Multiple Jet Bridges Are An Interesting Boarding Idea That’s Never Taken Off

The A380 can accommodate up to 3 jet bridges for boarding and deplaning. Photo: cmdslater, derivative work Lämpel / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

Airlines love efficiency to save both time and money. Back in the ’80s American Airlines famously removed one olive per salad to save $40,000 of dollars a year. American and all other airlines then removed coach meals all together to save even more money. The holy grail of savings though isn’t just saving money with less foods and lighter planes. The ultimate efficiency is squeezing one more profitable flight into the schedule than your competitors. Multiple Jet Bridges were seen as one potential solution.

That’s why for years airlines have thought of creative ways to board planes and deplane planes faster. When jets like the 707 and DC-8 first came out, a few airlines experimented with dual jet bridges by parking the jet parallel to the terminal. It worked in that boarding times were faster. The challenge was that each aircraft that parallel parked to the terminal took up so much real estate. The idea quickly faded as additional traffic required more efficient use of aircraft parking around terminals. Pulling into a gate became the common way to park a jet at a gate.

More Modern attempts at expediting boarding

The concept of rapid loading and unloading never truly went away. Over the years airlines have experimented with boarding via groups that would lead to faster boarding times. They tried from back to front, then window to aisle. Southwest Airlines famously doesn’t assign seats. Some boarding ideas work better than others but there is always one choke point. That is from the door to the aisle to your seat. The narrow passageway is a blocker.

TWA Tried the Triple Jet Bridge for their 747 at LAX

In the early days of the Boeing 747, LAX introduced a set of boarding bridges for the 747. It included a bridge for the first class section another one for coach and a third telescoping bridge that went over the left wing. The TWA Museum recently posted a photo of this wild setup along with a story about the design. Although boarding was more efficient, the aft boarding door that went over the wing was mechanically complex and risky. We posted the link to their story below for you to check it out in more detail.

Southwest tries its hand at dual boarding

Southwest Airlines, the airline that once made famous their 10 minute turns, has also dabbled in dual jet bridges (officially known as Mobile Telescoping Dual Bridges) at Dallas Love Field, Austin, and most recently Albany, New York. Each time one was installed, the local news posted a story about the ‘innovation’ to great fanfare.

After a testing period, the bridges were quietly removed with little to no information about why. For a while dual jet bridges were locate at Albany and used on a fairly regular basis. A 2019 news story in the Times Union described the bridges as being retired. According to the article, the bridges outlived their designed lifespan. The article does acknowledge that they have had mechanical challenges for years and were often out of service. Southwest hasn’t given up on dual boarding though. They have a number of airports (mainly in California) where they continue to allow passengers to descend a flight of stairs to the tarmac to then board their flight from air stairs placed at the back of the jet.

Dual boarding via stairs is in use at 4 California airports. ImageL Southwest Airlines

The A380 Made Dual Jet Bridges Cool Again

The massive size of the A380 made boarding a real challenge. To account for the high volume of passengers boarding and deplaning, many airports have constructed gates that are specifically built for the A380. These gates have two (and sometimes three) jet bridges that allow for the downstairs and upstairs of the jet to be loaded simultaneously. Brussels airport even shared a campaign about the new gates in a YouTube clip that can be seen below.

What makes this approach unique is that due to the layout of the A380, all bridges can link to the jet without the need to telescope over the wing. The idea works. However with the A380 rapidly leaving the fleets of many airlines, the need for such a unique gate setup may be short lived.

Other airports have successfully installed dual jet bridges but very few telescoping bridges over the wings. The most notable was KLM’s telescoping bridge for their 747 fleet in Amsterdam. With the 747 now retired, it is unknown if the bridges will still stay in service for their other wide bodies in the fleet.

United also tried telescoping jet bridges over the wing at Denver on a few gates. However, one telescoping bridge damaged a 757 wing. The attempt at efficiency was discontinued and the dual jet bridges were removed from service.

Multiple Jet Bridges are utilized in a limited way for widebodies but telescoping bridges just don’t seem to work

At major airports, some gates have multiple jet bridges for wide bodies that connect to the jet ahead of the wings today. It’s fair to say that dual telescoping jet bridges never really took off though. The reasons are pretty obvious. They are complex to operate and maintain a jet bridge that telescopes over a wing then descends back down to be level with a rear boarding door.

Even though its technically feasible, such a set up is always complex, risky, and expensive. And there is a real risk of damaging the wing. A jet out of service is much less efficient than saving a few minutes in a turn. File this idea in one of those good efficiency ideas that’s never really been efficiently executed.