alliances, travelers can continue to accrue mileage, according to Spagnola.

You can sometimes get a better seat assignment at the gate

With frequent fliers receiving upgrades, seats that were previously filled have now been opened. Or sometimes, airlines block seats for the gate agents in case of an oversell situation, according to Spagnola. The agents use those extra seats to help customers get seating and in some cases end up giving out better seats, he explained.

Try kindly and politely asking the gate agent about 30 minutes before departure if you can get a better seat assignment such as a window seat or a seat with more leg room.

Be flexible and accommodating to families traveling together

If you’re in a situation in which your flight is oversold or there are seat assignment issues with couples or families needing to sit together, offer your seat up to help other passengers, Spagnola suggested.

“Flight attendants appreciate the help trying to keep all of their passengers happy, so if you’re traveling alone or don’t mind being separated from your group on the flight, be flexible and offer up your seat,” Spagnola told INSIDER. “I’ve done this myself many times, and have been put into business or first class when there was availability.”

If you miss your connecting flight, suggest another carrier

When you’ve missed your connection, the computers are the ones calculating your alternate travel plans. However, if there aren’t any flights with that same airline as soon as you’d like, try to suggest flying into a nearby airport if the airline serves both airports or offer flying with another carrier, Spagnola recommended.

Airline agents don’t like to advertise this option because they will lose money for switching your ticket to another carrier, but it’s still an option for you.

Gate agents may be able to hold your plane.

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Gate agents may be able to hold your plane.
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Alper Çuğun/Flickr

Occasionally, gate agents can hold a flight if your connection is running late

Holding a flight for connecting passengers is on a case-by-case basis, according to an American Airlines boarding agent. For instance, if a large number of passengers have been delayed by a flight, the agents might hold a flight in coordination with the operations center. However, holding a flight could delay other customers on the return flight as well, so don’t count on it.

If you don’t have a seat assignment, don’t worry

Sometimes, when you don’t opt to pay extra to choose your seat in advance, your seat may be assigned at the gate. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the flight is overbooked, but just that some seats have been blocked off. Many airlines block seats for those who need assistance, for families, or for frequent fliers.

Keep in mind that you may still have a seat. Simply speak with a gate agent as soon as you can.