I wrote recently on better boarding strategies. Let me talk about what I really want in efficiency from an airline. Well, it seems we are stymied on getting what we really want, something as easy as a train, due to 9/11 oversecurity, but let's see what we can do.
This airline, at least here in California airports, doesn't use a giant air terminal. Instead, the airport is just the airstrips with a big parking lot running all along the side. (Could still do that at many of today's airports backsides.)
The trip begins as I drive off to the airport. I punch the airline's number on my cell phone. They take the caller-id and check me in, then text message me an electronic boarding pass. (I can also do this from a more advanced device or web browser of course.)
I drive into the parking lot and park right at the "gate." I mean 100 feet from the waiting plane. I grab my bag, hand my keys to the parking valet. I flash my cell phone's screen with the text message in front of their scanner which confirms my boarding pass. I go through the security scan, and into the small structure to sit in the chair with my boarding number on it. I access the free wi-fi.
Not long after, boarding is called, and we stand up from the chairs and walk up the stairs to the plane. (No jetways, at least here in California, though you could have them.) The front and back of the plane are used, everybody gets on in just a few minutes.
We land at a similar airport. When I confirmed boarding, the rental car company (or taxi or shuttle) was informed. As I get off the plane, waiting in the parking zone is my rental car. The scanner in the car reads the text message with my rental code and it activates. I drive away. Or perhaps I take a taxi. Perhaps I indicated that I would be happy to share a cab to the convention center so the cab has a list of 2 people to wait for.
On the way back, again I pull up right at the small valet zone at the airplane's gate. The rental company takes the car and I walk on the plane. My boarding is sent to the parking valets, and when my plane arrives, my car is ready in the valet zone. Off I go.
Of course there are flaws...
So what's wrong with this? Well, the open design without a terminal building is only suitable in places like California. You could have small waiting buildings and jetways in places with worse weather. They would not have the fancy services of a real air terminal and be poorer places for a long wait, but I would be happy to take that tradeoff. Inefficiently, each would have to have its own bathrooms and possibly food service. But boy is this still a lot cheaper than a traditional billion dollar airport.
The real problem is security. This system requires security screening at every gate, or with a longer walk, at sets of 3 or 4 gates. That is a lot less efficient, though the wins of this system may make it worth it.
I have considered having a sort of moat in front of the gate, where a security truck drives in to be a bridge over the moat, with scanners and metal detector on the bed of the open truck. Then trucks could scurry to the gates they are needed at. However, this is still hard to do compared to the chokepoint approach used today.
The rest is all doable today, though. More advanced versions might use infrared or bluetooth to exchange boarding passes, but scanning the screen of a cell phone for a text message should be quite workable. A pass printing station would be there for those without a cell phone. This is also aimed more at people without checked luggage, though in fact this would still work fine, though again luggage handlers would have to move from gate to gate as desired. But the bag itself would not travel very far at all, making their job quicker.
And it's also for nonstops. Changing planes (especially with checked luggage) is harder in this system, and a longer walk, outdoors. However, there are plenty of shuttle/nonstop routes which could use this, including the very busy Bay Area to L.A. corridor and some others. Transfer could be a small shuttle bus to the traditional "terminal" on the other side of the airport.