Physicist cuts plane boarding time in half

Tim Hornyak/CNET)

Passenger jets seem designed to waste time, what with people trying to stuff oversized carry-on bags into undersized luggage bins, aisles clogged with people, and a billion other factors that delay your flight.

A few years ago, Fermilab astrophysicist Jason Steffen observed this while flying to a conference and got to thinking: is there a way to have passengers board a plane more efficiently?

Steffen considered various methods, such as boarding people in blocks, at random, and in window seats first. He set up a model using an algorithm based on the Monte Carlo optimization method used in statistics and mathematics.

He found that the most efficient boarding method is to board alternate rows at a time, beginning with the window seats on one side, then the other, minimizing aisle interference. The window seats are followed by alternate rows of middle seats, then aisle seats. He also found that boarding at random is faster that boarding by blocks.

The results of his study were published in the Journal of Air Transport Management in 2008, with Steffen claiming the airline industry could save massive sums with more efficient boarding.

Needless to say, we’re still boarding by blocks. Steffen’s research, though, was recently highlighted on … [Read more]

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