Still The Best Way To Board An Airliner

  • E-Mail this Article
  • View Printable Article
  • Text size:

    • A
    • A
    • A

The widely used "block" method (boarding an airliner in sections) is among the slowest of methods, while the windows-first method (which we told you about in 2008) has again been proven best ... but carriers still aren't using it. Astrophysicist Jason Steffen's scientifically deduced suggestion (PDF) for the most efficient method of herding people onto airliners made headlines when it was published in 2008. In essence, it is a block method with an added dimension. Steffen loads passengers in groups, window to aisle, back to front, skipping rows to keep people out of each other's way. This June that method yielded the best time when tested for a TV show against five other methods. And it took about half the time of the widely used basic back to front block, or "section" method employed by many airlines today. There may be some simple reasons for why we're not using it.

Challenges to Steffen's system include human personalities and the general ability to hear, understand and follow specific instructions. The method would line people up outside of the aircraft arranged by row and also aisle. The first group onto the plane would be individuals seated at 30A, 28A, and 26A, for example. A byproduct of that method is that it separates people who would be sitting next to one another on the flight. That includes parting loving parents from unruly children and jealous husbands from friendly wives. An argument could be made that it would also separate the organized, sensible and attentive from the disorganized and absent-minded. Ironically, to some extent, those potential complications are also the strength of Steffen's system -- it spreads out individuals and gives them space to place themselves and their baggage with minimal interference. If that's too difficult, Steffen's research and computer modeling has also shown that even random boarding outpaces the block method many airlines use. And the slower the method, the more it costs the airline.