Cutting the Boarding Time of Planes in Half

Posted on August 31, 2011  Comments (4)

I thought I wrote about this several years ago, but I guess I didn’t (I can’t find it, if I did). Experimental test of airplane boarding methods:

The Ste en method, on the other hand, orders the passengers in such a way that adjacent passengers in line are sitting in corresponding seats two rows apart from each other (e.g., 12A, 10A, 8A, 6A, etc.). This method trades a small number of aisle interferences at the front of the cabin, for the benefit of having multiple passengers stowing their luggage simultaneously. Other methods, such as Wilma and the Reverse Pyramid also realize parallel use of the aisle in a natural way as adjacent passengers are frequently sitting in widely separated rows.

We have seen experimentally that there is a marked difference in the time required to board an aircraft depending upon the boarding method used. The evidence strongly supports the heuristic argument from Ste en that methods that parallelize the boarding process by more efficiently utilizing the aisle (having more passengers stow their luggage simultaneously) will board more quickly than those that do not. The relative benefit of the application of this theory will grow with the length of the aircraft. Here, we used a 12-row mock airplane, but a more typical airplane with twice that number of rows will gain more by the implementation of parallelized boarding methods.

How this improvement scales with the cabin length is different for each method. For the Ste en method, the benefit will scale almost linearly. If the airplane is twice as long, the time savings will be nearly twice as much since the density of luggage-stowing passengers will remain the same and the boarding will still be maximally parallel. For Wilma and random boarding the benefit will not be as strong since the benefits of parallel boarding are randomly distributed along the length of the cabin instead of being regularly distributed.

I am not optimistic that airlines will even test out this method. People tend to think companies apply sensible, proven concepts and methods. But that is much less likely to be done than people think. The failure of many places to use simple queuing theory improvement (customers should form one line and be served the next available person not form many individual lines) is one example of failures by companies to apply decades old proven better methods. The poor adoption of multivariate designed experiments is another. Applying better ideas is a process that is not done very efficiently in business, health care, education or even science and engineering – in fact in any human endeavor. This is a waste that impacts each of us every day. It is also an opportunity for you to gain advantages just by applying all the good ideas lying around that others are ignoring. You need to test the ideas out in your setting (using the PDSA cycle in an organizational context a good method).

Related: Engineering the Boarding of AirplanesSuccessful Emergency Plane Landing in the Hudson RiverChecklists Save LivesImproving Engineering Education

4 Responses to “Cutting the Boarding Time of Planes in Half”

  1. Sammy
    September 7th, 2011 @ 8:15 pm

    Ummm, I would have to say that was amazing. I always wondered why airlines do it the same way as they have done for 30 years+. it is so annoying to be standing there in the aisle while you wait for other people to figure out what they are doing. That is why almost no matter where I am sitting, I wait till the very end to board the plane. Not sure why people need to get on right away in the first place, all you are doing is sicking yourself in a plane for a longer period of time. I would also like to see a better method to get off the plane…

  2. Mark Klanac
    September 7th, 2011 @ 10:28 pm

    making improvements like this are too simple and make too much sense… that’s not what they want… ha!

  3. Susan
    September 9th, 2011 @ 5:54 am

    Really if it work well then it will be great for the airlines to save time and the money that are being spend during the boarding period. I hope that the mistakes that the passengers used to do will be eliminated soon. Thanks for sharing such a nice video with us.

  4. Stop Sign Mistake Proofing » Curious Cat Engineering Blog
    August 23rd, 2014 @ 2:54 am

    This is an application of one of my favorite management (and industrial engineering) concepts: mistake proofing. As I have stated before, often it is really mistake making more difficult rather than mistake proofing…

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