The Way We Board Planes Is Inefficient – But It’s Not Changing

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Get the full story on the Texas Standard.

If you’re traveling soon, you know the drill.  You arrive at the airport, kick your shoes off, pass the security checkpoint, sit at the terminal, wait for the flight attendant to finally call your boarding zone…wait, what’s your boarding zone again?

And when the attendant finally scans your ticket, you’re stuck in a line at the boarding bridge with dozens of other frustrated people, waiting to finally sit down. Mathematician Jason Steffan was in that familiar situation, but unlike the rest of us, he thought he could actually fix it.

“I work primarily in exoplanets studying planets that are orbiting distant stars,” Steffan says.

He used the same model he uses to measure the chaos of the universe to find a system of boarding a plane that would be less chaotic.

“So what you want to do is you want to spread the passengers out all throughout the interior of the airplane so that everyone can put their luggage away at the same time and sit down at the same time,” he explains. “The best way to do that is to have passengers that are next to each other in line be separated by two rows in the airplane itself.”

Steffan says the way we get on a plane now is actually not any quicker than seating people at random.

Bernie Leighton writes for Airline Reporter. He says while boarding groups may not be the quickest way to get hundreds of people into a flying tin can, it is the best way for airlines to get them to pay extra for a premium seat.

“People have hidden preferences and overt preferences when they’re making their choice, so they might say ‘I would like to board the fastest’ but if that ticket is $20 or $30 dollars more they’ll say ‘You know, I can suck it up and then complain later,’” Leighton says. “It’s one of the quirks of the airline business that I think most of us, as both passengers and industry insiders, have just come to groan about.”

Leighton says short of the airplanes becoming shaped like triangles, you’re going to have to arrive at the gate 30 minutes before departure time.

But next time you take off to a far-off destination and you overhear the person in front of you asking why boarding a plane is the absolute worst, you’ll have something to talk about.

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