What Airlines Need Is Airplane-shaped Boarding Areas

from the faster-boarding-times dept

Slashdot has an interesting post about some research about strategies for getting people onto airplanes quickly. This is a big deal for airlines because the planes are a major capital expense. Every minute the airplane sits at the gate is a minute it’s not in the air earning money for its owners. Faster boarding times would mean a plane could fly more flights in a day, increasing total revenues. The researchers apparently found that the best method was “row-by-row, seat-by-seat, strict order,” starting at the back of the plane. But they think flyers wouldn’t go for that, because it would mean forming a long line in that order. But I’m not so sure. Here’s what airlines should do: re-model the waiting areas so that the chairs are laid out the same way they are on an airplane, complete with a number on each seat. Ask passengers waiting to board the flight to sit in the chair corresponding to their seat on the airplane. Then, when it’s time for the airplane to board, they’re already in the right order and it’s trivial to have them line up in that order for boarding the real airplane. It’s true that this would cost the airlines some money up front, and it would lead to somewhat less efficient use of the waiting areas. But chairs and floor space are a lot cheaper than airplanes. If the arrangement allowed for even a small increase in the efficiency of aircraft boarding procedures, it would pay for itself in no time. The closest to this arrangement that I’ve seen is Southwest, which is the only airline I’ve flown on that doesn’t have assigned seats. I always found it an annoying airline because I had to “camp out” in line to make sure I got a good seat. But Southwest recently revamped the process so that everyone had an assigned boarding number and are required to board in strict order. That way, people don’t have to stand in line to hold their place, but the airline still gets the benefits of “open seating.”

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Companies: southwest

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Comments on “What Airlines Need Is Airplane-shaped Boarding Areas”

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Mr. Fix it says:

most airlines already split boarding by seat numbers with out having to remodel the waiting area’s.

do you guys really think that the extra time saved (which wont be much i think) will justify remodeling every boarding area in most airports all over the world (even if you are talking about US only thats still allot of airports)

moe says:

the human factor

Wow, this is my second comment today citing the human factor.

You’re assuming people will all congregate in the boarding area and get assembled prior to boarding. Myself, I find a seat in an adjacent boarding area if it’s less crowded. Other people sit at the bar, while others wander, shop, or just stand.

None of the non-budget airlines are going to require their passengers to “board before they board.” Unassigned seating is seen as a “for budget airlines only” feature, but for the money paid for standard airline ticket people want the choice and assigned seat.

I think this is going to be as good as we get until someone comes up with affordable retractable/insertable cabin seating areas that get shuttled to/from the terminal to the plane.

Charles Abel says:

No remodeling needed folks...

The writer of the article doesn’t want walls splitting up the faux airplane. He just wants the seats to have numbers on them corresponding to the actual plane’ seat numbers. Or, you could dumb it down and just have the green chairs be first class, red be second, blue be coach, etc., and people find a seat in their section.

Now, the ones who don’t sit in waiting areas will never go and sit, and this idea doesn’t need them to. It just eases loading for some of the passengers, taking less time. And we all know, time is money, friend!

James says:

Line not the problem

Having flown (enough) the line to board isn’t really problem as most airlines call passengers (except First and Business class) by row numbers from back to front.

The reason its such a PITA to board, and takes so long (in my opinion) is because the airplane is small, cramped and people bring carry-on luggage.

Each personing boarding the airplane has to make their way down the small aisle, find their seat, stow their carry-on (if they have one), rinse and repeat 200+ times.

Staging folks in the proper line order in the waiting area might ease things very slightly but I doubt it would handle the real issue. It seems to me they either need to board from the front AND back of the plane (where possible) or design the airplane’s boarding area in such a way as to allow multiple people to get on and stow their luggage simultaneously.

KC says:

Use more doors

Well, why not board the plane from more doors instead of just the front door? That would speed up the boarding time.

I am not convinced that airlines need to move passengers that fast. The crew still has to “turn the plane around”, meaning that time still needs to be spent cleaning the cabin, re-stocking food and drinks, cleaning the restrooms, mechanics need to check the parts, pilots need time to do pre-flight checks, baggage needs to be unloaded and reloaded, etc, etc etc.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Use more doors

I am not convinced that airlines need to move passengers that fast. The crew still has to “turn the plane around”, meaning that time still needs to be spent cleaning the cabin, re-stocking food and drinks, cleaning the restrooms, mechanics need to check the parts, pilots need time to do pre-flight checks, baggage needs to be unloaded and reloaded, etc, etc etc.

Exactly…99% of the time you end up sitting there (with all the other passengers) for 15-20 minutes while baggage is loaded, etc.

Thane says:

Airlines sell TICKETS not travel

The thing you need to consider is not efficiency of boarding to get increased flight frequency, but rather just what the “product” is that airlines sell.

They sell tickets. That’s their product and what they care about. If tickets could be sold WITHOUT the flights or airplanes, then they would do that.

That’s why flights are often over sold etc. It’s not more flights that they want, it’s more ticket sales.

KipEsquire (user link) says:

Why not just freeze us and stick us in the cargo h

“Ask passengers waiting to board the flight to sit in the chair corresponding to their seat on the airplane. Then, when it’s time for the airplane to board, they’re already in the right order and it’s trivial to have them line up in that order for boarding the real airplane.”

I wasn’t aware that April Fool’s Day was moved to today.

I supposed the stools at the airport bar will be arranged the same way?

To be blunt: screw my fellow passengers. Prior to boarding, I’ll sit where I want, do what I want (assuming it’s legal) and board the plane when I want (after my row is called).

Anyone who feels differently is free to fly business class or not at all.

Aesbar says:

several issues

1 – years ago I boarded a 747 in Paris and the ummm walkway? split into several parts with directions according to your seat number. It made a HUGE difference. I’ve never seen it since.
2 – the biggest reason boarding takes FOREVER is that people who are in row 3 decide they want to board first AND they want to stow the biggest carryon bag you’ve ever seen in the overhead bin. If we can get people to board by row number, theoretically everyone can just walk into the airplane up to their seat. Extremely theoretically :p I know first-class passengers pay through their nose for tickets and rightly want luxury, but honestly when boarding they hold everyone up.
3 – There is never enough room by far in the pre-boarding area. For that reason alone I board as late as possible – I have a handicap and having to stand around for 30 minutes kills my back. But I guess if they increased the pre-boarding area, prices would soar (because the airport needs much more space per gate). One cannot expect people to queue up properly when they can barely move around.

Anonymous Coward says:

the fact that there are many different seating configurations makes this next to impossible.

and even then people don’t go window to isle, back to front. added to the fact that people bring carry-ons, makes it quite difficult.

maybe have “premade” overhead bins where you can put your bag and just slide it into place? that should help. if it doesn’t fit…it gets checked. when you leave, pull it out, and deposit it at the exit gate.

but then again, the different planes have different overheads…but it’s thought.

More-space says:

More space

It’s shameful how people pile-up inside an airplane nowadays. It’s no different from those dusty buses with people, chickens, and other beings, in 3rd world rural areas. I think all passengers should get more room, i.e, bigger seats, to retain some of their lost dignity. In doing so, we end up with less people per flight, which means less fuel, less exhaust gases, and certainly less boarding time. If the airlines cancel the silly movies and cheapo meals, they can make up for the lost seats.

Fushta says:

There already is virtual seating

Ever hear of “Zones?” Zone 1-7.

Zone 1 has a pattern of seats that are all over the plane so that all the tickets labeled “Zone 1” all get on at the same time, but aren’t near each other and usually sit in the window seats.

Zone 2 are in different areas than Zone 1 and consist of windows and middle seats.

And so on…

Filling from the back (or front like the budget airlines a la sit where you want) takes forever. The Zone idea is the virtual model of what Mike’s blog tries to bring to light.

ted (user link) says:

Southwest Airlines

Southwest recently changed their boarding procedure. They now issue a number on your boarding pass and split you in to 5 people sections.

As a southwest flyer, I liked the no seat assignment, but it always sucked standing in the “A” line for an hour before your flight. Now you just have to be first to get your boarding pass. Which you can print online 24 hours before your flight.

Boarding School

BTR1701 (profile) says:

Plane Layout

> Here’s what airlines should do: re-model the
> waiting areas so that the chairs are laid out
> the same way they are on an airplane

The only problem with this idea is that it assumes that every plane that uses a given gate has the same layout. It won’t do much good when the 9:30 flight to Boston at Gate 9 is a 747 and the 11:15 flight to Omaha is a 707.

Anonymous Coward says:

Two problems.

First, you assume that every airplane at every gate is exactly the same. That a gate only serves a DC80 or only serves a 747, for example.

Second, since when is the delay at boarding?! Or maybe people are just smarter on the west coast and they understand the concept of sitting down in a chair on a plane (it’s very much like sitting down in any other kind of chair anywhere else).

Andrew Mondt (user link) says:

Re: If the goal is saving money...

The unions have already been broken! The base salaries for most customer contact employees have been cut repeatedly. Insurance and other benefits have been slashed. Many flights are now contracted out to “affiliate” carriers (ie. American Eagle etc.) to circomvent union rules. A senior pilot for a commuter carrier can be making less than 40k a year. Flight attendants start below 20k base here in the U.S. Even senior wide body pilots for the U.S. majors have repeatedly taken pay cuts. The ironic part is that Southwest, one of the most profitable carriers, pays very well and has great employee relations yet still is on of the most unionised of U.S. airlines.

ITWARZ says:

Think about it...

You could do this, or you could just do what JetBlue did Saturday night on a flight from Orlando to JFK, load the plane from more than one door. They loaded the A320 from the rear and front doors at the same time. If you use more doors you fill the plane up faster! – Well now there’s a thought. Hmmm…

Andrew Mondt (user link) says:

Re: Think about it...

Back in the 1960’s when airports started upgrading to jetbridges the gates had two jetbridges for the front and the back of the aircraft with the aircraft paralell to the terminal building. As demand picked up the aircraft where parked as they are now nose in and the gates were split into two. Most larger internatioinal airports still have some gates with two jetbridges for the B747 and other larger widebodies. Now with the A380 coming down the line airports that expect the aircraft are building gates with triple jetbridges with two for the lower deck and one for the upper. Unfortunatley here in the U.S. most airports can’t or won’t upgrade bording areas due to lack of funding or percieved need.

Anonymous Coward says:

Another stupid idea

Arranging matching seats? Is this guy serious?? We might as well decree that from this day forward, all flights in and out of all airports at all gates will use the Boeing 767-300 ER 3-class layout…or even better, let’s hire 2,000 extra personnel per airport to ‘arrange seats’ and stick numbers on them.

A prime example of consultants trying to sound intelligent when they don’t have a f*** clue.

Yakko Warner says:

Assuming people can follow directions

Aside from other holes poked in this theory so far, it does assume that people are able/willing to follow directions. It doesn’t matter how well you plan something, or how clearly you explain the rules, you’ll always have people who will do what they want and/or think the rules don’t apply to them to screw things up.

I don’t fly that often, but I don’t think there’s been a time where there hasn’t been someone standing at the front of the line trying to board when their boarding group is one of the last to be called. Assuming the attendants don’t let them board out of turn, at best they just stand there and clog up the works; at worst they actually try to argue with the attendant as to why they’re too important to wait.

For pete’s sake, people have a hard enough time with “10 items or less only”.

Chronno S. Trigger says:

Re: Assuming people can follow directions

“you’ll always have people who will do what they want and/or think the rules don’t apply to them to screw things up.”

As proven by the AC above you or KipEsquire further up. We call them assholes, or security guards. depends on the side of the metal detector they’re on.

PRMan (user link) says:

They already do this...

What astounds me is that Timothy Lee couldn’t be bothered to talk to an airline employee and find out what the 1-5 Boarding Groups are.

Group 1 is First class and Handicapped.
Group 2 are Window seats on every other row in the back half of the plane. Groups traveling together will not be divided.
Group 3 are Window and middle seats
Group 4 are Middle and aisle seats
Group 5 are remaining aisle seats

This problem has been well-researched by the airline industry for efficient boarding and I can assure you what they do right now is far more efficient than what is proposed in this article.

KipEsquire (user link) says:

"Disagree" Does Not Equal "A--Hole"

@17: “people who are in row 3 decide they want to board first” — Those people are almost always elite-status frequent fliers who are perfectly entitled to board first. Deal with it or don’t fly.

@32: The fact that I refuse to pretend that this idea is not mind-bogglingly idiotic does not make me an a–hole. My advice to you, if you dislike people like me so much, if that you buy your own airline and ban me from it. In the meantime, your best bet is probably to STFU — “better to remain silent and be thought a fool” etc.

John (profile) says:

A few points

A lot of the suggestions posted above are good, but they leave out the “human factor”. The next time you board a plane, watch the other passengers closely. You’ll typically see the following scenarios:

1) When “rows 20 to 30” are called, a family sitting in row 20 will usually get in line in front of the people sitting in the other rows. And, of course, Dad has to argue with the flight attendant over bringing the double-wide stroller onboard. Then they have to wrestle the 50 pound luggage into the overhead bin… when it’s clear that both the stroller and the luggage should have been checked.
Repeat a few times and people start to back up in the boarding area.

Similar to this are the people who get on the plane, wrestle to put their luggage in the first overhead bin and then walk to their seat in row 35. Um, why not take your luggage with you? Why stop at the front of the airplane and stop everyone else from boarding?

2) Some people have never flown before.
Yes, that’s a shocker, but you can tell who these people are: they’re the ones who board (when “rows 20-30” are called) and then look at every single row to figure out where row 28 is.
Um, it’s not after row 3 or 4 or 5- it’s at the back of the plane.

3) Aisle versus window.
Is there any way to board people by window seat, then middle, then aisle seat? I would think that a lot of the delay is simply caused by people sitting in the aisle seat first, then doing the “get up/ slide by” dance with the guy who has the window seat and boards later.

As for the claim that airlines try to board quickly to get the plane in the air again is kind-of misleading. The main statistic that the airline cares about is “on-time departure”, which is defined as the time when the airplane pulls away from the gate.
Please correct me on this, but I don’t think they even measure the time that the plane actually takes off from the runway.

If all the people are on board and the plane pulls back from the gate at the specified time, the flight gets recorded as “on-time departure”… even if it sits on the runway for 2 hours!
Could the plane have been loaded in a more leisurely way, especially if the crew knows about the 2-hour delay? Probably, but that would spoil the “on-time departure” statistic.

Chirag Mehta (user link) says:

Alaska Airlines expedites the check-in process thr

Southwest airlines is known to have cracked the problem of how to effectively board the aircraft and Disney specializes in managing the crowd and long lines. Add one more to this list, Alaska Airlines. Fast Company is running a story on how Alaska Airlines has been designing the check-in area to reduce the average check-in time at the Anchorage airport . This is a textbook example of design-led-innovation and has all the design thinking and user-centered design elements – need finding, ethnography, brainstorming, rapid prototyping, and end user validation. Alaska Airlines visited various different places to learn how others manage crowd and applied those learnings in the context of their problem supported by contextual inquiry of the check-in agents. They built low fidelity prototypes and refined them based on early validation.

I have a detailed post on my blog:


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