More on plane loading


In thinking about plane loading again, where I suggested they paint the rows in reverse order on the carpet where people line up to board, it occurs to me that in reverse order by row may not be the most efficient boarding order.

When each person gets to their seat, they tend to stop there to put away luggage, blocking other people in their row or further back. If they block the people in their row they make them block the people in the next row and so on, which is not efficient.

The most efficient order might be to do all the windows first (starting with the rear), then the middles and then the aisles. (Modify as appopriate for widebody aircraft.)

This way everybody does the luggage loading in parallel, as nobody is stopping them, then another column moves in. The first-row window passengers might block the last row middles for a short time but it would be minimal.

However...People are notorious in the USA at least for trying to get out of order, even when it slows things down for them and everybody else. They want that overhead space. Normally premium passengers want aisles and this makes them last because it is most efficient.

To do this the row diagram on the floor won't cut it. Everybody needs to be given a big bright card with their number on it, and stand in the square with their number. If people get assigned seats later, give them fractional numbers, I think that can be figured out if the spacing isn't too tight.

The other problem is that of course people seated together are travelling together, though the airline knows that, and the algorithm can be triggered to make things less efficient but more family-friendly.

No doubt some PHD student has already figured out even more optimal orderes for loading.

We do a decently optimal unloading, but not optimal. We'll never get optimal there because everybody has a selfish interest to get off the plane ASAP except those who have checked baggage. This is different from boarding, where everybody's interest is a quick boarding process to shorten the gap from start of boarding to takeoff.

One idea I had to enforce the rules was to set a price, in frequent flyer miles for advance bording. It would really be a penalty but you would call it a fee. If you board ahead of where you should, it deducts 1000 frequent flyer miles from your account. (That's for airlines that scan your boarding pass through a machine as you board.)

This is necessary because gate agents have told me that when they try to turn back people who are boarding ahead of the called section of the plane, they get fistfights sometimes.

Note in response to comment: Southwest does have the best on-time records, in part because they don't assign seats so people naturally get on in a better, though not best order. (The first people on want the front seats.) This is in part what inspired me here, because it seems it shoudl be possible for an assigned seat airline to board as quickly (or quicker) than SWA and still get the benefits of assigned seating. Check the prior article for answers to other questions -- of course people would board with their kids, and pre-boarding is still possible, either overtly or giving the parents a low boarding number. I may be missing something though -- why is it more efficient for those needing extra time to board first? Isn't it more efficient if they board at a time when they would not be blocking anybody?


You're obviously spending too much time on airplanes (like me)...

Here's a better algorithm. Create a grid of seat
rows and columns. Muckity-mucks still go first.
(We are really fast anyhow.) Then you send in
a column, last row first. Then next and so on.
It's best if you do window, middle, aisle, but
you still would get performance without ordering
the seats in the row on the grid.

If airlines encouraged people to stand on their
seats instead of the main aisle to let window
passangers in, that would help too. But, if you
break your seat, you have to get off the plane :)

Airlines like JetBlue use the Window-Middle-Aisle method now, and it doesn't work very well at all. Many people (most of whom I would never have even thought understood the concept) complained and wondered aloud why they didn't load from the back forwards. On that particular flight I had a seat in the very last row of the plane, and it took me forever to reach my seat as a result of all the other same "zone" people who were ahead of me in line. Perhaps their disadvantage was that a) they didn't put each column of seats into row order before sending them onto the plane and b) they load *both* sides simultaneously, which doubles the amount of traffic in a typical single-aisle aircraft.

Every international flight I have been on loads from the back forwards perfectly well. I don't see why it's not stuck to on domestic flights.

How about simply fill in from the back forward...

Why allow the folks in the front of the plane to go in first, they simply make it more difficult for the others to board past them. This of course is for non-first class type seats. First class can board first. But everyone else should pour into the back and fill forward.

I like the bright colored card idea... that way no one could "cheat" the system without being really obvious.

Hey, there's an idea: board from the rear door! Then you can load from front to back, including first class. But then, you make sitting in back a longer wait both loading and unloading, unless you can unload from the back also. That wouldn't work for 1st class... so I guess loading from the front door starting with rear seats is a good compromise.

Good point, that loading both sides simultaneously might actually be more of a conflict than loading whole rows at once. So, here are the possible improved methods, which could be combined:

1) window, then middle, then aisle
2) start in line by row, rear first
3) small zones at a time, rear first
4) one side of the plane, then the other

Only #2 completely prevents someone from blocking everyone from accessing all the rows behind them. The others just reduce the number of people who could potentially block access to your seat or row. 3 and 4 together, for example, might be a workable method that would help.

I really like the air miles penalty idea! Nothing slows down boarding like air rage.

I'd suggest something like: First a wave of odd-numbered rows, then a wave of even -numbered rows. There would be a row of space in the aisle while some of the people in a wave are loading the overhead compartments.

Boarding a column last-row-first is IMO the right idea, but people need more than one row's worth of the aisle when they're stowing their bags. How about boarding every other or every third seat in a column at a time (last row first, of course)?

Then there's the question of how much sorting people can stand (or understand). We can get people into groups -- we already do that when boarding by rows, and we could color-coding the boarding passes. But would people sort themselves within a group?

The problem with painting the row numbers (or other identifying marks) on the carpet in the terminal is that many different model plans are probably using the same gate. So, the correct rows/number of seats per row, etc. might be correct for one model/configuration of plane, but would be totally wrong for any other model of plane.

You could in theory overcome this by giving passengers boarding passes with numbers on them and having them line up by these numbers.

There is still a problem with this. Some people show up on time to board the plane - others show up just when the doors are about to close.

Also there is the problem of passengers with small children. I want to have my small child sitting next to me on the plane. I am also unwilling to *not* have my small child stand in line out of my sight while waiting to board the plane which would be required under some scenarios laid out here.

I have actually found that Southwest's no assigned seats policy is reasonably efficient since people tend to sit down once they get to a vacant seat which unblocks those behind them.

Interesting ideas all, but you all well know that like all good plans and intentions, human nature being what it is, and man being primate per se, no matter how brillian we geeks may think our ideas and inovations are, there will always be those bastards who are 1) in a hurry, 2) feel they are special, 3) feel they pay more so should get more, or 4) are just stupid dumb f*cks who arrogantly get out of bed every morning thinking the world owes them something.

Even in Japan where the train system is second to none in the whold, heck, they have dudes with white gloves paid to shove you in, they don't need random chaos in the system, they introduced order in their pushing and shoving, hell their society shuns random pushing and shoving and such, yet accepts it where it's ordered, there are still westerners who, with no clue, break the system, yea gods.

I noted once during a visit to Japan, that the advertising in the trains for example is just a color printed A3 in landscape that is simply "cliped" to the celing! and they don't get stolen, ripped, grafiti sprayed etc, and the only time they seemed to be destroyed was when a dumb schmuck ( thats me ) tugged on one to see how firm the fixtuers really were - only to find that it was little more than the metal equivilent of a cloths line "peg" holding the paper in place - and do you think I could get the sucker back up there? No - bloody embarasing seeing fifty shocked Japaneese train commuters staring at the sign / advert vandal westerner try to explain to the train conductor getting off the train, why I was handing him back his "hanging advert" * smile *.

heck, you could pay people a million dollars to load plans more sensibly, and there would be a millisecond before some idiot said he would rather get on earlier that the next guy for the sake of a million bucks - go figure!



ps: but it's neat to dream - welcome to the free world

pps: rock on MT!

Dez Blanchfield
Lead Thinker & Consumer of Milo

American Airlines actually does something similar to what you are suggesting with their group boarding systems. The exceptions are for First Class (boards first) and AAdvantage "elite" customers who can board whenever they please after First Class boards (presumably to get first shot at the overhead space).

When it's enforced, it seems to be more efficient then back-to-front.

United uses the "window first" approach on their shuttle flights, but I don't think it helps. The problem is that even if no one is sitting in the aisle seat, the first passenger to get to his row will usually stand in the aisle while he removes his coat, takes stuff out of his bag, and lovingly stows his luggage one piece at a time. Maybe the airlines should issue the special colored cards to those passengers who have passed some sort of test demonstrating their ablity to toss a bag into the overhead bin without breaking stride as they slide into the seat.

The real problems are the stowage of luggage, which is also a security problem.

So in order to fix two issues: plane loading and security... elimnate the carryon.

Fly naked!

As Bernie Burke said, if you miss less than
half your flights, you're spending too much
time in airports.

Ryanair is the most efficient loader of any airline I have used.

(1) They use both the front and the back door at the same time. (They thus also save the extra fee often charged to airlines for using the tube that connects the airport to the airplane)

(2) There is no fixed seating

(3) They do not have assigned seating, so you have a strong motivation to find a seat and take it fast

(4) (not strictly seating) They will leave you behind if you are not there in time. So they spend less time finding stragglers, and so people focus on getting on quickly. It is the only airline I fly where I am not motivated to wait until the last minute to get on the plane.

I recently started partial sorting-in-place like this:

Ask the person behind you in line if they are in row number n+1 or higher, where n is your row number. If the answer is yes, let them go in front of you. Keep doing this until the answer is "no".

So far, everyone I've allowed to jump ahead of me in line has been happy to receive a random act of kindness. By contrast, it is harder to ask someone ahead of you in line to move behind you.

It's not a perfect sorting-in-place algorithm until everyone does it, but it is sure to help at least by preventing a few people from unnecessary waiting while the aisle is blocked. The more people do it, the better the sorting.

Waiting in line either for the boarding pass scanning/tear-off or in the tube before getting on the plane is pretty boring, so this helps pass the time.

Psssst: Let higher row numbers move ahead in line; pass on the idea; since the practice is visible, it might not take very long before it becomes common etiquette.

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