Everyone wants to load a plane faster. Airlines want it because it’ll get them off the ground on time. Passengers want it because it’ll get them to their destination faster. But unfortunately, no one has figured out a way to load the plane quickly and efficiently.
The question is, it works on paper, but would it work in real life?
Airlines have developed all different methods to load a plane faster. Some start from the back and go forward. Others do it by groups. Southwest lines people up and lets them pick their seats once they get onto the plane. Since a lot of the slowdown is due to putting carry on bags in the overhead, some airlines charge more for carry on bags than checked bags in an attempt to get people to check more.
Here’s how well several of those techniques have worked or could work. However, a team of Norwegian astrophysicists, along with another astrophysicist, Jason Hyrum Steffen, and assistant professor at the University of Nevada, may have found the best solution yet, with 28% more efficiency.
First, let the slowpokes board first
A lot of airlines actually already do this – those with small children or who need extra time are allowed to board first. These people (or groups of people) may walk slower, have more to unload (like a wheelchair or stroller), or just need extra time to get them and theirs settled. Not only is it ethically right to let them board first, it’s also more efficient.
Second, board everyone else in waves, not groups
With a few exceptions, after the slower people board, then people generally board in order of importance, from first-class all the way down to the poor souls in Basic Economy. That’s when the queue starts to get gummed up because, for example, the last few people in regular Economy will still be putting their bags in the overhead when the Basic Economy folks come onto the plane. So they have to wait to get to their seats in the back until the regular Economy people get settled.
Here’s how Steffen’s plan works, as written in Quartz:
His own method, which many consider to be the most efficient, boards passengers in a series of waves, with the first passengers called to board seated in window seats two rows apart—first 30A, then 28A, then 26A and so on. Next, the same for the other side of the plane (30F, 28F, 26F). The process continues with odd row window seats on either side, middle seats, and finally aisle seats. Each person can sit down within moments of one another without getting in anyone’s way. In field tests, it proved to be almost twice as fast as most conventional methods, and 20% to 30% faster than have-at-it, entirely random boarding—which is also faster than the method used by airlines.
So it’s sort of like how Southwest lines people up, but with assigned seats, and the lineup based on where your seat is.
But would it work in real life?
London Gatwick apparently did a trial of various boarding techniques last fall, wherein they used digital displays to tell which passenger(s) to board at which time, going from back row to the front, with window seats first, middle seats next and aisle seats last (they didn’t mention whether or not they were using Steffen’s and/or the Norwegian group’s respective techniques). Not surprisingly, those who were willing to pay for early boarding would still get to board the plane earlier. Because profits before anything. Anyway, unfortunately, they haven’t posted the results of those trials yet.
If Steffen’s and the Norwegians’ data is correct, and if Gatwick was willing to experiment with such boarding, I would say that, if nothing else, it’s thought it has the potential to be successful. Of course, passengers would have to be willing to (A) wait their turn and (B) board separately from their family members. That second one might be the biggest hurdle of all.
*** Feature photo (cropped) PC: Matthew Hurst/flickr
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary