What Inefficient Airline Boarding Procedures Have To Do With Net Neutrality
from the more-than-you-might-think dept
Search the internet and there are tons of articles about more efficient ways to board airplanes. Many will point to the work of astrophysicist Jason Steffen who algorithmically tested a variety of boarding methods to come up with his optimized version. The best demonstration of this particular method is in this YouTube video where the Steffen method was tested.
What does any of this have to do with net neutrality? Well, Vox.com recently had an article about the Steffen method, along with a variety of other airplane boarding methods, and notes that the way we board airplanes makes absolutely no sense. In fact, the report suggested that (other than Southwest Airlines — which lets passengers just pick their own seat) most airlines pick the absolute worst ways to board, massively increasing the time needed for the boarding process.
So here’s the question: why haven’t airlines adopted these better methods, instead sticking with what are clearly the worst methods? Everyone seems to agree that speeding up turnaround times could save airlines a tremendous amount of money. Steffen himself has estimated that faster turnaround could save the airline industry over a billion dollars. So you’d think they’d do that. But…they don’t. And Vox points out why:
One possible answer is that the current system actually makes them more than they’d save by switching. As Businessweek pointed out, airlines often allow some passengers to pay extra to board early and skip the general unpleasantness. If the entire boarding process was faster to begin with, many people might not pay extra to skip it.
For passengers, though, this makes no sense. Most of us are waiting in line longer than necessary, and those who pay extra are sitting on planes longer than necessary. No one is getting to their destinations any faster, and everyone is paying higher base prices for tickets, because airlines have to pay extra to the crew for their time used during these delayed turnarounds.
In fact, that same BusinessWeek article notes that boarding times are getting much longer over time, and also details how various airlines seem to revel in making the whole process as confusing and annoying as possible — while offering fees to folks who want to “upgrade” to a better experience.
And that, finally, takes us to the net neutrality connection. Broadband providers insist they need to do things like prioritize some traffic in order to deal with network congestion, but that’s bogus. It’s only the non-technical management who makes those claims. Ask the technology guys, and they will quickly say that basic upgrades can easily accommodate all traffic. But the broadband providers are now like the airlines. They could very easily offer a better overall service, but they’re quickly recognizing that by offering a crappy service, they can charge more to get a select few to pay up for a “fast lane” approach. So the incentives are totally screwed up. There’s little incentive for airlines to improve the boarding process, so long as having such a crappy process leads people to pay extra fees to avoid the crappy process.
In the broadband space, it’s even worse, because there’s even less competition, so there are even fewer incentives for the broadband providers to actually do the necessary upgrades. Instead, they have all the incentive in the world to make their broadband connections purposely inefficient, to pressure people into paying more. Is it really any wonder that Netflix streaming quality was so terrible until Netflix suddenly agreed to start paying up.
Just like the airlines, broadband providers have little incentive to actually build what’s best, and plenty of incentive to degrade the general experience.