Astrophysicist finds fastest method of plane boarding.

*Boarding those in window seats first followed by middle and aisle seats results in a 40% gain in efficiency.

However, an approach called the Steffen method, alternating rows in the window-middle-aisle strategy, nearly doubles boarding speed.

The approach is named after Jason Steffen, an astrophysicist at Fermi National Laboratory in Illinois, US. Dr Steffen first considered the thorny problem of plane boarding in 2008, when he found himself in a long boarding queue*

BBC Link.

On the news this morning they said that this boarding strategy has been considered by the airlines before - which implies that they had some reason for not actually implementing it. It may be faster if rigorously implemented, but I think the logistics are much more difficult, i.e. the separate boarding of people who will sit next to each other on the plane, the complexity of getting people to line up in groups organized by window/middle/aisle seat, and so on.

Also, IME there is always a lot of aircraft prep taking place while the passengers are coming aboard, e.g. refueling, loading of checked baggage, restocking of food/drinks, etc. If there is to be any benefit from more rapid passenger boarding (i.e. an earlier departure), then these other services would also need to happen at a faster pace.

That’s nice, but kind of doesn’t matter. The airlines have known for years about better options, and have chosen not to use them. They will continue not to use them.

Also, the individual-by-individual method would assume the passengers are all there and ready to board. Flying standby a few months ago, I watched the staff give the “absolutely last call” five times, and there were still people jogging up at the last second, and allowed to board.

To speed up boarding, the airlines need to:

  1. Stop punishing people for checking their bags (with fees and poor service), which essentially rewards them for bringing bulky carry-ons.

  2. Enforce their own rules. Latecomers are not allowed to board. Pre-boarding for the disabled and those with small children should be limited to people who really can’t board with the bulk of the passengers.

And of course, separate window and aisle boarding would require couples to split up for the ten minutes it takes to board, and I can’t imagine people standing for that. People are not reasonable.

Passengers generally don’t know anything about discipline and procedures. How many times have you seen someone spending a minute stowing a bag in the overhead locker? Many have trouble finding their seats at all. Airlines group people into a dozen or more rows, so you have people backed up behind people who can’t find their seats and spend a long time stowing their luggage. Every time I’ve flown commercially there are people who ‘sneak in’ ahead of their group – i.e., passengers near the front get on before the passengers seated aft. Of course people have to wait for them to get out of the way.

Add the complication of families being separated during boarding because they are sitting in the same row, and confusion will surely result.

Yeah, when you combine the hapless passengers with those who are intentionally trying to subvert the process I think you get close to 30% non-compliance with current boarding instructions.

I’m convinced Southwest is the only airline that has this right. Get on the plane, find a seat, and sit down. Done. Always seems to lead to the least amount of drama.

I remember when airlines used to have the passengers in the back of the plane board first after the first class and pre-boarders (people in wheelchairs or with small children). Since I generally wasn’t in a hurry to get off the plane I would choose a seat there, and would be in the first or second boarding group. Now they have all these priority classes, and let people pay extra to be in the first group, so by the time people in the last five or ten rows are getting on the plane is half full.

“Is E an aisle seat?” “Honey, can you take both bags - I’m hopeless will bags. See you!?” “I was going to ask if someone with a window seat could switch with me - should I go now?”

If they ever try the astrophysical method, they should video it. After a week of fighting everyone’s learning curve, some poor attendant is going to snap and beat someone to death with their oversized carry-on.

Then they’ll grab a couple of beers and exit via the emergency chute. Too soon?

I know that it’s a policy that gets a lot of complaints, but i really don’t have too much of a problem with charging for checked baggage. A user-pays system doesn’t seem especially unfair to me, and i say that as someone who usually checks a bag.

What they need to do is start actually enforcing the rule about carry-on luggage size. Here’s a hint: if your rolling suitcase can’t even fit down the aisle, it’s not carry-on. You’re right that the current system rewards people for bringing bulky carry-ons, but it could be improved if they actually enforced the carry-on size limit properly.

Of course, the biggest glitch in the whole system is often the fucking mouthbreathing morons who constitute a considerable percentage of the passenger load on the typical flight. The flight attendants can make ten announcements asking people with rolling suitcases to place their luggage in the bins wheels-first, but half of these drooling fucking idiots still put the bag in sideways so it takes up most of the compartment. And if it doesn’t fit in wheels-first, the airline shouldn’t let them bring it on the plane.


I flew to the east coast and back a few weeks ago for a conference (San Diego - Houston - Reagan National and back), and there was always someone trying to sneak onto the early boarding groups. When they announce pre-boarding (stupid term) for people with young children who need extra time to board, they aren’t talking about your 11- and 13-year-old who are too busy playing on their iPads to know what the fuck is going on. They’re talking about babies and toddlers.

I’m also constantly amazed at how retarded some people are at the whole boarding process. On the plane, it will take some folks literally four or five minutes of standing in the middle of the aisle to get what they need out of their luggage, gut their bag into the overhead bin, and finally get out of the fucking way and sit down. Unless you’re an 85-year-old or someone who is 4’5" tall and needs help stowing your bag, you should be able to put it up and get out of the aisle in less than 10-15 seconds.

Before i even join the queue to board, i take out what i want to have with me for the flight (book, water bottle, candy, maybe my netbook). That way, when i get to my seat, i drop my stuff onto the seat, throw my bag up in the overhead, and get straight into the seat. Takes less than ten seconds, and makes both my life and everyone else’s easier.

On one leg of my recent trip, there was a family of about six people flying together. There were four adults and a couple of kids, i think. Anyway, they had seats near each other, but not all in the same row. The two kids (teenagers, about 15 or 16) got on and sat down fine in a window sweat and the seat next to it. the guy in the aisle seat next to them wasn’t part of their group. Then when the rest of the family arrived to take their seats, the patriarch decided that he wanted the two teens in different seats, despite the fact that they were fine where they were, and were quite happily sitting there and not bothering anyone. So he made them get out of their seats during the boarding process, with necessitated asking the guy in the aisle seat to also get up. All the squashing back and forth to get everyone in this little group seated took a good five minutes, during which no-one else could get by.

People like that need to be thrown in boxes and stacked in the cargo hold for the trip.

Yeah, don’t even get me started on the people who can’t even work out what seat they’re supposed to be in. In some cases, as you suggest, it’s a ruse to try and snag an aisle seat, but in other cases people really are that dumb. Twice on my recent trip, there were people in the wrong row. This isn’t rocket science, and the rows on the aircraft were all clearly marked. I don’t know how anyone could miss their correct seat by two full rows, but one guy managed it.

Or the people who are in seating zone Z who start to hover around the entrance to the jetway the minute they call for first class ticket holders.

Yep. Boarding a flight is an absolute nightmare now. Even the group numbers on the tickets don’t make much sense. I’ve had seat 37A with a Group 4 ticket and seat 5A with a Group 4 ticket. And now that there are 8 billion exceptions to whatever convoluted boarding strategy each airline has, it’s a total mess.

I say go to a strict back to front policy. No exceptions. I fly first class sometimes and I wouldn’t care less if they called first class last. I’d probably get on the plane quicker at this point.

“There is no seating in the Group 4 zone” :smiley:

Why do they have the first class boarding first? It’s usually my goal to get on the plane nearly last, because I’m going to be stuck there for a frickin’ long time anyway. First class passengers aren’t fighting for overhead bin space, so why would they want to get on first?

This has struck me also.

If i could afford to fly First Class everywhere, and knew that i wasn’t going to be fighting for overhead bin space with seven other people, each of whom is bringing an oversized suitcase onto the plane, i’d make it my mission in life to board the plane at the last possible minute every single time (without, of course, actually delaying the flight).

It would be fantastic to walk onto the plane, take your seat, and see the flight attendants close the doors three minutes later in preparation for taxi and takeoff.

They’re better than you are.

If the hold was appropriately heated, and the box allowed me to lie down and sleep, I would pay extra for this option. I would pay even more if I could go straight to the cargo drop-off building, get in my box, and never have to enter the passenger area at all. And if FedEx or someone would drop me off at my final destination – well, I can only dream.

Does anyone else feel like this place is becoming Reddit on a two-day lag?

If I fly first, I’m in Seating 1 or whatever United calls it.

15 minutes later, when the rest of the stragglers are getting settled in the back of the plane, I tend to have a decent buzz from a drink (provided I’m not driving when I arrive at my destination). Or if my son is with me, he’s rocking out the milk and cookies. You get refreshments right away and you’re not ignored.

I agree with the back-to-front rule and would even suggest that the airlines paint all the possible seat numbers of the largest plane they serve on the floor next to the boarding gate in back-to-front order
Then just before they open the door they tell everyone to stand on their assigned seat number. Right after this they open the door and have people troop onto the plane, black to front. And carry on bags have to go with you to the space over your own seat, idiot.
I’ll let someone else figure out the special boarding groups.