September 29, 2020 | By JETechnology Staff
If you’ve ever flown anywhere via a commercial airline, you’re likely familiar with the boarding process. Additionally, if you’ve flown economy and haven’t paid extra for priority boarding, you’re probably also familiar with the cluster of passengers who wait around the gate to board the plane — despite whatever boarding schedule or routine the airline has put in place.
Even if you wait until the very end to join the queue, once you get on board the plane, you likely have to wait in the narrow aisles to make your way to your seat, moving past people and their luggage on the way.
Frequent flyers undoubtedly wonder if there are ways to board a plane that are safer, more efficient and less stressful — and there are. So, why haven’t airlines upgraded the way passengers board planes?
Why Are Plane Boarding Processes So Inefficient?
Over the years, boarding times have increased, which isn’t surprising since millions of people fly into and out of airports around the U.S. every day. However, the methods that airlines use to board passengers haven’t changed much.
There are likely several reasons for this, but cost could be one of them. It costs airlines money to change their operational practices, especially if it requires purchasing new equipment. Training employees on the new procedures would also factor into the expenses required.
Traditional Boarding Methods
When it comes to how airlines board passengers, it’s good to know that they still prioritize airplane boarding safety by letting passengers in wheelchairs or with infants board first. Beyond the priority boarding, though, it may seem like boarding the remaining passengers is just first-come, first-serve.
Here’s the logic behind the three most popular boarding methods airlines use.
1. WilMA Boarding
WilMA boarding is when passengers board the plane based on whether they’re sitting at the window seat, the middle seat or the aisle seat. This method claims to increase boarding efficiency since it means there are fewer people standing in the way while others try to get to their seats.
Still, even by boarding all passengers with windows seats, then all passengers in middle seats and finally passengers in aisle seats, there ends up being a bottleneck. People are attempting to find their seat, perhaps boarding ahead of their turn when they’re traveling with others or struggling to fit their luggage into the overhead compartment — and all of these end up holding up anyone behind them.
2. Random Boarding
While its name might suggest disorganization, there is some method to random boarding. In random boarding, passengers are assigned Zone A, Zone B or Zone C. Passengers are boarded according to their zones, with Zone A boarding first.
With this method, passengers essentially file on to the plane in large groups. They attempt to simultaneously find their seats and store their luggage while the aisles fill up behind them.
3. Block Boarding
Commonly known as boarding from the rear, block boarding — as its name suggests — calls passengers to board in blocks. The blocks are determined by seat numbers, with those seated at the back boarding first, then those in the middle and finally those in the front.
Priority boarding is still available to passengers in higher classes or economy passengers who paid more to board first and can board at any time. The bottleneck in the aisles does still happen with this method, but it remains isolated in one area of the plane — the section called to board.
Safer Boarding Methods
When it comes to how to board a plane, there are a couple of different methods that could help reduce boarding congestion.
1. Steffen Method
One method that could help to ease boarding congestion was invented 10 years ago by an American astrophysicist named Jason Steffen. Steffan created an algorithm that allows passengers to board safely and quickly while complying with airplane safety tips. Steffen’s method allows for priority boarding of those passengers in wheelchairs and those with small children. For the rest of the passengers, the Steffen Method calls for passengers in alternate window seats on one side of the plane to board first. After they’re seated, the same is done for passengers sitting in alternate window seats on the other side of the plane.
Once the alternate window seats are occupied, passengers in alternate middle seats on one side of the plane take their seats followed by the opposite side. Once these middle seats are occupied, passengers in alternate aisle seats on one side of the plane board. Then passengers in alternate aisle seats on the other side of the plane.
Once all these alternate seats are filled, the process begins anew to fill the remaining seats in the same order. For example, if rows 1, 3, 5, etc. were boarded in the first round, then rows 2, 4, 6, etc. will board next, starting with passengers in the window seats of these rows on one side of the plane and then the other.
The goal of the Steffen Method is to stagger the passengers who board so everyone can reach their seats with fewer obstacles, and potentially none at all.
2. Flying Carpet Method
Another efficient way to board passengers is the Flying Carpet Method, in which an actual carpet is marked with numbers to stand for the seats on the plane. In groups of 30 or 40, passengers stand over the mark that signifies their assigned seats and then board the plane in order of where they stood on the carpet. Once they’re on board, the next group of 30 or 40 passengers moves on to the carpet and does the same.
This method also staggers passengers and does it in a way that the person ahead won’t be in your way as you’re finding your seat. You also won’t be in the way of the person behind you with this method.
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