A jet bridge, loading bridge, or aerobridge is a piece of equipment which is designed to allow passengers to board and deplane directly through an airport terminal, without needing to go outside or climb stairs. Jet bridges are becoming the standard at airports around the world, as they are more comfortable for passengers and crew to use. In smaller airports, it is still possible to see so-called “airstairs,” mobile staircases which are wheeled up to aircraft, allowing people to disembark directly onto the tarmac at the airport.
One popular brand of jet bridge is the Jetway®, and this brand is in fact so ubiquitous that the term “jetway” is sometimes used generically, especially in the United States, to refer to any kind of jet bridge. Like other technology, jet bridges are periodically updated, and airlines and airports can spend a great deal of money keeping their jet bridges up to standard.
A jet bridge consists of a long arm which attaches to the gate in the airline terminal. The arm can often be rotated to provide several different options, and the end of the arm is attached to an accordion-folding canopy which can be brought snugly up against the body of the plane. Passengers use the jet bridge by traveling along a corridor inside the arm before passing under the canopy and into the aircraft. A platform below the canopy is designed to rest snugly against the body of the aircraft so that there are no gaps between the jet bridge and the plane.
Operation of the jet bridge is performed with a control panel which is used to position the equipment and lock it into place. Getting a jet bridge into place is a relatively rapid process at most airports, although passengers eager to deplane may think it takes forever. Some jet bridges also have an additional extendable arm which can be used to allow boarding and deplaning through two doors in the aircraft for additional speed.
One convenience of the jet bridge is that it accommodates passengers in wheelchairs or passengers using strollers very easily. Typically, a flight attendant at the opening of the plane will accept wheelchairs and strollers for gate checking. Items which are gate checked will be brought out first when the plane lands so that passengers can access them immediately. Gate checking is also available when flights are crowded and the flight crew want to encourage people to check luggage rather than carrying it onto the aircraft.